Sunday, March 4, 2007

Deconstructing Imtiaz Muqbil: Hypocrisy and Lies from The Bangkok Post's Sunday Columnist

The world is not flat

Misguided globalisation reduces countries to no more than models on a catwalk - strutting their stuff before a panel of judges in anticipation of being bestowed the reward of a crown that will be gone in a year


The shocks that reverberated through the global stock markets last week yielded yet another example of the 21st century economic pandemics that can spread faster than bird flu, and the threats of the aptly-named "problems without passports" in an age of globalisation.

Globalisation, and its economic first-cousins liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation, are all in one way or another pegged to the concept of "open-markets" and "free-trade", which is marketed as panacea for economic growth.

But if those concepts of freedom and openness, which have many undeniable virtues, do not have commensurately appropriate check-and-balance mechanisms with clear rules, methods of enforcement and channels of accountability, then the result is anarchy.

Every capitalist believes in these things. The problem is that the 3rd World countries don't apply these standards and that is why they have many problems.

Like all dwellings, countries need to keep their windows open in order to let in some fresh air, but if a storm begins to swell, they have every right to seal off all doors and windows. At the same time, the dwellings need to be built on firm foundations so as to avoid being entirely blown away in the first place.

The reason why 3rd World countries are a mess is because they don't follow the law. They don't abide by regulations. And they are hopelessly corrupt. The reason why 1st World countries are successful is because they are the polar opposite of the 3rd World.

In the old days, all of Thailand's infrastructure-related facilities - water, electricity, telecommunications, transportation, energy -- were directly related to the country's national security. Hence, the state enterprises that oversaw these utilities were always controlled by the military.

The fact is that the farang built all the infrastructure of Thailand in the early days of its modernization process. The military didn't control public assets because of national security. Instead, they wanted to make money for their own personal gain. Imtiaz doesn't mention the period between 1860-1932 when the military had no control over Thailand's assets whatsoever. Who owned and ran those assets during that time? The Farang.

Today, in an age of globalisation, it is considered fashionable to "privatise" these utilities on the grounds that they will bring costs down, make their operations more efficient and drive economic growth.


While that may be true to some extent, it does not deter from the fact that national infrastructure is, and will always remain, of paramount importance to national security. If it falls entirely into private hands, the companies that control its various components effectively begin to control national security, too.

There are many countries in the world that have partnerships with foreign multinationals, especially when it comes to infrastructure projects and developing natural resources.

Didn't an Indian multinational just buy a huge steel company in the UK?

In the US, the Japanese, the Saudis, the British and the Canadians are heavily invested in real estate development, heavy industries and mass media.

Without the farang, where would Thailand be today without foreign capital? It would be absolutely nowhere. There would be no modern Thailand; it would be stuck in the 16th century. Further, Siam/Thailand was not built with capital only from Europe and America, but originally from the Arab states, the Malay states, the Indian states, China and Japan. How did Buddhist/Indian culture arrive in Thailand? Was it by magic?

If these companies are located offshore, such as private equity funds and investment banking conglomerates, that makes matters even worse.

If a country loses control of its infrastructure, it loses control of its national sovereignty.

How can a country ever lose control over its own infrastructure? If a foreign company registers itself as a corporation in any country in the world, it must abide by the laws of that country. Every commercial treaty that I know has it stipulated that foreign companies must abide by the laws of the land. Corporations can't be powers unto themselves.

If that happens, it ceases to be an independent country at all, but rather a neo-colonised entity at the mercy of "foreign investors" who must be appeased and satisfied at all times if economies are to keep growing.

The thing about anti-globalization rhetoricians like Imtiaz is that they want it both ways. They want the money for development, yet at the same time they think the owners of that money should have no right to manage it themselves. And, like I said, foreign investors always have to abide by the laws of the land they are investing in. In many cases, governments actually give foreign capital tax breaks and a loose regulatory structure. Whose fault is that? It is the home government's fault.

These days, many governments are being whipped up into a frenzy of deregulation, liberalisation and privatisation by the rallying cry of the globalisation crusaders, "The World is Flat."

"Globalization crusaders"?

But it isn't flat, and never will be.

At the same time, the definition of "security" has changed. Currency attacks, and instability in commodity prices, exchange rates, stock markets are all capable of triggering economic tsunamis which can be as devastating as the real thing.

That is the nature of capitalism. Money moves fast. So what? Learn to move faster.

"Security" is also the primary objective of the so-called "war on terror" behind which the entire world is having to rally, and to spend huge amounts on buying anti-terror equipment.

