“Why is Vietnam still poor?”

quoraBelow are a question asked by someone on Quora and an answer provided on 1 September 2016 by a young man who describes himself as born in Hanoi, now living in Sai Gon.  Quora is a self-described “question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users.”  Its slogan is The best answer to any question. Unfortunately, like most corporate slogans, it’s more of an ideal than a reality.  The fact is anyone who is a member can answer, and some answers are better than others, to put it mildly.

As with Facebook, the only reason I choose to continue receiving their updates is because of the occasional nugget of gold in the midst of what is mostly ore.  Some of the questions and answers are the journalistic equivalent of click bait, e.g., Can humans crossbreed with other primates?, Would you kill someone if it wasn’t illegal? or Did you play “show me yours, I’ll show you mine” as a kid?  You get the idea.

Keep in mind that the assumption is Viet Nam is poor.

Why is Vietnam still poor?

Let’s start with corruption. Vietnam’s government is one of the most corrupted government in the world. The Vietnamese government was ranked at 112/168 (2015) in the CPI (Corruption Perceptions Index) [source]. All the money spent towards infrastructure building, social insurance, etc. flows into private pockets. Furthermore, brain drain (or human capital flight) is a huge problem in Vietnam. So you want to get a job in the government, does your father know “someone”? Do you have the money to “buy the position”? All the high quality workforce, if they don’t work oversea, they work for non-government entities. The low quality workforce somehow got into government jobs, and can you imagine what they can do to the countries?

The common Vietnamese people were educated to not having their own opinions, even if they do have opinions, they’ll be suppressed before saying it. Not to mention every problems in society are handled by “the Party” (Communist Party of Vietnam). Even the Vietnamese Constitution states that “the Party” is the only and rightful leading party of Vietnam.

But things are changing towards better. The young generations are now having their own opinions, their standard of living is raising, they have more concerns about politics than ever.

My Answer

Yes, there’s corruption in Viet Nam but there’s also corruption in the US, which is considered to be an “advanced country” but certainly a cautionary tale in this and other respects.  For example, 20 US Americans own as much wealth as 50% of the population, a clear indication of extreme wealth inequality and all of its attendant problems. 20 People Now Own As Much Wealth as Half of All Americans  (See Study: US is an oligarchy, not a democracy, based on a study Princeton University and Northwestern University)

Let’s give credit where credit’s due. Here are just a few examples:

1) Viet Nam is among the world’s leaders in converting wealth into national well-being. Vietnam is the 4th best country in converting wealth into well-being – VnExpress International

2) “Vietnam has achieved the fastest reduction in child malnutrition in the region with an average annual decline of 1.5 percent, according to the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).” Vietnam leads drop in child malnutrition

3) “Việt Nam is ranked fifth in the list of the world’s most optimistic countries on economic prosperity in 2017, according to a survey by WIN/Gallup, the world’s leading association in market research and polling.” VN among the world’s most optimistic countries on economic prosperity

4)  Viet Nam ranks 47th out of 127 countries in the Global Innovation Index 2017 (GII) and 9th in Asia, leading the group of middle- and lower-income economies.

As with any country, it’s important to be objective and well-informed when assessing its achievements and its shortcomings. For example, it’s patently false to assert that “All the money spent towards infrastructure building, social insurance, etc. flows into private pockets.” The world is not black and white but rather like a rainbow.

This statement is an oversimplification of a complex phenomenon: “Furthermore, brain drain (or human capital flight) is a huge problem in Vietnam.” A more accurate term is “brain recirculation.” Growing numbers of overseas-educated Vietnamese are coming home to start new businesses or join existing ones, not to mention overseas Vietnamese who have moved (back) to Viet Nam to work and live for the long term, if not for the rest of their lives.

And, yes, Viet Nam’s past continues to haunt its present, including war legacies and the fact that 3.8 million Vietnamese, over half of whom were civilians, were killed during the American War. As others have mentioned, the devastating US-led economic embargo, which was imposed in 1965 on the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (“North Vietnam”), was only lifted in 1994 (!). These are tragic realities not excuses.

