A case of Confucian confusion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 March, 1995, 12:00am

I READ with interest the bizarre espousal of Confucian values given by David Chu (South China Morning Post, March 21).

As a student of economics and one interested in Asian economies I was baffled by Mr Chu's belief that the strong growth shown by these economies recently is due largely to the Confucian values latent in these societies. I was almost dumb-struck by his further pronouncement that Western developed economies are in dire need of a hefty dose of Confucianism to revive their supposedly lifeless growth performance.

The counterpoint that I would like to make to Mr Chu's rumblings is that the Western economies of which he so disparagingly writes are developed, whereas the Asian economies so dear to him are not. The reason for the large differential in growth rates between the US and Singapore or China is accounted for by the so-called 'convergence hypothesis'. While this hypothesis is unwieldy, it gives us some insight into comparative growth rates.

The hypothesis predicts the convergence of living standards in different countries over time, and that economies which are on track towards making up this differential in living standards will grow at a much faster rate than those which have already attained them.

The growth that we are currently witnessing in some parts of Asia is largely of this nature, and a similar transformation occurred in Western economies 100 years ago or more. In fact, the rural transformation now occurring in China could be (tenuously) paralleled to circumstances in the 18th-century British industrial revolution. An example of the convergence I am talking of is Japan. Witness its rapid growth in the 30 years after World War II, then its subsequent slowing and current similarities to Western economies.

So, although I do not claim that growth in Hong Kong is not in any way due to the industriousness of its inhabitants, I disagree with the assertion that an injection of Confucian discipline would cause a return to strong growth in the West.

A further question Mr Chu (and perhaps some Asian politicians) might wish to consider is this: if growth is largely attributable to Confucian values, why is it occurring now and not in the distant past, when these values were even more widely held.

CHRIS HALE Happy Valley