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Nobel prize-winning economist to visit Burma

Dec 1, 2009 (DVB), Renowned American economist, Joseph Stiglitz, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001, is due to visit Burma in December to advise the military government on poverty reduction.

Stiglitz will arrive in Burma on 15 December where his is due to attend a "development forum" with the senior-level government minister for agriculture and rural development, Major General Htay Oo, and national development minister, Soe Tha.

Bentley Jenson, from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), confirmed the that, along with local UN staff, Stiglitz will be "taking a development partnership seminar called the Economic Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction: Lessons Learned from the Region and Beyond".

As well as presiding over the forum, he is planning to visit impoverished rural areas and meet with other UN staff.

Stiglitz, author of 'Globalisation and its Discontents', and several other renowned analyses of the global economic system, is generally critical of completely free-market economics.

He is also famous for conducting a financial appraisal of the controversial US-led invasion of Iraq in 2006, in which he estimated the cost at $US2 trillion.

During his work with the Clinton administration, he coined the 'Third Way' in economics; what effectively became a compromise between free market economics and more state-centred or 'Keynesian' models.

He has also acted as Chief Economist at the World Bank, but quit after complaining that the Bank's methods were inappropriate and ineffective for helping the world's poor.

Many will herald this visit as a positive move and a sign that the military junta are prepared to engage with progressive voices on the burning issue of poverty and economic mismanagement. It could also form part of the new engagement policy to Burma that is being sought by Washington.

However, for Dr Wylie Bradford, from Macquarie University's Burma Economic Watch in Australia, the trip could prove fruitless.

"I am not sure what kind of advice you can give them [the military junta] because that presupposes that they have an interest in behaving rationally," he said.

"It's presupposing that somehow the aims of reducing poverty, of economic development, are the aims that [the junta] has, but they have just been getting it spectacularly wrong. In fact their aims are maintaining their power and maintaining their ability to extract wealth from the country".

Reporting by Joseph Allchin


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