When governments first began to respond to the economic crisis that arose in 2008, it seemed as if the lessons of Keynes had been learned by a sufficient number of world leaders for the worst excesses of depression to be avoided. The Brown-Obama connection ensured that large (although, for political reasons, probably not large enough) stimulus packages were passed both to shore up the financial architecture of the world’s economic system and to make it possible for the public sector to take up the load of providing employment and economic growth while the private sector is unable to do so.
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Simply put, Keynesianism is an intellectual adherence to the economic ideas put forward by John Maynard Keynes, whose influence in both the UK and the USA in the 1930s-1960s in particular was enormous. However, not everyone claiming to be a Keynesian appears to have actually read anything that Keynes wrote and, perhaps more importantly, lies and smears spread by the right wing media have for decades been aimed at trying to paint an inaccurate and often libelous picture of the man himself and his beliefs.
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Thailand’s economic development since the 1950s has relied primarily on import-substituting, export-oriented manufacturing with competitiveness based on low labour costs. Those low labour costs have been ensured through bringing new entrants into the labour market from the rural agricultural sector (or from among the ranks of migrant workers) and by suppressing the ability of workers to complain, secure freedom of association, collective bargaining and so forth.
However, having reached middle income status through this method, the time has come for new methods. Unfortunately, the current government seems unable to understand this. Meanwhile, in Vietnam, a lower cost competitor continues to reap the rewards – as Thai economic development has progressed, it has inevitably led to generally increased incomes that erode the basis of competitive advantage. It is also (slightly) less easy for the state to use violence to silence troublesome labour leaders – although attempts are still made.
The industrial estate management company, Amata, has announced new plans to buy land in Vietnam to help establish the East Asian Economic Model there. Industrial estates provide decent infrastructure together with the expectation of some incentives from the state to encourage investors to locate their factories there. Being labour-intensive, such estates tend to act as magnets to attract workers and their families (there is often also a gender element) and this then has an impact on the living conditions of the accommodation centres and also the home towns and villages of workers. Vietnam will out-compete Thailand in providing low cost labour force for manufacturing – so too will Cambodia in due course, although the workers there will need some of the education necessary to prepare them for a life in the factories.
Despite what a number of people have suggested subsequently, few members of the mainstream commentariat predicted an imminent financial crash prior to its actually happening in 2008 (I excuse from this those whose belief system has convinced them of either the impending final crisis of capitalism or the end of the world). Two of those journalists and writers who actually did see something coming are Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, respectively of The Guardian and The Mail on Sunday, which is itself a somewhat contradictory sounding partnership.
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In the essay ‘Escape Velocity,’ concerning the ways in which technology has decoupled modern society from its assumptions of time and space, wrote:
“So, before our very eyes … the notions of centre and periphery are suddenly redefined. These now have less to do with the ‘space’ of surfaces and volumes than with ‘time,’ the time of that inflated present known as real time which today governs man’s activities on a worldwide scale.”*
As I wrote yesterday, Thailand under the Thai Rak Thai administration began the process of moving from the periphery (low-cost manufacturing outpost in which local labour forces are rented out to investors and kept under firm control) towards the core – represented by its recreation as a place in which value-adding activities take place. Virilio’s reconfiguration of time and place affect Thailand both as a country and on a provincial basis. As a country, its production facilities can coordinate with the leading global producers of knowledge and information, in a similar way in which Indian off-shore computer code centres produce the new data experiences of the western world.
On a provincial basis, it is to be hoped that new centres of production of knowledge and information emerge across the country (Phuket, for example, is lauded as a very pleasant and convenient place to live and work for footloose professionals in the creative industries) and this will spread influence and resources throughout the country, thereby reducing the problems of inequality of income and influence from which Thailand has been suffering so greatly.
This is contained in Virilio, Paul, Open Sky (London and New York: Verso, 2008), p.135.
At the end of the Second World War, the victorious allies met to determine the nature of the post-war economic architecture of the world. The purposes were various: create an economy that would act as a disincentive to war, act as a deterrent to the spread of Communism and integrate newly post-colonial states into the global polity.
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