Imtiaz can't resist writing a column without attacking Jews or Americans.

When DP World, a Dubai company, sought to buy a port in the US, America's politicians rose up against it on the grounds of national security, so that those evil Arabs would not gain control of what goes through American ports.

Yeah, that was stupid. But, guess who supported the move for Dubai to manage the ports? Imtiaz's friend, George W. Bush. And it was only some politicians that got upset. Many US politicians actually had integrity and thought the attacks against Dubai were racist. Of course, Imtiaz, doesn't mention that part.

However, in Indonesia, US security companies are freely operating in the ports, supposedly as part of the "war on terror". That many of these companies are run by intelligence agents does not seem to matter to the Indonesians.

I don't know about the Indonesian situation to comment. But no foreign security company can operate without the host county's permission. And as far as I know, the US has signed agreements with many countries concerning customs inspections before goods are sent to the US.

In the last decade, Thailand has experienced all the downsides of the globalisation pandemic. Why? What has it done wrong?

Thailand is a corrupt, poorly managed country that poorly enforces regulatory regimes.

How could a country that managed to avoid falling victim to the two most significant political national security threats of the 20th century, communism and colonialism, become among the first to fall victim to the economic national security threats of the 21st century?

Thailand had problems with colonialism and communism. It just wasn't destroyed by them.

In the rush to blindly follow that other rallying cry, "Think Global, Act Local", many mistakes were made.

Listening excessively to one-sided, self-serving advice saw policies being changed only because that attracted foreign investment, pumped up the GDP and drove up stock markets. "Brand-name" international banking groups, consultants and the embedded journalists in the once-independent western media all were part of the effort.

Whatever Thailand's politicians and bureaucrats did, it was from choice. They have nobody to blame but themselves for the choices that they made. And many of the bad choices they made were not because of the farang, but because of their own greed.

That's how it begins.

The history of colonialism began with adventurers who embarked upon global journeys either to explore or trade. Eventually, they metamorphosed into preachers spreading the faith and/or conquerors exercising political control.

In the old days, that is what happened.

While the former colonialists could be removed through a combination of civil disobedience campaigns or military tactics, legally-binding economic control is exceedingly difficult to undo.

No, many countries that were former colonies did nationalize industries that were owned by their former colonizers. Thailand drove the foreigners out of the economy after 1932.

One thing the former colonialists did very well indeed, however, was to perfect the policy of divide-and-rule. Today's colonisers call it "promoting competitiveness."

Divide and rule and promoting competitiveness are not the same thing.

Countries become nothing more than models on a catwalk - strutting their stuff before a panel of judges in anticipation of being bestowed the very temporary reward of a crown that will be gone in a year.

The actual and permanent winners are not the contestants at all but the pageant sponsors, mainly the cosmetics companies, whose products continue to sell year after year regardless of who gets crowned.

But the increasing insecurities, also known as "external shocks", are exposing globalisation for what it really is - countries fed artificially on steroids so that they appear to look healthy, plump and juicy, like poultry and cattle.

The countervailing theory of sufficiency economics provides a more durable, holistic and equitable foundation for nation-building that allows a country to remain in control of its own destiny, not be forced to bow to the whims and fancies of "foreign investors."

Imtiaz shows his true colors now. Sucking up to the Thais by embracing sufficiency theory.

That is precisely why many of the right-wing media outlets are baying against it. If the sufficiency economy theory can be made to succeed, many other countries will follow suit, reassert their independence, and not fall, like ripe apples, one by one into the hands of private equity funds.

The right-wing reactionaries are embracing sufficiency theory. Which parts of Thailand's economy are owned by foreign equity funds? Asserting independence from what exactly? How are foreign fund companies infringing upon Thailand's sovereignty?

Either way, Thailand is again at yet another crossroads in its history, caught in the quandary of deciding between short-term pain vs long-term gain, or vice versa.

Over time, however, nature's way will prevail. Blood will always remain thicker than water, and the world will never be flat.

What is ironic about Imtiaz Muqbil is that he is not even Thai. He is a Muslim Indian. And there is nothing wrong with that. I could care less. But for a guy who hates globalization, he certainly lives off the fruits of it. Everything he despises, he profits from personally.

Let's see: He works in the travel industry; plus, he is a foreigner who writes a column in the English language for a Thai newspaper.

You can't get more globalized than that.

This guy is such a hypocrite, it is unbearable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But he understands the benefit of kissing Thai asses and making sure they hear what they want to hear.