Elicits the Illicit: Liberalization and Crime in Thailand
over the course of the last decade, has had a profound effect on
the economies of nations worldwide.
It has been responsible for fundamental, structural
adjustments in the political and economic formats of most, if
not all, developing countries during the 1980s and 1990s.
In light of the truism that economies, political systems
and social/cultural positionalities are interdependent entities,
the effects of globalization on nation-states are felt in all
sectors of society. Thailand,
over the course of the last twenty years has embraced the global
economy, and the impact of this relationship is seemingly
ubiquitous in Thai society. Globalization has acted, and continues to act, as a catalyst
for sharply rising levels of industrialization and urbanization.
Moreover, Thailand’s Anglophile attitude has not only
produced an influx of multinational corporate activity and
foreign direct investment, but also omnipresent western media
radiating insidious, cathode homogeneity, and a veritable flood
of western tourism. These
phenomena are highly problematic for Thailand’s general
societal health. They
have limited Thailand’s ability to foster political capacity.
They have wreaked havoc on Thailand’s physical
have stripped away the rich layers of Thailand’s Buddhist and
agrarian cultural legacies, and they have a causative
relationship with the perpetually worsening state of crime in
exegesis is concerned primarily with the latter of these
impacts. Crime in
Thailand takes four main forms; all of which have been informed,
and exacerbated, by globalization.
These four forms are; political/corporate corruption
(graft), prostitution/child prostitution/sex slavery, organized
crime and tourism related crime.
By examining these four types of crime and their
interactivity with the trends of industrialization and
urbanization, one should recognize the direct relationship
between the agency of globalization in Thailand and the
extremity of the various types of crime perpetrated there. Possible remediation of the ill affects of globalization in
Thailand lies in a renewed emphasis on locality, micro-level
community, agro-economics and religious traditionalism.
While the “village level solution” is not without its
ideological and logistical challenges, it is the only humane and
culturally appropriate alternative to the jarring, prescriptive
logic of economic globalization.
Review of the Literature and Definition
of Key Terms
is a new term. It
has come into popular favor in the last seven years to refer to
the post-Cold War international economic paradigm.
This model is characterized by corporate
“meta-mergers” and by almost universal acquiescence to
principles of free trade, deregulation and
political counterpart is the notion of multi-polarity (as
opposed to bi-polarity). However, with the inculcating resonance of American popular
culture and the exertion of American economic, political and
military virility, the system of international relations is ever
characterizes the effect of globalization on the world’s
population with the phrase “race to the bottom.”
He argues that the global economy has made space for
transnational corporations to move about with such liberty that
nation-states have to compete vigorously to host them.
This has made the use of child and slave labor virtually
mandatory in many parts of the world. Korten is one of the most prominent critics of globalization.
He argues that increasingly, the fundamental decisions
affecting the lives of the world’s citizens are being made by
a few corporate executives with no interest whatsoever in human
welfare or environmental sustainability.
Globalization has been described as, “...the nearly
unstoppable spread of markets, ideas, and communication
technology” which is, “weakening governments, leveling trade
barriers, and empowering corporations and activists with the
speed and force of a tidal wave.”
One of the stated traits of globalization, the weakening
of governments, will arise thematically throughout the following
pages. Indeed, one
could even argue a certain culture of weakness endemic to
nations, which have shown themselves to be particularly
vulnerable to economic globalization. To a certain extent, it is this revision of sovereignty
and influx of foreign capital that has fostered corruption in
countries such as Thailand.
Thailand was particularly vulnerable to globalization’s
adverse side effects because of the sudden transition from
protectionism and import-substitution, to free trade and foreign
direct investment. The
increasing weakness and superfluity of the state in the global
era is in part the result of the International Financial
Institutions (IFIs) namely, the World Bank, the World Trade
Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
The growing influence of these IFIs, even while
globalization touts “democratization” along with
liberalization as a hallmark of “development,” is
undermining the democratic process internationally.
This manifests itself in the way that un-elected
bureaucrats at the IMF and World Bank dictate to democratically
elected governments in countries like Thailand, which policies
to abandon and with what to replace them.
variegated case studies of Mauritania, Thailand, Brazil,
Pakistan and India, Kevin Bales illustrates the way in which the
global economy has fostered a disturbing resurgence of an
archaic evil, slavery. Bales,
writing on a specific manifestation of Korten’s “race to the
bottom” conservatively estimates the world’s slave
population at twenty seven million.
Two other noteworthy, outspoken critics of globalization
are Jerry Mander and Ralph Nader, who, respectively, concern
themselves with the failure of mainstream media and the failure
of the democratic process, to address globalization as a problem
(or even just as a development of dubious merit).
In fact, not only has there not been any popular
discourse around globalization’s tragic flaws, just the
opposite has happened. Mander
laments the popular reading of globalization as a wholesale
curative measure for international poverty and inequality, and
he crusades for increased interrogativity on the part of the
These authors are representative of the critics of
globalization; however, they represent a minority of thought on
the subject. As
Mander asserts, politicians, corporate executives and even
journalists are overwhelmingly supportive of what Mander
cynically refers to as “the rising tide”.
Even in cases where the evidence is not entirely
supportive of the global economy, one finds the typical
perspective to be at best, torpid resignation.
This is the position articulated by Thomas Friedman.
...I feel about globalization a lot like I feel
about the dawn. Generally
speaking, I think it’s a good thing that the sun comes up
every morning. It does more good than harm.
But even if I didn’t care much for the dawn there
isn’t much I could do about it.
I didn’t start globalization, I can’t stop it-except
at huge cost to human development-and I’m not going to waste
This is the very
same soporific attitude that Mander and Nader work to counter in
their writing. It
is the unfortunate perspective attributable to a majority of the
world’s residents. In keeping with Friedman’s metaphor, in Thailand the dawn
brings a sun of such unbearable intensity that the landscape is
figuratively (and sometimes literally) scorched beyond the
recognition of the Thai masses.
