Karl Husa, Rolf Jordan und Helmut Wohlschlägl (Hg.): Ost- und Südostasien zwischen Wohlfahrtsstaat und Eigeninitiative. Aktuelle Entwicklungstendenzen von Armut, Alterung und sozialer Unsicherheit. Wien (Abhandlungen zur Geographie und Regionalforschung 10) 2008. 235 S.
The book "East and Southeast Asia between welfare state and private initiative: current development tendencies concerning poverty, aging and social security" has emerged from the project "Armut, soziale Ungleichheit und Globalisierung (poverty, social inequality and globalization)" that was initiated by the Asienhaus in Essen at the end of 2004. The project has produced a number of brochures in the series "Fokus Asien". Most of the chapters in this book were published previously in these brochures, but have been revised and brought up to date before publication in this volume.
The central event around which many of the chapters revolve is the economic crisis in East and Southeast Asia of 1997/1998, and its aftermath. The crisis revealed that the rapid economic growth of preceding years had not been accompanied by a matching development of social security systems. Papers published in this book provide evidence that the increase in poverty and vulnerability that followed upon the crisis was in many cases further aggravated by the enforcement of deregulation and privatization under the leadership of IMF and World Bank, and in the spirit of the neo-liberal "Washington Consensus". In response to these developments, and acting upon what came to be known as "Post- Washington-Consensus", governments assumed a more active role in alleviating poverty and providing social security. Liberalization, privatization and globalization are nevertheless still the most important forces shaping social policies and social conditions in this region. A telling example of the contradictions that can be caused by a parallel commitment to economic growth and social security is provided in the paper by WOLFRAM SCHAFFAR on health policies of the recently deposed Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin started his career on a predominantly social agenda in defiance of neo-liberal principles imposed by the IMF, but later turned into an avid promoter of economic growth through liberalization. How one agenda can cancel out the other is exemplified by the state-financed health insurance scheme for all Thai nationals, which earned Thaksin a reputation for really caring about the poor, but which was later undermined by his efforts to turn health services into a growth industry. The promotion of private hospitals catering mainly to the growing number of medical tourists caused an internal drain of medical personnel from government to private hospitals, which in the end resulted in a deterioration of health services for those who cannot afford treatment in private hospitals.
This topic is once more taken up in the paper by WALTER KIEWEG which analyses poverty reduction strategies of World Bank, ADB and EU, and which comes to the conclusion that the strategies of these organizations are still in the spirit of the "Washington Consensus", aiming for economic growth rather than directly targeting the poor.
Two papers deal with the labour market in China. NILS MEVENKAMP focuses on unemployment in urban areas, while the paper by HANS BASS analyses the effects of China's accession to WTO on employment. Both agree that the effects of liberalization are not entirely positive. MEVENKAMP addresses in this context a specifically Chinese problem: the registration of people as either urban or rural dwellers as the cause of the urbanrural gap, which is (re-)emerging as one of the major social challenges in China. Statistical distortions related to this registration system, moreover, account for the "invisibility" of a large number of unemployed people, especially in urban areas, where poverty apparently exists at a much larger scale than is oficially acknowledged.
KRISTIN KUPFER explores the role of religious groups in providing social services in China, where government-sponsored security systems went into decline after liberalization and made room for the private sector. That many Chinese are turning to religious organizations such as Christian and Qigong-groups is interpreted by the author to express a yearning for ideals of justice and equality, which are no longer represented by the CP.
The three papers on the Philippines, authored and co-authored by NIKLAS REESE, stand out from among the others on account of the engaging and emphatic style in which they have been written, and because one of them introduces the important issue of international labour migration. The paper on social insecurity in the Philippines is marred, however, by a number of linguistic ambiguities such as the choice of the word "Betroffenheit" for "exposure", which in German is more often used in the sense of "bewilderment" or "concern", and the word "Umgangsformen", obviously intended to stand for "ways of dealing (with insecurity)", which is more commonly used in the sense of "manners".
In two papers KARL HUSA and HELMUT WOHLSCHLÄGL treat the problem of the aging of societies, and the development of security systems for old people in Southeast Asia. The aging of societies, while still in its early stages, is likely to proceed at a much faster rate than in industrialized countries and to eventually outpace economic growth. The more developed countries of Southeast Asia will therefore face the need to develop support structures for a rapidly increasing number of old people relatively soon. So far, social security systems are not very well developed and mostly benefit, where they exist, those employed in the formal sector. People in rural areas and in the informal sector still rely largely on support through family and community. Even in Thailand, where government support for the elderly has been provided since 1993, the vast majority of people still depends on the family.
The papers in this volume are, on the whole, of a very good quality and provide a comprehensive insight into core problems of social insecurity in the region. One could have wished, however, for the papers, which follow upon each other in an apparently random sequence, to have been arranged more meaningfully according to region or subject.