Proposal preview

Globalization, Inequality and Long-Term Development in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia has been part and parcel of the global economy since at least the thirteenth century. Anthony Reid (1993) famously pronounced the fifteenth and sixteenth century as the ‘Age of Commerce’ in Southeast Asian history that spurred trends in economic growth and increased living standards. These trends, he argued, were discontinued as a result of the intrusion of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Southeast Asian trading patterns. More recent research has, however, shown that many of the earlier trends of growing trade were continued over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, even though a part of the long-distance trade was brought under the monopoly of the VOC. This had consequences for the distribution of the benefits of this trade. Whereas earlier Malay and Chinese traders were the main beneficiaries, rents now accrued to the VOC. From the mid-nineteenth century, the region underwent further trade expansion and became integral part of the global economy of the time. It has often been noted that this trade expansion, while fuelling GDP growth, hardly benefitted the mass of the population. Colonial institutions may have influenced these patterns as virtually the entire region (with the exception of Siam) was brought under colonial control. After the de-globalization period of the interbellum, trade growth took off in progressively independent Southeast Asia, while many other peripheral economies stagnated or failed to industrialize. How did this effect trends in incomes and inequality? Did the population benefit more, now that it was freed from colonial institutions, or did pre-WWII trends persist?
Despite the importance of Southeast Asia for regional and global trade, the area has been greatly understudied. Thus, we attempt to bridge that gap by inviting papers focusing on Southeast Asia in the various ‘waves of globalization’. More specifically: how did these waves of globalization affect economic development and inequality in various parts of this diverse region? The proposed session already contains contributions on the different periods of globalization, starting with the effects of the Dutch East India Company trade (Robinson, Dell, Heldring), nineteenth- and early 20th-century globalization (Booth, De Zwart, Lopez Jerez, Van der Eng), as well as those more focused on the 20th century, including the postcolonial era (Bassino, Williamson). The session brings together large themes in global economic history, by relating the conference theme of ‘waves of globalization’ to patterns of colonialism, economic development, and inequality in Southeast Asia in the long-run.


  • Pim de Zwart, Wageningen University,, Netherlands
  • Montserrat Lopez Jerez , Lund University,, Sweden

Session members

  • Jean-Pascal Bassino, Lyons Institute of East Asian Studies,
  • Leander Heldring, Harvard University,
  • James Robinson, University of Chicago,
  • Melissa Dell, Harvard University,
  • Anne Booth, SOAS, London,
  • Pierre van der Eng, Australian National University,
  • Jeffrey Williamson, University of Wisconsin-Madison,
  • Montserrat Lopez Jerez , Lund University,
  • Pim de Zwart, Wageningen University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Jan Luiten van Zanden, Utrecht University,