Unity and Uniformity in Thailand’s Urban Environments after the 2014 Coup

Walsh, John, “Unity and Uniformity in Thailand’s Urban Environments after the 2014 Coup,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.4 (June, 2017), pp.34-9, available at: http://crcltd.org/images/Unity_and_Uniformity_in_Thailand’s_Urban_Environments_after_the_2014_Coup.PDF.

Abstract: The Thai economy and society have grown to be heavily dependent on low-cost
migrant labor, whether that migration is domestic or cross-border in nature. That means the post-2014 campaigns against migrant workers in various categories is more complex than it might at first appear. Consequently, the vending has returned to the streets even where additional market areas have been targeted for closure and low-cost housing areas to be cleared. People are obliged to use the weapons of the weak to try to find and reclaim their places in urban environments, even while gentrification projects are being pressed forward and all gatherings of people subject to summary arrest and periods of attitude adjustment. The lens of unity and uniformity through which the junta would like observers to view Thai society is challenged by the very presence of the diverse people who make it a fundamentally unequal nature persist. This paper explores these issues using ethnographic observation in different parts of Thailand with a view to identifying the reality of everyday politics on the streets of the country.
Keywords: diversity, junta, street vending, Thailand, weapons of the weak

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Thai Rak Thai’s Policies and Vision: Evidence from Chiang Rai Province

Walsh, John, “Thai Rak Thai’s Policies and Vision: Evidence from Chiang Rai Province,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.4 (June, 2017), pp.21-33, available at: http://crcltd.org/images/Thai_Rak_Thai’s_Economic_Policies_and_Vision_Evidence_from_Chiang_Rai_Province.PDF.

Abstract: The incoming Thai Rak Thai (TRT) government stood on a manifesto of changing the nature of the East Asian Economic Model (EAEM) that Thailand had been following since the early 1950s. This model had been quite successful in economic terms, but the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis revealed its shortcomings in a changing world in which the rise of China threatened Thailand’s low labour cost competitive advantage, not to mention the demographic changes that were reducing the relative numbers of young people compared to older people in the country. This was to be achieved by strengthening local economies in all 76 provinces of the country, thereby reducing the reliance on external export markets and the social problems resulting from labour migration. A political agenda also called for the uprooting of those elements of the developmental state that were acting to prevent any societal changes in support
of the new economic approach. This was to be accompanied by improvements in the
educational system designed to promote creativity and innovation. However, an open stance towards globalization was also to be pursued, which included the signing of various Free Trade Agreements to enhance choice in market selection and new opportunities for value added products. This chapter investigates the impact of these changes in a single spatial location, which is the province of Chiang Rai. It is shown that the region was more directly linked to international capital markets and local institutions and communities strengthened. People have subsequently been more able to deal with the international economic crisis starting in 2008, despite the cancellation of many of the TRT’s policies and, above all, vision.
Key words: Ecomony, Financial crises, export, Policies, Thai Rak Thai

Spatial Economic Initiatives in Thailand

Last week I attended the International Conference on Thai Studies (http://www.icts13.chiangmai.cmu.ac.th/) held at the International Conference Centre in Chiang Mai (http://www.cmecc-mice.com/).

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(Walden Bello acting as discussant).

My paper was “Spatial Economic Initiatives in Thailand.”

Abstract

In common with other mainland Southeast Asian countries, Thailand has historically been dominated by a primate city, Bangkok, in which all principal economic, social, political, religious and monarchical institutions have been concentrated. Awareness of the problems that this concentration has caused has been recognised in developmental plans since the 1950s, when efforts at decentralization were first introduced. Assisted by improvements in transportation infrastructure made during the Cold War period, initiatives such as the creation of the Northern Region Industrial Estate have been intended to develop other parts of the country to modify migration flows and reduce income inequalities which have become more marked through the years. The Board of Investment has been instrumental in offering incentives to foreign and domestic investors in industrial estates to the north of Bangkok in Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya, where good roads link the places of production with the markets of the capital and the main port of Laem Chabang. Currently, the border special economic zone policy aims, insofar as its objectives have been coherently stated, to promote development in border regions which can take advantage of cross-border trade and investment. In these efforts, success has usually been achieved when public sector agencies have provided what private sector interests wanted and this is likely to continue in the future. This paper explores the various economic spatial initiatives that have taken place in the country and attempts to analyse when and where these have been successful and what lessons failures have been able to provide.

Keywords: Thailand, special economic zones, economic geography, regional development

Review of Phongpaichit and Baker’s Unequal Thailand

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Phongpaichit, Pasuk and Chris Baker (eds.), Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.2 (2017), pp.67-8.

Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power
Edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker
Singapore: NUS Press, 2016
ISBN: 9789814722001
XV + 186 pp.

