by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 3
June 2021
Spotted
15:00

Bangladesh: the world’s hidden success story

It's one of Asia's fastest growing economies, but no one talking about it
by Peter Franklin
Bangladeshi people gather with flags and flowers to show their respect during the celebration of the country’s Independence Day

What is the world’s most under-reported country? There’s a good case to be made for Indonesia, but another candidate is Bangladesh — which celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent nation back in March. 

Sandwiched between India and Myanmar, it’s not a big country — roughly the same size as England and Wales. And yet, with a population of 163 million, it has more people than Russia.

It’s also one of the great Asian economic success stories. In an eye-opening piece for Bloomberg, Mihir Sharma argues that Bangladesh deserves a lot more attention than it’s received: 

This month, Bangladesh’s Cabinet Secretary told reporters that GDP per capita had grown by 9% over the past year, rising to $2,227… In 1971, Pakistan was 70% richer than Bangladesh; today, Bangladesh is 45% richer than Pakistan.
- Mihir Sharma, Bloomberg

In per capita terms, Bangladesh is now richer than India too. 

If the country can maintain its current rate of growth over the next couple of decades, then it will become the economic epicentre of the entire region. It’s exclusion from such forums as the G20 is becoming harder to defend. 

Indeed, it’s weird just how often Bangladesh is ignored even in discussion about emerging economies. When groups of such countries are identified by acronyms like BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey) and CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa), B for Bangladesh is conspicuous by its absence. 

So why is Bangladesh so unfairly overlooked? My guess is that it doesn’t fit standard Western narratives, whether of the Left or the Right. 

For a start, there’s the fact that fifty years ago it didn’t gain its independence from a European colonial power, but from Pakistan — of which it was the eastern part until the Liberation War of 1971. 

Bangladesh is also an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, but does not conform to ‘Clash of Civilisations’ stereotypes of what a Muslim country is supposed to be like. Its leader, Sheikh Hasina, is a woman. And improvements to the status of ordinary women is an important contributor to the country’s economic progress. 

It’s not that Bangladesh is a perfect democracy with an unblemished human rights record, but Sharma is right to say just how far it has moved from the days when Henry Kissinger called it a “basket case”. 

Rather than the South Asian stereotype of an economy based exclusively on call centres and the like, manufacturing is the driving force of Bangladeshi growth. Whether that momentum can be sustained is now the big question; but with the West looking for alternatives to its dependency on Chinese exports, Bangladesh could be well placed to benefit.

I hope that British politicians looking to forge new global partnership are paying attention.  

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Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
1 year ago

I wonder if it’s a lot better keeping under the radar of politicians and the media. Left to its own devices and spared the advice of “experts” might just the key to its success.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Thanks. I didn’t know that Bangladesh was doing better/well. I always assumed it was doing pretty badly (sweatshops and the like). Glad to have been contradicted.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrea X

The sweatshop obsession of western media is mainly a stick to beat up on the easily-roused guilt complex of middle class fashionistas.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

I used to travel to Bangladesh in 1990s when my ex had a garment company importing from them. It was mired in repeated flooding &
coups . The Bangladeshi independence struggle was blood ..y, they have endured much. India is an ally. Many of the Indian restaurants here are actually Bangladeshi. I met one owner who was charming and well educated . Like all immigrants, had family and wealth back there as well. It’s people seem to be it’s resource. Beyond that …. I can’t say what they have. If they continue to use that well, good luck .

Last edited 1 year ago by Alka Hughes-Hallett
Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago

The only question I have is on the Islamist Cloud in this sunny sky. Are the pro Pakistan demons that killed so many during the war of independence locked in their holes for good? If they have really been banished I am genuinely curious how this was accomplished as there would be lessons for Western Europe here.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
1 year ago

A lot of them came to the UK as Asylum Seekers!

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

No, they rise up now and then.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
1 year ago

Bangladesh is also an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, but does not conform to ‘Clash of Civilisations’ stereotypes of what a Muslim country is supposed to be like”
Just sometimes, the good guys win.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago

I suspect the improvement to women’s life and lot has a great deal to do with its economic success, partly because it obviously makes no economic sense to ignore the wealth generating potential of half your population, but also because female emancipation is indicative of a wider liberalism, and it is liberty that is the greatest of all stimulants to growth.

Lack of liberty, oppressive governance, stifles growth. A free people is a creative people. The yoke and the lash destroy creativity.

