Sustainable Development in Early Modern Southeast Asia (circa 1700-1870) by Prof Jean-Pascal Bassino

Jointly organized by Asia Research Institute, NUS-USPC, and Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore.

Date : 07 Nov 2018
Time : 16:00 – 17:30

Venue : AS8 Level 4, Seminar Room 04-04
10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260
National University of Singapore @ KRC


Dr Mathieu Guerin, National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO), French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)


Owing to high wages, and probably to this alone, the laboring classes are, upon the whole, well fed, clad, and housed… (M)aking allowance for climate, manners, and habits, (they) might bear a comparison with the peasantry of most European countries.
(John Crawfurd, 1827, Journal of an Embassy of the General Governor of British India to the Court of Ava, p. 469).

Our knowledge of economic conditions in early modern Southeast Asia is largely based on information related to exported cash crops and mining products, coerced labour or migrant workers involved in their production, coinage used in international trade, and the role of Chinese merchants and European trading companies. Although international trade is comparatively well documented, it is likely that revenues from the export accounted for only a small part of total income before the last decades of the 19th century. It is therefore misleading to describe early modern Southeast Asian countries as small open economies.

Albeit difficult to assess precisely, the trend of population growth observed throughout the region suggests that the different societies were resilient to exogenous shocks. Information on urban real wages indicates indeed that living standards were well above Chinese and Indian levels. Indices of rising living standards include the development of urban networks, the reinforcement of State capacity in the various polities, and the expansion of intra-Asian international trade.

Was the economic transformation of early modern Southeast Asia sustainable? In order to provide an answer, we can rely on the conceptual framework devised by Dasgupta (2009) and Arrow et al. (2012) in which sustainable development at the country level is identified as an increase in per capita terms of comprehensive wealth, which is the total value of natural, physical (i.e. produced), and human capital stocks.


Jean-Pascal Bassino is Professor of Economics at ENS Lyon (France), a national graduate school. He is currently on a research leave in Tokyo as CNRS research fellow at the French Research Institute on Japan and visiting researcher at the Institute of Economic Research of Hitotsubashi University. His area of specialisation is economic history with a focus on long term changes in living standards in Japan and Southeast Asian countries. Recent publications include “Regional Inequality and Industrial Structure in Japan: 1874-2010″. Tokyo, Maruzen, 2015 (with Fukao, K., Makino, T. Paprzycki, R. Settsu, T. Takashima, M, and Tokui, J.); “From Commodity Booms to Economic Miracle; Why Southeast Asia Industry Lagged Behind” (with Jeffrey G. Williamson), In Kevin O’Rourke and Jeffrey G. Williamson eds. The Spread of Manufacturing to the Global Periphery. Oxford University Press (2017); and “Biological Well-being in Late 19th Century Philippines” (with Marion Dovis and John Komlos), Cliometrica (2018).


Admission is free. Register via this link here.