*Hun Sen’s Cambodia*

That is the new and excellent book by Sebastian Strangio, which you can think of as a post-Sihanouk look at the country from a political economy point of view.  Here are just a few bits:

The cruelty and callousness that allowed jilted wives to order and commit such brutal attacks on young women also had its echo in history.  As the historian Michael Vickery has written, patterns of sudden and extreme violence had deep roots in Cambodia, especially against those groups and individuals defined in some way as enemies.  Through cruel violence found its fullest expressions under Pol Pot, it long predated Democratic Kampuchea, stemming from cultural notions of face, honor, and revenge, in which personal grudges (kum) could elicit a disproportionate and overwhelming response.


Hun Sen’s rise over the past two decades has been accompanied by the rise of what might be called HunSenomics — a blend of old-style patronage, elite charity, and predatory market economics.  Since the transition to the free market in 1989, Hunsenomics has succeeded in forging a stable pact among Cambodia’s ruling elites, but has otherwise done little to systematically tackle the challenges of poverty and development.


Because Hunsenomics provides few incentives for sustainable agricultural development, Cambodia’s land and water resources remain drastically underutilized.  Just a third of Cambodia’s total land area is currently under cultivation — a much lower proportion than in neighboring countries.  Only 18 percent of this  land was irrigated as of 2005, compared to 33 percent in Thailand and 44 percent in Vietnam, and due to lack of maintenance only a fifth of irrigation systems were fully functional.  As a result, rice yields per hectare lag far behind the likes of Vietnam and Thailand.

Definitely recommended, and as Dan Klein and I used to say to each other “You so much learn the whole book.”


The rice yields and the functionality of irrigation systems I might see as an issue, but Cambodia's terrain is inherently less hospitable to cultivation than that of Thailand or Vietnam. It's more plateau-like.


Didn't you write about the opening of a huge new Cambodian mall less than a year ago?

Also, Cambodian and Laotian Americans are probably of lower genetic IQ than Vietnamese Americans:

And Vietnam has a similar GDP (PPP) per capita and growth rate as India.

Inhospitable terrain or not, yield is a very good indicator of how healthy the agricultural sector is and, more broadly, how developed the country is. In a growing, functional market economy, marginal or unproductive patches of land will be converted away from rice agriculture toward more productive uses and so the average yield in the country will grow. Productivity levels in Vietnam, Thailand or the Philippines seem like a reasonable goal for Cambodia.

Assuming your can opener, eh?

As the French colonial administrators used to say: The Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Laos listen to it grow.

E. Harding, that paper you linked to shows that Cambodian women are not disadvanted in earnings once adjustment is made for hours worked, but Cambodian men are. So I'm wondering, do you conclude from this that Cambodian men are probably of lower genetic IQ than Cambodian women?

Let's see if you can get an answer out of him where reverse causation is not ignored and the conclusion isn't in the premise.

What reverse causation? What conclusion being in premise?

No, seriously, Tyler, there is a parallel with Black women and African immigrant women in the U.S. here. According to Thomas Sowell, back when he was writing, Black women in the U.S. were earning, on average, a higher amount than White women were per year. Also, according to a paper you once linked to ( http://home.uchicago.edu/~arauh/Rauh2014a.pdf ), age-adjusted, second-generation African females in the U.S. earn more than U.S. White women, while second-generation African males in the U.S. did not earn more than White men. So how do you expect me to answer Ronald's question without any reference to IQ?

Perhaps that is a question that could be answered with IQ tests

"predatory market economics"?

Yeah, that's redundant.

'prey' on the lazy.

Actually I think it is redundant with "old-style patronage".

That is "predatory market economics" means having as much of a free market as is compatible with your client's ability to be predators.

I get that one, I think, but what's "elite charity"?

I would guess it means that political and business elites personally fund charities that provide core social services as a way of improving their reputations among the public and sidelining any inquiries into how they acquired their wealth and how they managed to pay so little in the way of taxes on it.

It's the sort of work that Hun Sen's wife does on AIDS - it's literally charity, and advocacy/awareness-raising. It is done out of some combination of genuine concern, and compensation for the patronage, graft, etc.

Chinese textile companies are moving to the U.S. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/03/business/chinese-textile-mills-are-now-hiring-in-places-where-cotton-was-king.html?ref=business&_r=0. Globalization has driven down costs here while driving up costs in China to a point that today they are now about equal. It's still true that wages here are still somewhat higher, but the higher wages are offset by cheap land and facilities and "incentives" offered by state and local governments desperate for business. The prospect of the Pacific trade agreement (now dim) might have influenced the Chinese textile companies (because the agreement would have excluded China from participation), but the point is still the same: the cost curves in America and in China are converging. Maybe we are approaching a tipping point where American companies won't have cost incentives to move operations overseas. Maybe the American economy isn't being converted to a highly skilled, highly technical economy and, instead, it's the same old industrial economy only with much lower costs. This may sound like bad news for American labor, but it's not: American business can stop chasing lower costs in other places and instead devote resources to making operations more efficient.

Lancaster County's relative unemployment rate is almost back to late 1990s levels:

BCG manufacturing-cost competitiveness index https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/lean_manufacturing_globalization_shifting_economics_global_manufacturing/

US 100

China 96

Mexico 91

SKorea 102

Japan 111

excluding transport costs to US

In Cambodia you will see people on the side of the road illegally selling gasoline of dubious purity out of plastic bottles, at a lower price than at the gas station. Gas stations are owned by the Hun family and their patrons and form an oligopoly, which is what results in the black market. I am told that at least some of it is smuggled in from Vietnam.

Here in Southeast Asia extreme violence is not unknown, as TC says. In south Philippines in Mindanao region a local politician had his rivals, including women, children, and hapless reporters caught in the crossfire, rounded up and massacred (around a dozen or more I think) including torturing them with chainsaws before being dispatched. It's considered a testament to the 'clean' (relatively speaking) present government of Aquino that any of them were brought to trial (still pending, and the kingpin is feigning an illness--also a common ploy--to escape prosecution).

The ultimate problem with Cambodia throughout its history is the fact that it has always been ruled by an insecure and jealous group of elite patrons. This includes much of the Angkorian kings, the Sisowath and Norodom branches of the post 1800's royal family, Lon Nol, Pol Pot and Hun Sen. Surrounding each of them are family members, associates, and military generals that are ready to cut their throats and assume power. Centuries of many periods of infighting had lead Cambodia to become a weak state when compared to Vietnam and Thailand. Both the former and latter had used these periods to dismember Cambodia. The ordinary Cambodian (Khmer) person as a whole had always been weak and easily taken advantage of...both emotionally, mentally and politically. The leaders' own political gains and self interest had always had priority over the interest and progress of the nation. For any mishaps or mistakes that these leaders ever commit, they never blame themselves, but instead, they find scapegoats.

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