You might say, ‘what about China?’, but China does not generate its own intellectual property – it takes it from the liberal West and uses it. If China were still cut off and inward looking it would not have the capacity to become wealthier.

Ernest DuBrul
Ernest DuBrul
1 year ago

Swan–
I continue to be amazed that no list of the top inventions of all time ever contains the birth control pill. The massive societal changes throughout the world since the early 1960s that have favored women and have altered the world’s economy could never have taken place without “the pill”. It is “the pill” that allowed for the emancipation, liberty, and creative and economic growth you mention as fecundity was controlled.

In terms of their widespread significance, “the pill” and the wheel have to be the top two inventions of mankind. (And I’m not so sure you can call the wheel a true invention.) I can’t think of anything else that so uniquely influenced the future of society by doubling its intellectual and economic output in far less than a century.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ernest DuBrul
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Ernest DuBrul

Good shout, but what about the washing machine?

Carl Goulding
Carl Goulding
1 year ago

So presumably the £256million UK aid in 2019 was the last payment?

skfblues
skfblues
1 year ago

As long as you are not an athiest or a christian, or a journalist, or a human rights campaigner, then you are safe in Bangla Desh

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

Thanks for this.
I have done a bit of business in Bangladesh over recent years (not garment trade!), and while not without its problems, found it nowhere near as bad as one is led to believe.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
1 year ago

In recent years, Bangladesh has managed to get its population growth under control. As well as shedding half a million emigrants per year, it has got fertility rates down from 6 per woman in 1980 to 2 per woman now. (Pakistan is at 3.56). Interestingly, those of Bangladeshi heritage in the UK have on average roughly double that number of children per family.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

My theory has been India and Bangladesh will take top place over China in a couple decades from purely a demographic reason. China is aging, those youthful

Here is what it Boils Down To: investment in elementary education, and then secondary, for every child. China did this, 100% literacy and in 1993 China was tied with India in GDP, and them lept over India and has left it way behind. India sadly neglected education and is paying a huge price. Second is health spending, which China made, but India neglected. This is a huge thing in getting a productive workforce.

Healthcare and Children education = success. Lack means cutting the progress by a huge factor. “The 2011 census, indicated a 2001–2011 decadal literacy growth of 9.2%, which is slower than the growth seen during the previous decade. An old analytical 1990 study estimated that it would take until 2060 for India to achieve universal literacy at then-current rate of progress”


Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

(Literacy in India and Bangladesh is about 75%, and that is really bad – 1/4 cannot read, that means a very large number of others will not have enough education to be functional employees in many jobs.)
Mass education in the West was what kicked it into superpower

“Then, in 1844, Parliament passed a law requiring children working in factories to be given six-half-days schools every week.” “Nearing the end of Victoria’s reign at the turn of the 20th ceuntry, the literacy rate amongst both men and women in Britain was nearly 100%.”

There it is. If India had just taken note, and Bangladesh, they would have 5-10X GDP by now. Education is the cheapest way to wealth ever discovered.

Phil Desaulniers
Phil Desaulniers
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Although South Asia isn’t all that fecund either. India’s fertility rate is 2.2 children per woman, only just above the 2.1 replacement rate. And it falls every year. It’s on a similar trajectory as the West, just a couple decades behind.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

Gosh! I can still recall the days when we gave them transistor radios to STOP bonking.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

That’s fecund amazing!

Ernest DuBrul
Ernest DuBrul
1 year ago

M

Last edited 1 year ago by Ernest DuBrul
CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

An impeccable English source claims that the Chinese in Guangdong Province we still eating *their own children as recently as 1978.

(*An after-shock of the ‘Great Leap Forward ‘of 1959-62 perhaps.)

Fred Atkinstalk
Fred Atkinstalk
1 year ago

According to an impeccable urban myth it’s because they taste like pork.

Vóreios Paratiritís
Vóreios Paratiritís
1 year ago

This used to be impressive, until solid studies came out showing that average IQ can rise by 40pts within one generation based solely on higher incomes and public goods. I am sure within 50 years we will see an IQ shift in Bangladesh and India. The Nepal and Pakistan probably not. Sri Lanka undetermined.

