The economist who advocated for agriculture

Giants in History: U Hla Myint (1920 – 2017) was a celebrated economist from Myanmar. Considered a prodigy, he was admitted to Rangoon University to study economics when he was just 14 years old.

 He went on to earn a Ph.D. at the London School of Economics (LSE). His thesis formed the foundation of his book, “A Theory of Welfare Economics,” which strongly influenced the field. Hla Myint highlighted the importance of free trade, capital accumulation and international specialization for economic development. He particularly stressed the importance of improving agriculture first, which helped provide the foundation for rapid growth in other Asian countries, such as Taiwan and South Korea. He tried to return to teach and work in Myanmar several times, but conflict and political turmoil pushed him back to the U.K., where he taught at the University of Oxford and LSE. For example, he was drafted to serve as the government’s economic advisor shortly after independence in 1948, but found his advice unheeded by the government, which paid farmers less for rice than the world market price. Despite the struggles, Hla Myint was cautiously optimistic about Myanmar’s economic development. He maintained that the progress, although slow, could prevent the country from returning to economic isolation.