Although a diminutive minority, the anti-globalization
movement, as Mander asserts, can reverse the tack of
might versus mite in the battle for the future of the planet.
Phonpaichit, a prominent Thai economist articulates another
problematic dimension of globalization, the inexplicability of
this phenomenon in the field of economics.
He believes there is not an economic
crisis, but an economics
crisis, that textbooks and academia contain no provisions for
explanation of the global economy, and that bankers, not
economists hold the key to the changes taking place.
in the current literature regarding globalization examines
questions of its origins and its novelty. A common contention is that, as Mander writes, “...the
global economy is new, but less so in form than in scale.”
On this point, he and Friedman agree.
Friedman refers to “this new era of globalization” as
“Globalization Round II”,
and Joseph Nye says, of globalization, “It’s as old as
In other words, the industrial revolution, endured by the
West around the turn of the last century, was also a globalizing
Industrial Revolution developed types of mass transportation
that connected remote corners of the globe for the first time.
In addition, it oversaw a great rise in the quantity and
quality of manufactured goods with which to capitalize on the
new temporal and spatial definitions rendered by planes, trains
and automobiles. Today,
the technology is not transportation technology, but
communications technology, and it has even further reconfigured
our understandings of time and space.
In the above
discussion, an effort was made to refrain from using the terms
“globalization” and “global economy” interchangeably, as
is often done. This
analysis adheres to a much broader definition of the term than
allowed for by strict economic connotations.
Globalization may have reached a zenith of sorts in the
post Cold-War era, but the foundation for this system was laid
decades prior. The
roots of this phenomenon date back to the 1950s. The terms modernization,
development, and industrialization,
as practiced by the IFIs are genera of globalization. At points during the course of this text, the terms globalization
and industrialization will be used almost synonymously.
This is not an entirely accurate equation.
The fact is, that during the period of
import-substitution economics, which predated Thailand’s grand
entrance into the global economy, the focus was also industrial.
However, the breadth of industrialization under this sort
of an economic paradigm is quite limited because the size of the
domestic sector is fixed. Under
globalization, it is virtually infinite.
Therefore, under globalization, the adverse effects of
excessive industrialization began to pronounce themselves, and
it is with these effects, that this study is concerned, hence
the linkage between globalization and industrialization.
The ubiquity of western media, styles, products,
technology and attitudes are also dimensions of globalization.
While this analysis focuses predominantly of the scope of
economic globalization, parts of the ensuing study are concerned
with the phenomenon of “cultural globalization” insofar as
economic policy, relative to tourism in Thailand, has spurred
such cultural confusion. The
primacy of free market movement, deregulation, privatization of
parastatals and deification of the IFIs are important components
of globalization, but they are not a gestalt.
It is the broader, inclusive definition of globalization
that informs this study.
So as to avoid
the appearance of dogmatism, it warrants mention that
globalization, particularly in its cultural capacity, has not
been an entirely deleterious actor.
The intersection of world music and Western audiences,
for example, has extensively served the ends of cross-cultural
understanding and constructive, inter-hemispheric dialogue.
In the other direction, Western notions of human rights,
civil liberty and gender equality have been positive influences
on the ideological architecture of various cultural cosmologies.
Thus, in certain, rare circumstances, there can be a
certain symbiosis and synergy between disparate cultures under
these culturally globalizing forces.
the Thai polity, economy, history and culture is a relatively
slight and conventional body.
The literature tends to be narrow in scope. In other words, too seldom are links proposed and
investigated between features such as Thailand’s tenuous
democracy and the exhaustion of natural resources or the
peculiar character of Thailand’s military (i.e., the lack of
any interest in national defense) and economic growth.
The literature is somewhat myopic because of its tendency
to compartmentalize and its failure to consider the integrated
writing about Thailand has focused on its political evolution,
from monarchy to dictatorship to democracy and back again.
However, the recent scholarship has been overwhelmingly
concerned with the incredible rate of economic growth from the
late 1980s through mid 1990s.
Most recently, the literature has focused on the crash of
the Thai Baht in 1997 and the subsequent international financial
independent of this political and economic scholarship is a body
of work that deals with agricultural production, environmental
degradation and the depletion of natural resources in Thailand.
In addition, there have been some cultural studies and
ethnographies written about Thailand.
One of the best known is Charles Murray’s study in
which he attempts to discern what features enabled a village to
respond well to the demands of modernization and thrive, while
other, similar villages were ravaged by the community and
economic development processes.
He ultimately found that “quality of life” was
difficult to quantify, but more importantly he argued for the
centrality of tradition in the modernization process.
has written repeatedly on the connections between regime, regime
change and income distribution.
Falkus invokes the prevalence of patron-client
relationships and vote buying as indicators of weak government
and poor representative democracy.
He then illustrates the way in which the weakness of
Thailand’s political parties result in an improper intimacy
with Thailand’s business elite, thus eliminating the working
class from the equation and greatly aggravating income
concludes that as Thailand has moved away from military
autocracy the inequity of income distribution has worsened.
Similarly, a 1997 World Bank study pinpoints the rising
middle class as largely culpable for the rising income
disparities experienced in Thailand.
Another contributor to the literature on Thai
industrialization is James Ockey.
He too finds faults rather than favor in Thailand’s
recent rapid economic growth.
According to Ockey, the new levels of disposable capital
have had a negative effect on political capacity and on
sustainability at the village level.
All of these writers share a fundamental concern with
assessing Thailand in terms of its would-be “tiger” status,
or locating its place on the “development” continuum. The conventional scholarship on Thailand generally examines
the issues through the lens of globalization and/or economic
much of this literature is operating from within a perspective
limited by unchecked assumptions based on conventional wisdom.