In short, Mr. Đức’s one-sided answer reflects a lack of knowledge and perspective. He lacks an appreciation for just how far his country has come in a very short period of time. He does, however, end on an optimistic note: “But things are changing towards better. The young generations are now having their own opinions, their standard of living is raising, they have more concerns about politics than ever.” That’s called development. Why is the standard of living rising?  In large part because of key government policies that date to the Renovation (Đổi Mới) reforms of 1986.

In spite of its problems, many of which I consider to be the “growing pains” of a rapidly developing economy, Viet Nam is widely considered to be one of the great success stories of the developing world.  Isn’t that something Vietnamese and others who have Viet Nam’s best interests at heart can be rightfully be proud of?





3 thoughts on ““Why is Vietnam still poor?”

  1. I see, “corruption in the US” too , but they can bring it out to light , Corruption in Vietnam no body can do anything about it and if you do you die , simple ! .
    small example like this guy , Major general Truong gia Long (police department ) , he disappeared after he spoke the truth , his faith no body know .
    his you tube link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goS_IyEuLvc

    why dont you speak the truth , growth and prosperity came at a cost to the many people , have their land stolen or under compensated by the government. and the only people who prosperity is the officials .
    Many Vietnamese come from over sea and come back home doing business ?? fat chances if you are not a friend of or knowing the government officials you have no chance doing business.

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. In case you haven’t noticed, the US is an oligarchy, meaning it is controlled, at least at the federal/national level, by a small number of individuals of considerable means. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746 For that matter, why don’t have a look at how the US compares to most of its peer countries. Not favorably, I’m afraid.

      What you say about Viet Nam is incorrect. A civil society is rapidly developing with tangible results. Many people in the government are sensitive to public opinion regarding certain key issues. I’ve seen this play out at different levels. It’s obvious you don’t live in Viet Nam and are out of touch. My advice to you is to stop believing everything you read and hear from VK (Việt kiều) sources. They are still living in the past, idolizing a country that ceased to exist in 1975, a former US client state.

      Of course, “growth and prosperity came at a cost to the many people,” which is why sustainable development is the key to Viet Nam’s future, as it is for the entire world. Pardon my salty language, but your statement that “the only people who prosperity is the officials” is pure bullshit. I’ve lived here since 2005. Ditto for your comment about how hard it is to do business “if you are not a friend of or knowing the government officials.” I would argue that it’s easier to do business here than in most “advanced” countries, including the US.


  2. Thomas was correct in regards to corruption and whistleblowers.

    I’m a Vietnamese citizen. I’ve lived in Vietnam for the first 18 years of my life. My parents and grandparents are government officials yet they were able to afford tens of millions of dollars worth of assets, send my sister and I to international school, and send us to college abroad in the US. All on a supposed 40M VND combined salary.

    Of course, I didn’t find about their illegal dealings until I was a bit older. Turns out everyone is corrupt and everyone has accepted corruption as the norm. Citizens will put up with paying bribes as long as they aren’t over the top and officials will put up with a bit of embezzlement as long as you kick it up/down the ladder. it also ensure complicity.

    Some officials embezzle more than they can chew off and get demoted and transferred to rural provinces. If you embezzle too much then they’ll make an example out of you for PR and you’ll serve 3-10 years in jail, usually released early for good behavior and your previous service to the nation.

    Citizens do not report petty corruption. Video evidence is worthless, reports will get get trashed. No one wants to make an enemy out of the entire ward over a petty claim. Citizens also do NOT report major corruption. You will get fined and possibly imprisoned for propagandizing against the state, abusing democratic freedoms, etc, depending on who you offend/slander.

    As for doing business in Vietnam, it is noticeably easier because bribes will cut through the red tape like a hot knife through butter.

    Most cadres and officials are allowing their children to break the chains of the civil service by allowing them to settle abroad in an already developed nation. My grandparents couldn’t afford to send my dad to international school until he had already graduated from university. My dad didn’t speak English and already earned a Vietnamese degree so it was decided that he would enter the ranks of the VCP in order to open up and earn opportunities for a future abroad for his children.

    When you have too much money, the amount of things you can’t buy become too apparent and oppressive, especially in Vietnam. I’m grateful to my family but they are no doubt corrupt as every other official in Vietnam.

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