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Systemic Vulnerability and the Origins of Developmental States: Northeast and Southeast Asia in Comparative Perspective

  • Richard F. Doner (a1), Bryan K. Ritchie (a2) and Dan Slater (a3)

Scholars of development have learned a great deal about what economic institutions do, but much less about the origins of such arrangements. This article introduces and assesses a new political explanation for the origins of “developmental states”—organizational complexes in which expert and coherent bureaucratic agencies collaborate with organized private sectors to spur national economic transformation. Conventional wisdom holds that developmental states in South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore result from “state autonomy,” especially from popular pressures. We argue that these states' impressive capacities actually emerged from the challenges of delivering side payments to restive popular sectors under conditions of extreme geopolitical insecurity and severe resource constraints. Such an interactive condition of “systemic vulnerability” never confronted ruling elites in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, or Thailand—allowing them to uphold political coalitions, and hence to retain power, with much less ambitious state-building efforts.Authors listed alphabetically. We are grateful to the following for helpful comments: Cliff Carrubba, Eric Hershberg, Dave Kang, Stephan Haggard, Linda Lim, Greg Noble, Kristen Nordhaug, John Ravenhill, Eric Reinhardt, Dani Reiter, Tom Remington, Michael Ross, Randy Strahan, Judith Tendler, and two anonymous reviewers. Special thanks to David Waldner, whose book inspired this article and who graciously provided important insights.

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