The emergent issues would appear more salient were this
Globalization and the Thai Political
The history of
the Thai polity throws the fact of, and the reasons for, the
rampant corruption endemic there, into sharp relief.
This section discusses the modern history of the Thai
political economy, military and culture as they inform concerns
surrounding inequity of income distribution and corruption.
In addition, it looks at issues of globalization and the
consequent industrialization as they have shaped the status of
income distribution and corruption in Thailand.
In conjunction with the discussion of income distribution
is a brief investigation of issues of industrialization and
When recounting the relevant history of Thai politics,
there are three important themes that characterize the story and
deserve in-depth attention.
They are military strength and influence; the relative
weakness of democracy and instability of political parties; and
Thailand’s receptivity to globalization (e.g., economic
liberalization, privatization, foreign direct investment,
western culture, dress, media, products, and so forth).
It is possible
to consider Thailand a democracy, although it is debatable
whether or not a truly representative political model has ever
been realized. The
preeminence of the military, even during periods wherein a
legitimate Parliament has been elected, is crucial.
Additionally, the constant redrafting of constitutions,
the central role of the military, the virtual absence of labor
unions and the powerful legacy of vertical, patron-client
relationships all contribute strongly to the argument that
Thailand has never really experienced “true” democracy.
Nevertheless, since the 1970s, the duration of
Thailand’s quasi-democratic interludes have been increasing.
...following the long military rules of Sarit and Thanom between
1957 and 1973. Subsequent
periods of military domination have seen at least the attempt to
achieve legitimacy and quasi-civilian rule.
The government elected in July 1995 was the first in Thai
history where one elected prime minister was succeeded by
In fact, there
hasn’t been a military coup in Thailand for nearly a decade. Additionally, Thailand has long boasted impressive levels of
press freedom, and a handful of incidents of military violence
against civilian protesters notwithstanding, Thailand exhibits a
relatively strong human rights record.
commonly acknowledged to mark the birth of modern Thailand.
This was the year that the monarchy lost absolute
political control under pressure from the military.
The monarchy was replaced by constitutional military
rule. Since this
transition, the military has remained the dominant force in Thai
military coup occurred in 1947, wherein Field Marshall Phibul
overthrew the civilian government.
Phibul had been an authoritarian ruler in the latter part
of the 1930s and once he regained control, he remained there for
an entire decade. It
was not until 1957 that he was overthrown by another military
figure, General Sarit.
Sarit’s tenure extended until 1963 when he was forcibly
replaced by yet another military leader, Thanom.
In 1973, Thanom was forced out.
His administration was followed by an ephemeral and
ill-fated period of pseudo-democracy. Once again, three years later, there was a bloody, military
the following decade and a half, Thailand’s political
leadership was characterized by intermittent bouts of transitory
parliamentary rule and dictatorial, military-style governance.
Even the Prime Ministers throughout the 1980s who
weren’t directly involved in the military, were indirectly
affiliated with it; however, there were still relatively free
elections held in 1979, 1983, 1986 and 1988 and the government
was buttressed by a number of party coalitions.
The 1980s witnessed various types of factionalization and
the development of deep schisms within the armed forces.
Moreover, there were rancorous coups d’ etat against
General Prem’s governments in 1981 and 1985.
In February of 1991, the military staged their latest,
and least successful coup against the Chatichai government.
The military rule of general Suchinda, who became
unelected Prime Minister after elections in March 1992, was
overthrown after a popular uprising in Bangkok led by former
Bangkok governor, Prime Ministerial Candidate and devout
practitioner of Buddhist abstinence, Chamlong Srimuang in May
considerable bloodshed and a dramatic intervention by the King,
civilian rule was firmly and finally restored.
Further elections in September 1992, July 1995 and
November 1996 appear to have actualized the long promised
mix of united regimes, constitutions and political practices in
Thailand, five salient themes emerge repeatedly throughout
modern political history. The
first of which is the common consideration of the legislature as
subordinate to the executive even during the rounds of
parliamentary democracy. Power
has been concentrated in the Prime Minister and Cabinet but,
until around 1992, it was not only not necessary, but
discouraged for the Prime Minister to be an elected member of
the Parliament. Commonly,
many prominent cabinet positions were offered to non-elected
officials, sometimes to Westernized technocrats, sometimes to
After the bloody demise of 1976’s fleeting democracy,
there were no elected Prime Ministers in any of Thailand’s
regimes until Chatichai Choonavan succeeded General Prem in
1988. Even then,
the Prime Minister was not devoid of military connections.
Choonavan was a former general and hailed from a military
family. This historical account is richly illustrative of the fact
that the practice of appointing, rather than electing governing
bodies (i.e., Prime Ministers and member of Cabinet) has
effectively disabled the formation of any type of opposition
party to galvanize and mobilize itself. Moreover, the
legislature functions below capacity as a result of the
staggering military command of the Senate.
It stands to reason that healthy democratic expression
and debate would be stymied by the fact that appointed Senators
exist alongside of the elected representatives and on critical
issues, vote jointly with the House.
Therefore, what little democracy there is, is stilted and
lacks the sense of free competition that characterizes effective
and stable democratic rule.
The second of
the four themes is the significant budgetary freedom bestowed
upon individual ministries under the Thai system.
In addition, the military has a fund which allows them a
certain fiscal freedom and power as well. This permits the
military, as well as other ministries, especially those with
many employees, an important pool of economic potency and
leverage from which to draw.
More importantly, for purposes of this study, it provides
them with the means and incentive to establish and cultivate
The influence of the military and its effects on
corruption will be discussed in more detail below.
pitfall of Thai democracy has been the weakness of political
parties. This fact
is brought to the fore by the examination of Thailand’s modern
political history. Wealthy
men often form their own political parties, which represent
personal interest rather than sociopolitical ideology.