Inequality has become one of the more urgent issues gripping the attention of the people of the world, especially since it became evident that the Crisis of Austerity was being used b representatives of the 1% to extract even more money from the 99%. Thomas Piketty’s epic Capital in the Twenty First Century (2014) demonstrated that intensifying capitalism strengthened control of money among the rich and the super-rich and prevented social mobility taking place. The importance of social mobility for maintaining a healthy and progressive governance system has been evident since the creation of the imperial examination system in the Han dynasty of China more than two thousand years ago (Min & Xiumen, 2010). In The Spirit Level, Pickett and Wilkinson (2010) show beyond reasonable doubt that those countries most unequal fare the worst in a wide range of societal indictors, ranging from educational outcomes to teenage pregnancies to crime rates. The best way to make any society happier and more stable overall is to reduce inequality and the best way to do that involves a combination of empowering the poor with shining a light on the possessions and lifestyles of the rich. The release of the Panama Papers, leaked from the legal firm Mossack Fonseca, very quickly showed how those who benefited from tax avoidance by using shell companies offshore tax havens could be brought to account when their activities came to light (e.g. Henley, 2016; MacAskill et al., 2016).

All in all, then, this would seem to be a splendid time to publish a collection of papers based on original empirical research into inequality in Thailand. After all, as a country that has undergone rapid economic development, urbanization and industrialization, Thailand has begun to embrace all aspects of capitalist development, for good or ill. Further, the country continues to suffer the drawbacks of Thai feudalism and the absolute blanket on any form of political dissent or even questioning maintained by the current junta. Such a book would investigate the roles and influence of powerful institutions set so implacably against progress such as the military, judiciary and network monarchy. It would question the role of the media and media ownership as an additional tool used as an intellectual state apparatus in promoting the concept of so-called Thainess (i.e. obedience, obsequiousness to power and unwillingness to question authority). Innovative attempts to identify the relationship between economic and social capital would have been welcome. However, unfortunately, this opportunity has rather been missed somewhere along the line of production, since too many of the papers veer towards the superficial and to lack firm supervisory guidance. The project was funded jointly by the Thailand Research Fund, the Bureau of Higher Education and Chulalongkorn University as part of the Distinguished Professor Scheme. It is certainly a good thing that only Thai academics were selected for this project, that they seem to have been well-funded and their papers extensively edited and supported for this book by near-legendary editors Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker. The problem nevertheless remains that too many of the papers (and some from the original project have been omitted altogether) are just not quite up to the required level.

Some papers do make a positive contribution. For example, Duangmanee Laovakul’s “Concentration of Land and Other Wealth in Thailand” is based on ground-breaking research among the newly digitized records of the Land Department. This research indicates that the ownership of land and other assets is even more highly concentrated than the ownership of income. It is shown that 10% of all landowners own more than 60% of total land. Unfortunately, no useful implications or policy recommendations are derived from this research.

Nualnoi Treerat and Parkpume Vanichoka have an interesting paper in “Elite Networking through Special Executive Courses,” which itemizes the presence and nature of such courses and identifies those who have participated in them. It is made clear that course-organizers take steps to ensure that network opportunities are maximized at these times and it is very evident that senior-junior relationships are established which are of considerable importance and value to both sides in future careers. The authors conclude that this ‘personal cronyism’ perpetuates elite power by promoting good relations and avoiding conflict among the elite and accepted new entrants, thereby preventing unwanted outsiders entering and “As a result power over the economy, politics and resources is more concentrated and circumscribed within a small elite.”
As a research paper, the outstanding chapter is provided by Chaiyon Praditisil and Chainarong Khrueanuan, who are able to draw upon many years of inquiry to inform their “Inequalities of Local Power and Profit: The Changing Structure of Provincial Power.” This is a fascinating account of how Chao Por networks have developed in provincial Thailand, how they have developed over time and reacted against the threat of outsiders moving in to their territory. It is shown that such networks have diminished in value over time as various elements of globalization have meant that power and resources are generated more from without than within. The conclusion drawn is that “The inequities in power and economic opportunity at the provincial level will diminish significantly only when advances in the rule of law and democratic decentralization make single faction dominance no longer possible.”

Of course, this being Thailand, we wait for the inevitable paper explaining how it is all really the fault of Thaksin and the uppity residents of Isan. Here it comes in the form of a contribution from Ukrist Pathmanand, whose work I have seen elsewhere and thought reasonably sensible. Since I have worked at Shinawatra University for a number of years, it is probably better if I do not comment on this paper for fear of being thought biased. After this, the book peters out with a fairly shambolic look at taxation and possible reforms to the tax system. The editors have done their best to try to remedy the shortcomings exhibited by the authors overall by trying to create an inclusive framework on inequality in the introductory chapter but this is only partly successful. Despite being published in Singapore, the text occasionally veers into American spelling and the index needs attention. Overall, the text is notable more for its omissions than from that which it does include.

