Can Myanmar turn its economy up to 11?


Myanmar's President Thein Sein visits a Japanese power plant on April 22, 2012.



Myanmar's President Thein Sein could be the planet's most optimistic head of state.

How else can you define a man who has vowed, against all odds, to triple his country's meager economy in a mere five years?

Myanmar is currently one of Asia's most broken and impoverished countries. Emerging from decades of despotic military rule, its schools are dilapidated, its banking system is a mess and only 13 percent of the population is plugged into the power grid.

But if the president gets his wish, it won't stay that way. His newly proclaimed national goal would hike the per capita GDP up to $3,900. That's higher than current figures in go-getter economies such as India and Vietnam.

The problem with this goal is that, in the eyes of most observers, it's practically impossible to reach. This Wall Street Journal post searches for other nations that have witnessed that speed of growth and turns up a few tiny, oil-rich states and several Asian and African nations recovering from bloody conflicts. Rwanda and East Timor are not promising economic role models.

More fascinating still is that this government goal defies predictions by, well, the government itself.

Thein Sein rolled out his plan last week while I was on assignment in Myanmar's commerical capital, Yangon. I had an opportunity to skim the government's media mouthpiece, The New Light of Myanmar, to see how the paper would handle the big news.

Coupled with the announcement was an admission: as it stands, state economists predict the per capita GDP won't even double, let alone triple, within the goal's time frame.

Does the president's endeavor signal he's out of touch with economic reality?

Or is this Thein Sein's version of a half-time pep talk urging his team to give it 110 percent?

Perhaps it's not so different from the United Nations-led 189-country pledge to "end poverty by 2015."