As long as one has the means to establish a firm,
regional base, one can buy his way into politics in Thailand.
As a result of this ephemerality, there is a distinct
lack of historical continuity and/or rational organization, two
characteristics central to political stability.
Generally speaking, the developing countries with the
strongest democratic institutions are those who have
historically central political parties around which the people
could unite. Moreover,
dynamic individuals who further cohere the constituency
generally lead these parties.
Two clear examples of this phenomenon are Nehru and
India’s Congress Party and Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s
African National Congress (ANC).
Thailand lacks these cornerstones of vital democracy.
Often in Thailand, political parties materialize around a
single issue for a single election.
These ad hoc parties generally disintegrate as quickly as
they take shape. Furthermore,
because parties have little historical basis, there is much less
adherence to general notions of loyalty in Thailand than in
other, more integrated democracies. As a result, politicians often change their party affiliation
as they find it convenient or useful.
More often than not, government administrations in
Thailand are comprised of several different parties as a sort of
Generally, this tactic is employed so as to expand the
breadth of the platform enough to achieve a majority of votes
and thus secure election; however, when several parties
operating with several differing platforms surface,
collectively, as one administration, conflict is bound to
conflicts can evolve into schisms and fissures so wide that the
low levels of legislative activity that proceed from such a rift
render the governing coalition largely ineffectual.
For example, there is often inadequate agreement to even
pass a single bill. In
fact, a majority of the legislation in place in Thailand today,
was passed during the authoritarian era prior to the current
period of democratic stalemate.
another dubious feature of the current Thai political system,
cabinet positions are awarded to parties, predicated on the
strength and size of their voting base, rather than individuals.
The evanescence of political parties in Thailand, as
illustrated above, has contributed substantially to the
decomposition of executive authority, the advancement of
corruption, and the promotion of patron-client relationships
within Thailand’s national political arena.
The fact that the Thai system leaves a lot of room for
patronage and graft is no coincidence.
major weakness of the Thai democratic system is, in fact,
Some would argue that the origins of corruption in
Thailand hearken back to the sixteenth century when civil
servants charged with collecting revenue, in the form of taxes,
for the King, would turn over only a small portion of what was
collected, so as to supplement their meager salaries.
It is also commonly argued that the negative connotations
of bribery and patronage are entirely absent from the Thai
‘the idea of corruption, meaning that the
external world should not be exploited for personal gain because
it constitutes the public interest’ was ‘so baffling [to the
Thais] that it lames all Anti-Corruption Commissions at the
of patronage and graft has manifested itself in Thailand through
incidence of vote buying at elections, through the sure regional
control of local mafia “godfathers”, through the abuse of
ministerial monies and through “dirty” handling of national
enterprise, through interference with the smooth execution of
the judicial system, and in numerous other ways which have
underscored and galvanized the relationships of patrons and
The fifth and
final motif in modern Thai political history is the relative
strength and activism of the civil sector.
This is a somewhat debatable proposition.
Historically, civil sector strength has not been the
beginning in the late 1980s and culminating in the wake of the
financial crisis of 1997, the student movement, as well as NGO
activity, has gained momentum and credibility.
The factors which prompted the rapid rise in NGO activity
were, “the return to normalcy in the countryside after the
communist insurgency,” the garnering of support from, and
building of coalitions with, international NGOs (primarily of an
environmental bent), and the growing freedom of the civil sector
from military suppression.
Another perspective on the growing strength of the civil
sector cites the Army’s agreement to a power-sharing deal in
the late 1970s as marking the inception of modern Thai activism,
and the student uprisings against the military coup of 1992 as
the pinnacle citizen involvement in political affairs.
The Thai financial crisis of 1997 has further encouraged
awareness and policing from within the civil society.
The trend is the same irrespective of whichever incident
was the true agent of change. The Thai civil sector now has more influence than it has ever
the depth of Thai corruption is such that the effect of social
advocacy has been somewhat negligible.
However, with the legitimacy and popularity of activism
on the rise, the level of efficacy among civil organizations
will also climb.
The features of
Thai “democracy” outlined above clinch the argument that
Thailand’s state apparatus and political parties are
historically unstable and generally insecure.
Understanding that, in general, globalization weakens
political systems by undermining national sovereignty and
replacing the authority of the state with that of IFIs and
multinational firms, it is clear that Thailand’s decision to
alter its trade policy to embrace free markets has contributed
considerably to the fragility of its democracy.
Thus, the tenuousness of Thai democracy is directly
linked to the high incidence of corruption and the difficulty
encountered in combating it.
It has been shown, empirically, that the weakness of
political will and commitment to the enforcement of
anti-corruption strategies, on the part of Thai politicians and
bureaucrats, has resulted in increased corruption.
The work of the National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC)
exemplifies this contention.
According to the NCCC, seventy percent of cabinet
ministers, sixty percent of parliamentary deputies and between
thirty and forty percent of Senators are, to some extent,
Given the NCCC’s limited funds, staff and other
resources, the task to which they have been assigned is
virtually insurmountable. This
suggests that perhaps the establishment of such a commission was
largely for appearance’s sake, further buttressing the
argument that a weak political system is inherently soft on
“democracy” is only representative of the interests of the
military, big business and organized crime, in short, its
funders, then corruption is a fundamental and intractable
element of politics.
with all of these elements is the perennial and pervasive role
of the military. This
stems from the depth of their legacy starting with the end of
the monarchy in 1932, as much as with the contemporary military
domination of the Senate. In
addition to their strong entrepreneurial legacy, the
military’s historically proven capacity to successfully
execute coups d’ etat against the government is a tenet of the
system, which allows them to retain their position at the fore
of Thai politics. It
is said, of the military, that national defense is but sixth in
their list of priorities, and that their first priority is
establishing and maintaining business connections.
