IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 17 | Regions |South East Asia

reportreport 2-4 April 1998
London, Great Britain

The Economies of Southeast Asia in the 1930s Depression

This workshop took place at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, 2-4 April 1998. A total of fifteen papers were presented, by scholars from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Indonesia, France, Denmark, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States.

By Peter Boomgaard and Ian Brown


The workshop pursued two central themes. The first was the proposition that when the 1930s depression crisis struck Southeast Asia, the populations of the region - large sections of whom were heavily dependent on production for the world market - created or discovered a number of mechanisms by which they could defend their material condition. These survival strategies included an expansion in production to compensate in part for the collapse in crop prices; resistance to the demands of tax collectors, landlords, and moneylenders; and a sharp decline in the prices of articles of consumption, notably imports from Japan. Much of the discussion on this point focused on attempts to establish the relative effectiveness of each of these strategies.

The second, and more important theme arose from the observation that the world economic crisis of the 1930s had a vastly varied impact across Southeast Asia. The impact varied, for example, between the countries of the region, within countries, between agricultural classes, between rural and urban populations, and between crops. This point was brought out particularly clearly in the two papers on the Philippines. The corollary of this argument is that the precise impact of the crisis in a particular locality was determined by one or more of a host of possible factors - the level of agrarian debt on the eve of the crisis; the ease of access to international markets during the depression years; the land, labour, and capital regimes of the crops grown in that locality; the ability of local tax collectors, landlords, and moneylenders to force payments from the population. The final discussion revolved principally around an attempt to construct some general principles by which the impact of the depression crisis on a particular locality could be predicted. Was it, for example, access to international markets or was it mainly the tightness of local credit conditions, which determined the severity of the depression in a given locality?
The papers from the workshop are now being revised. In addition, a further paper - on Siam during the 1930s economic crisis - is being sought. The participants and their revised papers have reconvened as a panel at the EUROSEAS Conference in Hamburg in September 1998. The panel was used to make the final revisions to the papers and, in particular, to consider the first draft of an introductory paper. It is intended that the papers will be published as a single edited volume.

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 17 | Regions |South East Asia