There are, these days, many thousands of westerners (and some from developed Asian countries) who have settled down in the north-eastern part of Thailand known as Isaan. That region is both the most populous and the poorest, since it is based on a salt pan which undermines the fertility of the land and means only a single annual rice harvest is possible and this depends on the timing of the monsoon.
Read the full review here.
Five people have already been confirmed dead in Korat as a result of the floods and much of Isan is a disaster zone – many of the poor people there will have lost everything and their children terrified by the rising water. Cyclone Megi is about to strike more of the Philippines or China, depending on which way it turns and 32 people have been drowned in Vietnam in extensive flooding there. This seems to be a particularly bad year for natural disasters and the monsoon season is far from over (the rain goes on and on even here in the sheltered central part of the country).
Here in Bangkok we are waiting to see if the river banks will burst ad inundate us too – the level of the Chao Phraya is rising and floods have been reported as close as Ayutthaya. We are unlikely to be as badly affected as in the north but She Who Must Be Obeyed has ordered buying of dry food in advance in case we are stranded – of course, she has experience in the past of having been badly affected and on the verge of personal disaster. We should be in better shape by now – at the worst, we can at least go upstairs.
The long-term trends, of course, re for Bangkok to be under a metre of water by the time I finish paying the mortgage. This is because of a combination of rising sea levels and sinking city as the underlying levels are being extracted. For this baleful future to e avoided, action would have had to begin several years ago. Instead, we got a military coup and now a corrupt and incompetent regime. There would seem to be nowhere safe in Thailand after another couple of decades where there is currently sufficient infrastructure to have a decent quality of life.
The forces of globalization – industrial capitalism, consumerism and so forth – came to rural Thailand in earnest in the late 1960s and then the 1970s. This occurred in the period of anti-communist frenzy that gripped the aristocratic elite of the Kingdom as revolutions were unfolding in different ways in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Anyone who challenged the processes of change, which of course brought enormous monetary gains to that very same aristocratic elite, was subsequently labeled a Communist and a terrorist and treated as an enemy of the state – the aristocracy is doing the same thing today in 2010.
Read the full review here.
This week’s piece by Suthon Sukphisit is about the Isan region – he uses the cuisine of the region as a prism through which to consider economic and social issues, albeit in the somewhat superficial way that is forced upon him by the limited space available to him. He falls into the sentimental-romantic-orientalist trap so common to the right here of wanting to preserve Isan life without it being ‘contaminated’ by materialism, preferring to see them as some kind of happy peasants content to live like noble savages forever.
He also says that redistribution of revenue to the provinces took place 40 years ago to deter labour migration and wonders why it has not been tried again. This explains the title for this post as Khun Suthon seems to have slept through the entire Thai Rak Thai administration. Just to rehearse history one more time: the 1997 financial crisis revealed the limits of the East Asian Economic Model for promoting further growth in Thailand: the EAEM is based on export-oriented low labour cost manufacturing with low labour costs enforced by suppression of workers’ rights and expanding the workforce to draw in more people from the agricultural sector. This is supported by a two-tier education system aimed at producing factory-fodder from the masses and managers among the children of the elite (social mobility is also discouraged). This model had successfully enabled Thailand to move from a low income country to a middle income country but, as the examples of South Korea, Taiwan and Japan among others have shown, it will not bring a country to high-income status.
So, measures had to be taken to develop the regions of Thailand so that they too can purchase goods and services (reducing reliance on exports) while still maintaining an open stance towards globalisation – Thailand almost uniquely relies on a combination of exports, tourism and imports of oil and gas at low cost and closing the country in any way would mean economic disaster within days.
At the same time, the increasing economic threat of China clearly indicated that low-cost low-value added manufacturing was no longer sustainable or profitable for the country.
This is the reason for the development of villages through million baht funds, the OTOP scheme, low cost health care and the other measures intended to promote economic growth across the country; this in turn would force business executives to find new and more sophisticated business models than just filling factories full of oppressed, low cost workers.
If we ever return to democracy here, that is the approach which will again be followed, no matter how much the right-owned media bleat about ‘populism’ and the lie of ‘policy corruption.’