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The end of Asia's strongmen

Mahathir Mohamad, prime minister of Malaysia, shows an increasing tendency to talk rubbish. Commenting in early September on foreign investor selling of Malaysian stocks and the ringgit, he said: "They are racists. I say it openly. They are not happy to see us prosper."

As delegates to the IMF-World Bank annual meetings gather in Hong Kong, this is an opportune time to look at the future of Asia's economies. Contrary to what Mahathir said, foreign investors have been thrilled by the astonishing economic development of Asia over the past two decades. If westerners are not happy now, it is because they are starting to worry whether the miracle is drawing to a close.

Frankly, it is Mahathir - and his counterparts in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia - who are drawing to a close. They are the principal causes of the current malaise.

The era of strong leaders and interventionist government policies in Asia needs to end. Powerful state interference was a key factor in bringing about the early economic development of Asia. But the time has come when state control hampers development rather than aids it. (Japan and Korea, mired in their own problems, have demonstrated how hard it is for the state to withdraw from running the economy, and how damaging when it fails to do so.)

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