The Rise and Fall of the Indonesian Economy

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 100

Joseph J. Stern
June 2003


The Indonesia crisis was particularly severe. What began as an economic crisis quickly evolved in to a political crisis. Most analysts failed to recognize the growing weaknesses of the economy and were caught by surprise. In part Indonesia's economic success over the period 1985 through 1997 and its records on policy reforms had persuaded many that, despite some obvious weaknesses, it would come through the Asian crisis with minimum damage. A closer analysis of the Indonesia's economic history shows that the initial reforms, carefully crafted by a highly respected group of economic technocrats, tackled many of the most serious distortions that held back economic growth. But as these reforms began to pay off in terms of higher growth rates, sharply declining poverty rates, and an increased level of integration in the global economy, the desire for further reforms waned. Over time the beneficiaries of the early reforms allied themselves with the political elites to block further reforms and in effect reduced the power of the technocrats to resist a return to the dirigiste tendencies that had marked much of Indonesia's early development efforts. While the reforms were important, in retrospect they were insufficient to create an institutional infrastructure that could weather a dramatic economic downturn.

Keywords: Indonesia, economic reforms, poverty alleviation, corruption, economic policy reforms, Asian financial crisis

JEL subject codes: O11, O24, O53