到20世纪60年代末，就收入水平而言，亚洲是世界上最贫穷的大陆，除了人口众多之外，其他都处于落后水平。它的社会发展指标属于世界最落后的水平，是经济不发达的典型代表。瑞典经济学家贡纳·米达尔(Gunnar Myrdal)在1968年出版的《亚洲戏剧》(Asian Drama)一书中表达了对亚洲经济前景的极度悲观，当时这种悲观情绪非常普遍。
在此后的半个世纪,亚洲在国家经济发展和人民生活条件方面发生了巨大的转变。到2016年, 根据我对联合国研究数据的分析，亚洲的收入占全球收入的30%, 占世界制造业的40%, 贸易总量占世界贸易的三分之一, 而其人均收入逐渐向世界的平均水平靠近。
在半个世纪的亚洲的经济转型中, 政府起到了至关重要的作用, 从领导者到催化剂或支持者。亚洲的成功发展在于协调国家与市场之间不断演变的关系，并在不同的时间段找到各自角色恰当的平衡点。亚洲的崛起代表了全球经济权力的平衡以及西方政治力量的角色转变。未来在一定程度上取决于亚洲如何利用机会和迎接挑战，以及取决于全球经济和政治事态的变化。
Asia: from poorest continent to economic powerhouse
In 1820, Asia accounted for two-thirds of the world’s population and more than one-half of global income.
The subsequent decline of Asia was attributed to its integration with a world economy shaped by colonialism and driven by imperialism.
By the late 1960s, Asia was the poorest continent in the world when it came to income levels, marginal except for its large population. Its social indicators of development, among the worst anywhere, epitomised its underdevelopment. The deep pessimism about Asia’s economic prospects, voiced by the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal in his 1968 book Asian Drama, was widespread at the time.
In the half century since then, Asia has witnessed a profound transformation in terms of the economic progress of its nations and the living conditions of its people. By 2016, as my analysis of UN data shows, it accounted for 30% of world income, 40% of world manufacturing, and over one-third of world trade, while its income per capita converged towards the world average.
This transformation was unequal across countries and between people. Even so, predicting it would have required an imagination run wild. Asia’s economic transformation in this short time-span is almost unprecedented in history. My new book, Resurgent Asia, looks at this phenomenal change.
It’s essential to recognise the diversity of Asia. There have been marked differences between countries in geographical size, embedded histories, colonial legacies, nationalist movements, initial conditions, natural resource endowments, population size, income levels and political systems. The reliance on markets and the degree of openness of economies has varied greatly across countries and over time.
Absolute poverty persists
Despite such diversity, there are common discernible patterns. Economic growth drove development. Growth rates of GDP and GDP per capita in Asia have been stunning and far higher than elsewhere in the world.
Rising investment and savings rates combined with the spread of education were the underlying factors. Growth was driven by rapid industrialisation, often led by exports and linked with changes in the composition of output and employment. It was supported by coordinated economic policies, unorthodox wherever and whenever necessary, across sectors and over time.
Rising per capita incomes transformed social indicators of development, as literacy rates and life expectancy rose everywhere. There was also a massive reduction in absolute poverty. But the scale of absolute poverty that persists, despite unprecedented growth, is just as striking as the sharp reduction of poverty that happened between 1984 and 2012, according to data from the World Bank.
The poverty reduction could have been much greater but for the rising inequality. Yet the gap between the richest and poorest countries in Asia remains awesome and the ratio of GDP per capita in the richest and poorest country in Asia was more than 100:1 in both 1970 and 2016.
The role of governments
Economic openness has performed a critical supportive role in Asian development, wherever it was in the form of strategic integration with the world economy, rather than passive insertion into it. Government policies towards foreign investment have been shaped by industrial policy in the pursuit of national development objectives. While openness was necessary for successful industrialisation, it was not sufficient and facilitated industrialisation only when combined with industrial policy.
In the half-century economic transformation of Asia, governments performed a vital role, ranging from leader to catalyst or supporter. Success at development in Asia was about managing this evolving relationship between states and markets, by finding the right balance in their respective roles that also changed over time.
The rise of Asia represents the beginnings of a shift in the balance of economic power in the world and some erosion in the political dominance of the West. The future will be shaped partly by how Asia exploits the opportunities and meets the challenges and partly by how the difficult economic and political conjuncture in the world unfolds.
Deepak Nayyar, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, University of Oxford
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.