John Standing
John Standing
1 year ago

There are no such studies. Like all heritability, south Asian average intelligence is immutable.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
1 year ago

The designation of Bangladesh as a nation doomed at birth to be a basket case was made, I believe by Henry Kissenger around the same time he was advising the US to bomb Vietnam back to the Stone Age, and therein lies another success unexpected success story.
It may indeed come as a surprise to some to discover not only is Bangladesh doing quite well but so also is Pakistan, despite having chaotic politics. Furthermore in Africa Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia and others are becoming serious players. What can we conclude from this? For Bangladesh I have insights from living where I do in Tower Hamlets with a substantial Bengali community. There are, clearly, trading links between this community and Bangladesh and I have little doubt that remittances and investments from Bengalis here far outstrips aid or commercial investment. It is the best form of investment also going via trusted hands to where it will be used to good effect, Something very similar happened in Ireland and does so in Africa.
Why are we so surprised that self-government seems to work in former third world countries? I am old enough to remember, in the 60s it was widely held that neither India nor China could make their way through the modern world once released from the supposedly beneficial hand of Europe. Well we know now!

Rick Schmidt
Rick Schmidt
1 year ago

Islam may be the official religion of Bangladesh but other religions are respected. Perhaps there is a connection between religious freedoms and a peaceful productive society.

rrostrom
rrostrom
1 year ago

“Its leader, Sheikh Hasina, is a woman.” As is her chief political rival Khaleda Zia. The two of them have been the only non-“caretaker” Prime Ministers of Bangladesh since 1991. (Zia for 10 years, Sheik Hasina for 17 1/2 years.)

John Standing
John Standing
1 year ago

Moderator, it is auto-racism to ban speech of heritable IQ. Don’t be weak. Enough lying.
Here are the facts:
Bangladesh: average IQ 81
India: average IQ 81
Pakistan: average IQ 81
Sri Lanka: average IQ 79
Nepal: average IQ 78

Mark Preston
Mark Preston
1 year ago
Reply to  John Standing

As long as their economies can use low IQ people then they’ll do OK up to a certain point. Then they’re screwed.

Kremlington Swan
Kremlington Swan
1 year ago
Reply to  John Standing

It’s lower than the UK average, but not that much lower. In any case, people of Asian descent educated in this country often outperform those whose families go back generations. I think a report I read stated that black African children educated here also perform comparatively well.
Once you adjust for circumstance I doubt there is anything in it.
There is one great advantage to the diversity agenda, and that is that it really does bust a few white supremacist myths. You only have to keep an open mind and do a bit of listening and watching to
know that.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
1 year ago

IQ is typically only about 50% genetic, 50% environment, so as a very rough rule of thumb an IQ 80 population moving to an IQ 100 country ends up with more like an IQ 90. And of course other success factors like motivation & family support don’t tend to show up in IQ tests.

John Standing
John Standing
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Newman

Actually, Rushton said minimum 80% heritable, and it has been said that even that was a gesture to pee-cee, and 100% cannot be ruled out.

John Standing
John Standing
1 year ago

Migration is a filter for IQ, adding between half and one SD in the first generation; however that will regress to the group mean over time.
Educational outcomes in the West are twisted by the wild hostility to the natives which the Establishment, the liberal-left and the left all exude.

Simon Newman
Simon Newman
1 year ago
Reply to  John Standing

This means that India, Pakistan, Bangladesh aren’t going to challenge China (average IQ 105) or become globally dominant. They can still be quite successful though.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
1 year ago
Reply to  John Standing

IQ measures the ability to pass IQ tests, and is somewhat orientated to our western ways.

John Standing
John Standing
1 year ago

There have been huge efforts mounted to produce non-culturally biases tests, and they all show the same outcomes. There is no escaping it.

Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
1 year ago
Reply to  John Standing

Perhaps you can now produce another, balancing set of facts, rating emotional maturity and ability to get on with other people?
This, too, has an effect on a nation’s success.
Human beings have both head and heart, and need both to function well.
The lopsided obsession with IQ testing says more about those men involved in it than it does about target groups.

John Standing
John Standing
1 year ago
Reply to  Penelope Lane

What racial groups are better at getting along, then? Are you sure you are not just driven by a desire to kick your own natural identity?

Last edited 1 year ago by John Standing
Penelope Lane
Penelope Lane
1 year ago
Reply to  John Standing

My point was that there are other non-race-based ways to judge and assess people. These are important if we wish to achieve a balanced view.
The Scandinavian nations get along with each other relatively well compared with other countries. But so do small nations still essentially tribally-based, such as many countries in the Pacific.
One of the things about IQ that should always be remembered is that Satan is highly intelligent, as are his many followers.