[M]ilitary leaders controlled the boards of many
state enterprises, letting them flounder while they squeezed
commissions from military-linked suppliers.
The creaky telephone network is a legacy of the military
because chairmanship of the phone company is a perk reserved for
the army commander-in-chief.
Private companies also appoint military officers to their
boards, blatantly exchanging salaries, gifts, and kickbacks for
The fact that the
military in Thailand is primarily a profit-making institution
(and only peripherally concerned with issues of national
defense) is indicative of the “culture of capital” intrinsic
in the post-globalization Thai world-view.
This cultural orientation has led both to economic
liberalization and political corruption. These features of Thai life are understandably interrelated,
since they are born of the same ideology.
Of this ideology, a former Thai Deputy Prime Minister
stated, “What we have is a commercial democracy.
We have simply applied capitalism to everything”.
Additionally, it is important to note that the military
enters politics in a number of ways. As has already been established, many of the political
parties are strongly connected with military leaders depending
on financial support from the military and including military
figures among party officials.
Several former military leaders have formed their own
parties garnering repute from military owned newspapers and
television and radio stations.
The largest political party elected in July 1995, Chart
Thai was long associated with the military, while the second
largest member of the 1995 ruling coalition, the New Aspiration
Party, was founded in 1990 by General Chavalit, the former army
It is also noteworthy that military commanders have, in
the past, sat on Thailand’s Board of Investment (BOI).
The Promotion of Industrial Investment Act of 1960
created the BOI, a quasi-governmental entity established to
promote investment and trade.
This act also provided powerful incentives for private
investment (both foreign and domestic). Among these incentives were guarantees against
nationalization and competition from the state, exemptions on
import tariffs, capital goods and raw materials, and income tax
economy boasted an estimated rate of 8.5 percent in 1994 and
maintained a growth rate above 8 percent for 1995 and 1996.
This impressive rate of growth followed a twenty-five
year period of sustained GDP growth at an average annual rate of
nearly 8 percent. In
fact, the economy grew at 9.0, 13.2, 12.0, and 11.6 percent in
1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990, respectively.
There were two primary factors, which motivated this
exceptional economic expansion.
There was a sharp increase in manufacturing exports of
durable goods, which grew by twenty-nine percent per annum in
volume terms. In
addition, Thailand witnessed a jump in private investment,
especially Foreign Direct Investment, in the export-oriented
Text from an advertisement sponsored by the Thai Board of
Investment exemplifies the assertion that Foreign Direct
Investment was (and still is) at the forefront of the Thai
structural adjustment agenda.
The BOI, with its close contact to
local and foreign business communities in Thailand, is in an
ideal position to expedite business networking.
The office can locate appropriate partners, make
introductions, and arrange appointments with promoted companies
for prospective investors wanting a firsthand knowledge of
Thailand’s industrial conditions.
goes on to list lengthy and variegated guarantees, protection
measures, permissions as well as tax and other incentives, which
await transnationals interested in “setting up shop” in
Thailand. As an
interesting caveat, the cover of the volume from which this ad
was cited shows a metal ratchet radiating light into a treasure
chest full of fluorescent gems and two burlap sacks.
One of the bags features the symbol for Baht on the front
and the other boasts a dollar sign.
In the background is a metal ornament with the letters
One of the most
conspicuous effects of industrialization in Thailand has been
its aggravation of the inequity of income distribution.
It is acknowledged that quantification of the connection
between industrialization and income distribution is
particularly difficult; however quantification is not necessary
to illustrate the resolute, direct-proportionality of the level
of industrialization and the disparity among income distribution
In the past decade and a half, Thailand has experienced
extraordinary economic growth.
Rapid growth is known to negatively affect income
Moreover, industrialization is known to positively affect
the rate of economic growth.
Therefore, it follows logically that industrialization
bears directly on income disparity.
Such is clearly the case in Thailand.
As industry replaced agriculture over the course of the
last twenty to twenty-five years, the incidence of poverty among
farmers and landowners has undergone striking jumps.
This has taken place while the overall poverty rates for
Thailand are on the decline, largely because of the sudden
appearance of an urban middle class.
During the two decades between 1975 and 1992, poverty in
urban areas decreased from around ten percent, to a mere one
percent. Viewed in
a vacuum, this datum might appear promising.
However, in 1992, farm workers faced the highest
incidence of poverty, and nearly sixty percent of these rural
poor were concentrated in the Northeast region of the country.
The particulars of the Northeast region of Thailand will
be discussed in more detail in the following section.
These data are somewhat disturbing insofar as they
illustrate the stark regional and sectoral biases of the Thai
system. As this
trend continued, Thailand became ever more two separate
countries; a prosperous, modern, urban population, and a
systematically disadvantaged, ignored and desperately poor,
rural underclass. The
prices for agricultural commodities have steadily dropped in
Thailand since 1986, and to add insult to injury, the Thai
government has fixed the price of rice (Thailand’s major
agricultural commodity) below market value to insure
affordability to laborers in Bangkok.
This has had the consequence of effectively eliminating
the possibility of deriving a living wage from rice farming.
As total poverty declined over time, it became
increasingly concentrated in rural areas, the rural Northeast,
uneducated households, and more generally households that
depended on agriculture for their livelihood.
reiterates the fact that decreases in the incidence of poverty
overall is not necessarily suggestive of economic improvement or
stability across the board.
In fact, quite often when the poverty rates improve,
there are other, darker data, which shade in and fill out the
economic landscape. Elsewhere
the same sentiment is couched slightly differently.
Although high growth is a desirable
macroeconomic objective, it does not necessarily lead to a
higher standard of welfare for everyone.
It is quite well known that GDP and its affiliates (such
as GNP and per capita income) do not measure environmental
damage, change in the quality of products, underground and
unrecorded activities and so on, all of which affect the welfare
of the people in society.
