Business History Review

Research Article

Tracing Burma's Economic Failure to Its Colonial Inheritance

Ian Brown


The extent to which the inheritance of British rule in Burma, including Burmese perceptions of that inheritance, might explain Burma's economic failure since independence is explored. Several factors came into play. One was the ferocious rejection of the economic structures of colonial rule by the Burmese. Another was the failure of Burmese entrepreneurs– who had been in a position to achieve little beyond dominance over the rice field–to emerge during the colonial period. Finally, there were the implications for independent Burma's economic options of the withdrawal of Indian capital, enterprise, and commercial experience, which had been a dominant factor in the colonial economy, at the point when Burma regained its political freedom.

IAN BROWN is professor in the economic history of South East Asia at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His principal publications include Economic Change in South-East Asia, c.1830–1980 (Kuala Lumpur, 1997) and A Colonial Economy in Crisis: Burma's Rice Cultivators and the World Depression of the 1930s (Abingdon, 2005). He is currently writing a book on Burma's economy in the twentieth century for Cambridge University Press.