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I’ve in a previous here I spoke of the relative ease in explaining what in comparison to the difficulty of explaining why.

The below graph illustrates this problem well. The graph demonstrates clearly enough that, when give the opportunity to address the United Nations General Assembly, Southeast Asia’s leaders tend not to say so much in comparison to other regional leaders.


Source: The Economist

Why might this be?

The easiest response is to suggest that a shy and/or introverted personality is characteristic of regional leaders (an ASEAN way, if you like), but I have reservations about this thesis. One is that they are national leaders (not a role that tends to attract the humble) and secondly whether there really is a unique and all encompassing Southeast Asian personality.

There may in fact be a vast number of potential reasons explaining this relative silence. Could it be that they speak less because they believe nobody will listen to them? Could it be that are better speakers and can condense longer speeches into short statements? Could it be that they are, for example, always allocated speaking times at the end of sessions and feel compelled to truncate their points? Or could it be that they say less because they actually have no wish for change?

Note that inherent in all these guesses is an assumption that we believe we know that A leads to (causes) B. For example, we argue in the above example that no wish for change causes they say less. Being an intelligent species humans often make correct assumptions about causation, and humans certainly believe they usually make correct assumptions, but conducting research provides the best proof we have of our assumption validity.

Some of the most startling moments in history have been when research has shown that some of the most common and strongest held assumptions, such as earth has day and night because the sun revolves around the earth, have been proven false.

This leads me to possibilities that are almost impossible to test. An example is whether it might actually be that for Southeast Asian leaders not needing to say much to the United Nations General Assembly causes a political will for nothing much to change?

But, like so many natural experiments, the problem is that without an adequate control, like another planet where everything is the same except Southeast Asian leaders spend longer addressing the United Nations, we can never know.