In general, there
are four reasons why industrialization caused an increase in the
inequitable distribution of income in Thailand.
First, agricultural production was not
other words, the number of workers required to produce a
percentage of GDP through agriculture was many times higher than
the number of workers required to produce a comparable amount of
income through industry, second, industry in Thailand was
concentrated in Bangkok and its environs, thus there was a
geographical disparity which exacerbated the income disparity.
Third, the Thai government gave myriad privileges,
protections and incentives to large industrial investors.
This had the effect of creating virtual monopolies in
quite a few areas of the economy, functionally bankrupting
smaller, independent firms.
Lastly, the government built several dams to provide
added electricity to the greater Bangkok area.
In the process of building these dams, however, the water
supply to some rural areas was rerouted, forests were uprooted
and whole villages were displaced.
In addition to its implications for corruption, the
sudden and dramatic growth of industry following Thailand’s
World Bank-prompted move toward export-oriented
industrialization in the mid 1980s, upset agricultural
families, in the wake of industrialization, face poverty on the
one hand and profound environmental degradation on the other.
The situation is dire.
The earlier phases of stable, but less rapid, growth
during the 1960s and 1970s were characterized largely by
import-substitution policies and an agriculture led economy.
During this phase agriculture was expanding in terms of
the amount of land it consumed.
In other words, the frontiers were rapidly shrinking.
Thai agriculture today, however, is not to be confused
with the village-level, community-based sustainable agriculture
that was the norm just a few decades prior.
The agro-sector, as FDI was emphasized, became more and
more the domain of multinational corporations.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the industry that did exist
was predominantly tied to agricultural production.
Products such as food processing, beverages and tobacco
complemented the demand for and production of rice, sugar cane
In the early to mid 1980s Thailand’s economic emphasis
began the shift to that which is practiced presently.
The growth taking place at present is designated and
differentiated from the previous epoch by two aspects;
divergence from the import substitution trajectory in favor of
an export-led focus on production for the international market,
and the abandonment of agriculture as the leading sector of the
economy in favor of industrial production.
The exhaustion of available land for cultivation, in
concert with a newfound passion for materiality and competition
in the global marketplace, catalyzed these changes, both of
which are significant factors in the rise in incidence of
various types of crime.
historical account indicates a number of critical weaknesses in
the Thai political system, which have either been produced, or
exacerbated, by Thailand’s entrance into the global market.
Among these are frequent military coups, strong military
influence and interference, weak political parties that fail to
represent the interests of anyone outside of Bangkok’s middle
and elite classes, and historically institutionalized and
sanctioned graft and patronage.
In addition, there is a history of intimacy between the
state and the corporate elite in Thailand.
While this relationship fostered industrialization and
economic growth, it also served to promote corruption.
recent years, there has also been an insurgence of civil sector
activism, primarily in the form of Non Governmental
this trend is positive, the impact thus far has been dubious in
light of the extent of the entrenchment of corruption.
Lastly, there is marked inequity of income distribution,
and agriculture has been practically abandoned/altered at the
expense of the environment and the farming community.
These features of the Thai polity engage mutualistically
with Thailand’s modern emphasis on economic liberalization and
Foreign Direct Investment.
In the following section, the history of the various
forms of crime in Thailand will be examined and the
interconnectedness of Thailand’s political, economic and
criminal compositions will emerge.
Globalization, Industrialization and
above discussion dealt adequately enough with the important
issues of political corruption, that, in order to avoid
repetition, the topic is omitted from the following section.
Nevertheless, political corruption is one of the four
basic categories at issue herein, along with, the sex industry,
tourist-oriented crime, and organized crime.
In Thailand, prostitution, as well as slavery and
polygamy, are illegal. Technical
legality aside, however, these crimes are all widely accepted
and practiced. The
sex trade in Thailand is a mammoth industry and is growing
estimates put the number of prostitutes in Thailand at between
500,000 and one million, and the number of enslaved prostitutes
at around 35,000. In
a population of sixty million people, these figures suggest that
more than one percent of the total population is involved in the
There are two fundamental explanations for the
acceptance, and even promotion, of this type of behavior.
These reasons are: 1) various features of Thai cultural
history and social structure, and 2) the recent, dramatic
industrialization and urbanization.
Buddhism, in a
sense, is a more powerful “opiate” than other world
notions of Karma and reincarnation provide powerful rationale for disinterest, for one to
resign oneself to a particular lot in life and to ignore
thoughts of ambition or the possibility of upward mobility.
The principle of Karma suggests that one’s societal position is in direct
proportion to the virtue exercised in one’s past life or
lives. Consequently, the way to ensure good life-quality for the
next life is to accept one’s position in this life as deserved
and inevitable, regardless of the level of deprivation and
despair, and concentrate on maximizing one’s goodness and
devotion to the spirit. This has the effect of, very quickly and effectively,
breaking the will of girls sold into sex slavery.
way in which the particulars of Thai culture make space for a
vigorous sex trade is the emphatically patriarchal character of
Thai Buddhism. In
Thai Buddhism women are considered deeply inferior to men.
The profundity of this inferiority is such that women are
often completely objectified, and in the new product-oriented
This further explains the traditional readiness of Thai
families to sell their daughters into slavery or prostitution.
Moreover, this explains, in part, why there is no taboo
among Thai men when it comes to patronizing brothels.
Connected with the “women-as-instruments” motif, in
the larger Thai culture and in Thai Buddhism, is the historical
role of polygamy as a status symbol.
The Thai people, since long before Siam became Thailand,
have revered and even deified their monarchy.
Even today, after seventy years of constitutional rule,
the monarchy “is still considered the foundation stone of
When the royal family travels, whatever road they take is
shut down completely by the police. Thai citizens literally grovel on hands and knees in the
presence of a member of the royal family.
