Economist U Hla Myint Dies at 97

By The Irrawaddy 10 March 2017

RANGOON — One of Burma’s few internationally renowned scholars and pioneering welfare economist U Hla Myint passed away at the age of 97 in Bangkok on Thursday.

Born in Pathein, Irrawaddy Division in 1920, he was a bright child who was officially enrolled in Rangoon University when he was only 15 years old.

He later studied at the London School of Economics where he got a Ph.D. in 1948 with a thesis on theories of welfare economics. He acted as an advisor to Burma’s post-independence government in the 1950s under the country’s first prime minister U Nu.

The prime minister rejected his advice to liberate the country’s rice trade from state control, in favor of an inward-looking model. Failing to convince U Nu to take an export-oriented economic strategy, he left the position and the country. The young scholar joined Oxford University as a lecturer until he returned to Burma in the late 1950s to serve as the rector of Rangoon University.

However, the 1962 coup by dictator Gen Ne Win forced him to leave the country again. He spent nearly two decades teaching development economics at the London School of Economics.

While he was little known in his home country, his theories were exhibited in the economic policies of Asia’s “tiger economies,” Australian economist Sean Turnell wrote in a 2014 paper. Sean Turnell called U Hla Myint a sage and a classical economist in the same paper.

U Hla Myint returned to Burma in 2012 under the quasi-civilian government led by former military general U Thein Sein for an economic forum entitled “An Agenda for Equitable and Sustainable Development for Myanmar.” Even five decades later, his view on the country’s economic strategy remained the same; growth of the agricultural sector within a free market system.

During an interview with Nikkei Asia in 2015, U Hla Myint noted that U Thein Sein’s approach to the country’s economic development was “inefficient” despite “roughly trying to follow the right policy.”