References

Henley, Jon, “Iceland PM Steps aside after Protests over Panama Papers Revelations,” The Guardian (April 5th, 2016), available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/05/iceland-prime-minister-resigns-over-panama-papers-revelations.

MacAskill, Ewen, Rowena Mason, David Pegg and Holly Watt, “David Cameron Left Dangerously Exposed by Panama Papers Fallout,” The Guardian (April 5th, 2016), available at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/05/david-cameron-left-dangerously-exposed-by-panama-papers-fallout.

Min, Han and Yang Xiuwen, “Educational Assessment in China: Lessons from History and Future Prospects,” Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, Vol.8, No.1 (2001), pp.5-10.

Pickett, Kate and Richard Wilkinson, The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone (London: Penguin, 2010).

Piketty, Thomas, Capital in the Twenty First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

A Study of Tourism’s Contribution to the Textile and Clothing Industry: International Consumer Buying Behaviour in Thailand

Yan, Zeng and John Walsh, “A Study of Tourism’s Contribution to the Textile and Clothing Industry: International Consumer Buying Behaviour in Thailand,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.2 (2017), available at: http://crcltd.org/images/A_Study_of_Tourism_s_Contribution_to_the_Textile_and_Clothing_Industry_International_Consumer_Buying_Behavior_in_Thailand%20(1).PDF.

Abstract:

This paper is aimed at exploring the impact of international tourism huge value consumption concerning the development of T&C (textile and clothing) industry in Thailand. The underlying concept is that stimulating the influencing factors of international consumer buying behavior will be another important “export” driving power. This study employs a quantitative approach to investigate the relationship between the three factors and T&C expenditure with respect to international tourist in a sample of tourist in Bangkok. The study concludes that tourism industry has significant impact on this T&C industry and marketing promotion or strategy will be important. It further concludes that the tourism industry will contribute to the development of T&C industry since the visitor export is increasing continuously in Thailand. Keywords: Service quality, SERVQUAL, Customer satisfaction, consumer behavior, Textile

Upgrading Employees’ Skills in Thai SMEs Sustainably

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Announcing: Ngaochay, Thanee and John Walsh, “Upgrading Employees’ Skills in Thai SMEs Sustainably,” Pacific Business Review International, Vol.9, No.9 (March, 2017), available at: http://pbr.co.in/March%202017/15.pdf.

Abstract: Sustainably upgrading employee skills in SMEs is a continuous process involving improving the ability of employees. It is an attempt to improve their current and future performance and employers should keep a track on their performance after receiving reports on training so as to enable assessment. The systematic process of adjusting the behaviour of employees should be one of the goals of any organization in a volatile environment. A training plan is an effort by employersto provide opportunities for employees to acquire job-related skills, attitudes and knowledge. In order to meet growing and changing demand, SMEs have to be dynamic and pro-active with respect to the environment in order to achieve success. Consequently, many if not most SMEs implement training and development plans at the time of orientation, promotion and in other situations. This research paper makes an attempt to study how Thai SMEs try to upgrade their employees’ skills sustainably and the impact of this in generating greater efficiency of the employees concerned.

Keywords: Thai SMEs, Employees’ skills, principles of Buddhism, Sufficiency economy.

Thailand’s Border Special Economic Zones and Precarious Life and Work

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I have returned from the NUS workshop on Living in an Age of Precarity, which was very successful.

This is the abstract of my presentation.

Thailand’s Border Special Economic Zones and Precarious Life and Work

John Walsh, Shinawatra University

ABSTRACT

Thailand’s proposed new special economic zone (SEZ) policy calls for more than ten projects in border areas across the country. After the military coup in 2014, it was stated that the SEZs would be used as internment camps for migrant workers as part of the campaign against the poor initiated by the junta. That policy has now changed to using day migrants in value-adding activities that will help lift Thailand out of the Middle Income Trap. These top-down approaches instil little confidence that genuine market demand or complementarity of production assets will lead to thriving SEZs with skilled and well-rewarded employees. Indeed, the presence of SEZs located across the Lao and Cambodian borders suggests there will be over-capacity of industrial space and, hence, under-utilisation of sites and the driving down of costs, including wages. Existing SEZs are already lying unused or, as in the case of Boten, stand as tribute to the damaging effects of cowboy capitalism. These examples suggest a flaw in the claim for SEZs in Thailand that they are different from industrial estates and not paces of pollution, contestation and social problems. This paper investigates the logic of the border SEZs in Thailand in the light of projects across the Mekong Region and, specifically, considers the extent to which they promote safe, decent and stable employment, in contrast to the precarious work and lifestyle of the factory hand and family members.

Keywords: employment, Mekong Region, precarity, special economic zones, Thailand