Bitterly ironic is the fact that while fourteen-year-old
females are enslaved as prostitutes with the consent of the
police, the slightest criticism of the monarchy can result in
arrest and even jail time.
Historically, Thai Kings and lesser nobility kept vast
harems of wives. Thai
Buddhism also sanctions this.
Because of the influence of the monarchy, many Thai men
desire multiple wives in a gesture imitative of the revered
rulers of the past. However, since taking on additional wives involves increased
financial responsibility, most Thai men consider purchasing sex
an adequate substitute.
reason why the sex trade in Thailand is so prolific is the fact
of globalization. In
fact, industrialization has spurred growth of the sex industry
from both the supply and demand sides of the equation. First, conspicuous amounts of capital, concentrated in the
country’s urban centers, have given Thai laborers the
disposable income necessary to make solicitation affordable. Second, industrialization has resulted in a grossly
inequitable distribution of wealth, leaving rice farmers in the
northern, mountain regions desperate.
In 1992 the percent of urban dwellers living in poverty
was around one percent, while ninety-four percent of those in
rural areas were below the poverty line.
Whereas in prior eras, keeping one’s daughters as farm
workers was, in the long run, financially wiser than selling
them, today such is not the case.
As industrialization further marginalizes village-based
agriculture in Northern Thailand, it also inculcates these
villagers with images of televisions and kitchen appliances
creating intense demand for the trappings of middle class-dom.
Thus, young girls from the northern regions are being
sold into sex slavery more commonly than ever before.
The small number of children sold into slavery in
the past has become a flood today.
This increase reflects the enormous changes in Thailand in the past
fifty years as the country goes through the great transformation
of industrialization- the same process that tore Europe apart
over a century ago. If
we are to understand slavery in Thailand, we must understand
these changes as well, for like so many other parts of the
world, Thailand has always had slavery, but never before on this
and the consequential widening chasm between rich and poor is a
dark backdrop against which the reality of the sex industry in
Thailand is disturbingly apparent. There is also a point at
which the effects of industrialization, the omnipresence of
prostitution and the prevalence of graft intersect.
It is at this point where the inextricability and
complexity of the myriad problems associated with
industrialization and globalization are underscored. In Pattaya, a tourist destination in the Gulf of Thailand,
johns, pimps, pedophiles and even murderers can readily buy
their way out of a jail sentence.
This is because, “The local police force seems to have
adopted a market based approach to law enforcement”.
The new economy in Thailand has produced conspicuous
collusion between law enforcement and the proprietors of the
incredibly lucrative brothels.
This collusion, however, is not limited to government
employees on the local level by any means.
The federal government, to a certain extent, encourages
the sex industry, insofar as it actively promotes tourism (of
which sex tourism comprises a significant percentage).
Thailand’s economic boom included
a sharp increase in sex tourism tacitly backed by
government...Because they feared it would diminish the large
foreign exchange earnings gained from sex tourists, government
officials consistently denied the ‘rumor’ of a worsening
AIDS crisis throughout the 1980’s.
As with the
suspect relationships between the military, political parties
and big business at issue earlier, here is another example of
the triumvirate of crime, economics and politics that
globalization has produced to the detriment of the Thai people.Development planning for each major tourist area
will be carried out. These
development plans will incorporate details on land use,
environmental protection, town planning, control of building
plans, private investment and the provision of basic
These specific plans will be formulated for Pattaya,
Phuket, and Haad Yaik-Songkhla in accordance with regional and
urban development plans.
with its typically complex nature, industrialization is both a
trigger for, and a result of, tourism.
In other words, the development that has occurred in
Thailand, post-liberalization, has made modern Thailand more
genial to westerners accustomed to luxury-as-normalcy. On the other hand, however, much of the development and
modernization that has taken place in Thailand in the last
decade and a half has been designed with the tourism industry in
mind. The federal government has invested large sums of capital
into efforts to woo western travelers to Thailand.
Thailand, therefore, is very much a phenomenon of globalization
be understood as such herein.
Tourism and tourism-sponsored “development” have had
a number of different implications for traditional Thai society
and have acted as catalysts for new types of crime, as well as
for a new attitude towards crime and criminal behavior.
Western tourism in Thailand is responsible for an
emergent new genre of crime: confidence trickery.
One prevalent scenario involves a conman befriending a
group of tourists, gaining their trust, and leading them to gem
dealers who then sell them flawed and essentially worthless
stones for astronomical sums.
The conmen are commissioned by the gem dealers, as are,
oftentimes, the local police.
Therefore, if the tourist were to have the gems appraised
or otherwise become aware of the fraud, there is very little
recourse available to them.
Again we see the pattern of large influxes of foreign
capital having a debilitating effect on the integrity of law
enforcement officers or others in positions of authority (e.g.,
framework is applicable whether the capital comes from
prostitution, tourism or from FDI.
A paper by
scholar Eric Cohen inadvertently creates space for an important
discussion of “coping mechanisms” employed by Thai villagers
in the wake of western cultural imperialism.
These strategies, including civil disobedience and
sabotage, echo the actions of threatened communities everywhere
throughout history. Cohen,
writing on issues of crime and tourism in Thailand, proposes
three characteristics endemic to Thai culture to explain the
incidence of crimes against tourists and the inherent
difficulties westerners face in trying to combat them.
These three features are “ambiguity”, “opacity”
In his self-described attempt to get away from tourism
scholarship’s tendency to victimize the tourist, Cohen has
made generalizations about Thai culture without any credible or
empirical support, and while he doesn’t exactly overcome the
tendency to victimize tourists, he manages quite successfully to
vilify Thais. “Duality”
is Cohen’s term for what he perceives as the intrinsic
deceptiveness and dishonesty of the Thai people and he invokes
this “duality” to explain the prevalence of Thai conmen
preying on western tourists, as well as the ease with which
these criminals succeed in their “grifting.”
