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Monday, December 17, 2007

On Thai Capitalism

Bangkok Post

By BANYONG PONGPANICH

Excerpt:

In Thailand, there has been little attempt to explain these concepts clearly, and capitalism is often accused of being a system that is driven only by profit and exploitation, that it worships consumerism and is unethical. It is important for society to understand the real principles of this system.

However, I must reiterate that capitalism as practised in Thailand is far from its ideal form. It is crony capitalism which benefits only select groups of influential people: those who control the resources and privileges and only think of ways for themselves and their friends to reap the benefits.

We are practising a superficial form of capitalism, which lacks the essence of the ideal philosophy or the potential for realising it. Thai-style capitalism is a distorted system designed to benefit only the privileged few and to deprive benefits from the weak and the less fortunate.

Perhaps I have not answered the question about whether capitalism is suitable for Thailand. Should we continue on with this system?

We need to think about what our options are. I believe there are four:

- We can continue with the current distorted version of capitalism which promotes cronyism, fattening the privileged few, preventing free competition, keeping out foreign investors with more potential and efficiency by using nationalism as an excuse and ultimately placing the control of the state in the hands of the elite. This is the way things are right now, and problems have occurred as a result.

- We could try to develop our economic system into true capitalism by promoting a correct understanding of the system and its principles, as well as strategically and systematically creating the necessary infrastructures, regulations and mechanisms to support the system. We can learn from the success of other capitalist countries and apply it to the Thai context while remaining true to the key principles of this system.

- We could switch to other systems such as communism, although it has been a failure in countries where it has been practised, with severe problems of poverty and a low quality of life.

- Finally, we could try to come up with a new system, hoping there is a system out there that is specifically suitable to the Thai context. I think that those who are against capitalism seem to have this belief, although I have not come across concrete examples that are tried and tested.

I am quite confident that the second option is the best that we have today. The third and the fourth options are nearly impossible.

At the same time, if we do not choose the second option, it is quite certain that we will end up with the first _ to continue with distorted capitalism _ which will lead to even more problems and social conflicts, hindering our potential to develop and compete in the increasingly globalised economy.


Obviously, Banyong has hit the nail on the head.

I don't think there is anything evil about capitalism in itself, but there are serious problems with the economic/political/feudal system of Thailand, and Thai leftists, who I am not unsympathetic with, do a disservice to serious analysis when they call the Thai system, capitalism.

I agree with Banyong that Thais will never accept a communist system, so that best to hope for is a mixed system. But to have a functioning mixed system, there must be social justice and the rule of law--two things that the Thai elite will never allow to happen.

The Chinese bourgeois class wants to maintain control of the Thai economy and doesn't want to compete.

The Thai aristocracy thinks it is above the law and wants to sustain a 16th century feudal culture.

And the Thai military generals want us to think they are honest arbiters of power, but the reality is that they use elite groups to maximize their own wealth and power for selfish ends.

2 comments:

Jason Smith said...

I'm sure you didn't intend it, but the phrase "Chinese bourgeois" sounds borderline racist to me. What's wrong with just "the bourgeois wants to maintain..."? Plenty ethnic Thais are part of the bourgeois, and plenty ethnic Chinese are not. Bringing race into it distracts from the issue.

Robuzo said...

Cut us a break, Jason Smith, and open your eyes while you are at. The urban bourgeoisie is clearly dominated by ethnic Chinese, and Thai nationals of non-Chinese origin (i.e., dark-skinned people of various ethnicities) are denigrated in popular entertainment (comedy shows, etc.) or utterly ignored (as in most advertising, some of which is actually geared toward making people feel bad about their skin color). The Chinese managerial/professional class is supportive of the status quo and the current system of de facto apartheid, and would resist any reforms, especially the introduction of competitors (in other words, foreign investors) that might threaten their dominance. The sad irony of all this is that the only recourse most rural Thais/Lao/Khmen can see is to cast their votes for the proxies of a Chinese gangster who happens to have acquired some skill in populist manipulation.