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Indonesian exports, peasant agriculture and the world economy 1850-2000: Economic structures in a Southeast Asian state.

Indonesian exports, peasant agriculture and the world economy 1850-2000:

Economic structures in a Southeast Asian state


Athens: Ohio University Press, 2008. Pp. xix+421. Tables, Charts, Plates,

Bibliography, Index.

doi: 10.1017/S0022463410000159

Japanese scholars have made important contributions to Indonesian studies in recent years, but when they publish in Japanese, their work is known only to the small number of scholars of Southeast Asia who are able to read that language. It is good to welcome a book by Professor H. Kano of the University of Tokyo which includes both translations of work previously published in Japanese and also several new chapters prepared for the volume. Professor Kano has published a number of studies in both English and Japanese on aspects of Javanese agrarian history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the third section of the book contains chapters on the agrarian basis of export industries in Java, the evolution of the land rent system and a case study of population growth and agrarian change in the village of Ungaran. A further chapter examines the agrarian problems confronting Indonesia in a broad perspective, including food supply, land, demographics and employment.

The first two sections deal with aspects of Indonesia's export economy over the 150 years from 1850 to 2000. In the first section, patterns of foreign trade and the evolution of the balance of payments in both the colonial and post-colonial periods are dealt with in detail; there is also a chapter on the Indonesian economy in a Southeast Asian context. The second section examines the rise and fall of the main export industries over the last 150 years, with chapters on sugar, rubber, petroleum and industrial exports. There is a wealth of statistical data on all these topics, although it is fair to say that Professor Kano offers few new insights into Indonesia's economic evolution either before 1940 or after independence. He makes only brief reference to the considerable literature on Indonesian economic development that has emerged since the 1970s; while some of the main monographic studies are mentioned in the bibliography there is little attempt to engage with the extensive English-language journal literature. Key contemporary debates such as the rise of China, and the opportunities and challenges which these pose for Indonesia, are only mentioned in passing with little or no attempt at in-depth analysis.

This is a pity as the reader suspects that Professor Kano has opinions on these questions which would be of considerable interest to English-speaking scholars. Only in the brief concluding chapter does the reader get much insight into his views on the economic evolution of Indonesia since the mid-nineteenth century and how that evolution might proceed over the next century. He sees the Soeharto era in particular as one where (p. 402) 'the key role in economic development shifted from foreign to domestic enterprises'. The last part of the Soeharto era also saw a transition from primary to manufactured exports although he suggests that further development of export-oriented manufacturing will be difficult in the twentieth-first century. Thus he hints that the Japanese model which has been adopted by countries such as Taiwan and Korea might not be replicable in Indonesia.

Professor Kano also argues that (p. 407) 'there appears to be an ecological limit on the expansion of agricultural production' in Indonesia but does not say whether he thinks that the limit has yet been reached outside Java. In earlier chapters he suggests that Java has been quite successful in accommodating a growing population in both agriculture and non-agricultural activities although he also points out that the agrarian legislation adopted after independence, especially the Basic Agrarian Law of 1960, strengthened the class of rural landowners who in turn were able to invest in off-farm activities, and in their children's education. This has led to much greater diversification of employment opportunities in rural areas, especially those close to towns and cities. This 'de-agrarianisation' will no doubt continue, but will it create greater disparities in income and wealth in rural areas? No answer is provided to this question.

Professor Kano also casts some doubt on whether a truly national economy has emerged in Indonesia. While he agrees that many millions of Indonesians have become more mobile, and are seeking employment opportunities far away from their places of birth, he suggests that a truly national economy (in the sense that List used the term to describe the rise of the American economy after independence from Britain) has yet to come about in Indonesia. Again the reader might wish that he had developed this argument in greater depth. Nonetheless this is a stimulating book, well worth the attention of all serious students of Indonesia's economic history since the middle years of the nineteenth century.


SOAS, University of London
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Author:Booth, Anne
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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