Black Market


Black Market
   Market-driven commercial activity occurring outside the state-controlled economy of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) period (1962-1988), which Ne Win labeled "economic insurgency" and tried to cripple with demonetization and other measures. Probably its most important dimension was illegal trade in rice and other agricultural products, since much higher prices were offered to farmers on the black market than by the state agricultural marketing board. So much rice flowed onto the black market that even in years of good harvests it was often scarce in urban government stores; when harvests were poor due to drought or flooding, urban residents were desperately short of rice and other foodstuffs, which contributed to social unrest, especially in the mid-1970s and in 1988. Another form of black market activity was the illegal sale of goods by military officers, who had privileged access to government warehouses, to hmaung-kho (black market entrepreneurs), which earned huge profits for both parties. Economic ties between top military officers (or their wives, who often had a keen business sense) and the hmaung-kho were so widespread that when U Tin U and "MI" Tin Oo were arrested on charges of dealing on the black market, observers knew this was just a pretext to eliminate potential challengers to Ne Win's power monopoly. The illegal export of agricultural products and import of manufactured products across Burma's borders by ethnic minority insurgents was probably larger than official external trade, even when the opium trade is not included. According to economist Mya Maung, the black market constituted twothirds of all domestic and external trade during the 1962-1988 period.
   Because the socialist system was corrupt and inefficient, it was impossible for most people to survive on a day-to-day basis without the black market; an estimated 90 percent made use of it. Since government budgets were severely limited, BSPP and state officials depended on contributions from hmaung-kho to perform their official duties, offering them legal protection in return. Wealthy hmaung-kho also contributed generously to pagoda building, offerings to members of the Sangha, and traditional festivals. By the 1980s, they may have numbered as many as several hundred thousand. Many observers believe that Ne Win's demonetization of September 1987, which choked off black market activity and imposed widespread hardship, was the major factor in the nationwide unrest and antigovernment movements of 1988.
   In principle, the black market no longer exists, since the State Law and Order Restoration Council decreed the end of the socialist system in 1988. However, laws relating to business are applied inconsistently, private businesses are still barred from some sectors (such as gemstones and oil and natural gas), and the present military regime continues to view business people as motivated by an evil profit motive. Thus crackdowns, especially on currency traders, are frequent.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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