The Tyranny of Numbers: Confronting the Statistical Realities of the East Asian Growth Experience

Alwyn Young

NBER Working Paper No. 4680
Issued in March 1994
NBER Program(s):Economic Fluctuations and Growth, International Trade and Investment

This paper documents the fundamental role played by factor accumulation in explaining the extraordinary postwar growth of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Participation rates, educational levels and (with the exception of Hong Kong) investment rates have risen rapidly in all four economies. In addition, there have been large intersectoral reallocations of labour, with (again, excepting Hong Kong) non-agricultural and manufacturing employment growing one and a half to two times as fast as the aggregate working population. Thus, while the growth of output per capita in these economies has averaged 6% to 7% per annum over the past two and a half decades, the growth of output per effective worker in the non- agricultural sector of these economies has been only 3% to 4% per annum. If one then allows for the doubling, tripling and even quadrupling of the investment to GDP ratio in these economies, one arrives at total factor productivity growth rates, both for the non- agricultural economy and for manufacturing in particular, which are well within the bounds of those experienced by the OECD and Latin American economies over equally long periods of time. While the growth of output and manufacturing exports in the newly industrializing economies of East Asia is virtually unprecedented, the growth of total factor productivity in these economies is not.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4680

Published: Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol.110 (August 1995), pp.641-680.

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