“Ambiguity” refers to Cohen’s perception that Thai
culture lends itself to hypocrisy and a lack of integrity.
“Opacity”, the most reasonable of the three concepts,
refers to the tortuous bureaucracy that characterizes Thai
administration, thus rendering it virtually unnavigable by
line of argumentation is problematic, not only for its
ethnocentricity, but for its “essentialization” and
oversight of the issue’s complexity.
This “duality” is not innate in Thai culture.
Rather it is a type of cultural “immuno-response” to
the invasion of a land by alien peoples and the imposition of
alien structures (both physical and societal).
first started courting tourists, the belief was that
“promotion of tourism required improvement of living
facilities to meet Western standards.”
In other words, the type of development taking place in
the designated tourist destinations was decidedly western in
style. This attempt
to recreate a western “feel” in Southeast Asia constitutes a
simulacrum under which the sense of place and belonging, in
indigenous residents, is crippled.
In effect, they become strangers in their own land.
Additionally, the promotion of tourism undermines native
industry, such as fishing, in favor of a tourist-oriented
service sector. It
is this type of fundamental reordering that facilitates the
“duality” observed by Cohen.
Furthermore, with the loss of traditional means of
employment, so go traditional cultural identities.
The alternative means of employment are in tourist
service and in “grifting.”
A common example of the former is conversion of fishing
boats into sightseeing vessels for tourists.
This transformation is problematic for the Thai
individual since, “Fishermen who convert boats into tourist
boats have to accept foreign practices and may have to reject or
neglect their own customs when they come into conflict.”
For example, there is a taboo in Thai culture regarding
wearing shoes on a fishing boat; however, when the fishing boat
is converted to accommodate westerners, the tour guide must
overlook the tourist’s ignorance of the custom at the expense
The other work alternative, confidence trickery, in light
of the cultural sacrifices that necessarily accompany legitimate
adaptation to the new economy, begins to seem less criminal and
more like “poetic justice.”
The recent financial crisis in Thailand has created
forums for a lot of people dissatisfied with industrialization
and westernization to articulate their views.
The religious community in particular is critical of the
“development” that has taken place. The common conception
among Buddhist monks is that capitalism is incompatible with
Buddhist values and that the commercialization of Buddhism and
Buddhist culture, through globalization, has led to a decline in
morality, which in turn sparked the financial crisis.
Whether or not this argument is economically sound, it
illustrates the sort of cultural atrophy that globalization
sponsors in non-western cultures.
There is yet
another level of complexity in the relationship between tourism,
Thai culture and development.
Following the initial push for tourism on the part of the
Thai government, The Tourist Organization of Thailand (TOT)
began campaigning to encourage the “revitalization of
traditional cultural practices as part of its program to attract
This then indicates phenomena of meta-simulacra at work,
all the more complicating the relationship of Thai people to
Thai culture by reducing indigenous cultural practice to the
level of minstrelsy. Globalization
is responsible for these ruptures in the fabric of Thai ethnic,
cultural and individual identity.
Understanding the impacts of globalization on the
psychology of the Thai citizenry explains, and to a certain
extent, legitimizes confidence crimes against western tourists.
Just as the
United States underwent a sharp increase in industrial
production in the late 1800s and early part of the twentieth
century, which made space in the new metropolis for
unprecedented organized criminal activity, so too has Thailand
with its own “industrial revolution” seen its mafia presence
as in the United States, mafia figures in Thailand carry a
certain prominence and clout. In many cases, they have achieved
celebrity standing, and like Al Capone did, they mingle, free
from taboo, with the elite of Thai society.
The dubious integrity of Thai politics, the endemic web
of patronage, the industrialization which brought a sudden
influx of foreign capital (albeit to the Bangkok elite alone),
and the mass migrations into urban centers with the effective
end of Thailand’s agro-economy in the last decade and a half,
were all sponsors of the rise in organized crime.
As in the cases
of corruption, prostitution and confidence crimes, there is an
historical, as well as an economic rationale for the growing
activity of organized crime rackets in Thailand.
Firstly, there is a legacy, in Thailand, of regional
“influential men” who protect their respective villages, and
serve as patrons for the villagers.
These people, historically, have been involved in dubious
activities, and through the years, that role has developed into
something tantamount to the role of the “godfather” or
“Mafia Don” in the American culture. In fact, the Thai term for these individuals, chaopho,
is a literal translation of the word “Godfather”.
Thais value influence.
Arguably, one’s ability to influence others and the
breadth of one’s personal following is of supreme importance
to Thai people, particularly those Thais from bucolic, regional
feature of the Thai value system is what initially actuated the
development of these regional crime bosses and eventually paved
the way for their ability to integrate into elite Thai culture
free from taboo.
Again, in the case of organized crime, the notion of Karma
becomes relevant. Thai
Buddhism allows one to compensate for transgressions committed
early in life by entertaining charitable pursuits later in life.
In other words bad Karma can be counteracted with heavy
doses of good Karma, therefore there is essentially very little
to lose by engaging in criminal activity as long as some of the
wealth amassed through said crime is later donated charitably.
This propensity, on the part of mafia bosses, to donate
charitably within their communities, positions them to engage
the villagers in patron-client relationships, thus imbuing them
with even more influence.
It was the
exertion of this leverage over the citizens in their regions
that first allowed these chaopho
entry into the political arena.
As Thailand made its most recent transition from
dictatorship to parliamentary “democracy,” politics became
the domain of those who could afford to campaign and to buy
“godfathers” at the regional level were powerful enough to
swing elections in favor of one candidate or another, and
sometimes to win election themselves.
Also, urbanization, associated with industrialization,
created a need among business elites to have representation in
the more remote regions of the country.
They too, for that reason, found it in their best
interests to affiliate with the mob.
Globalization, then, gave significant popular import to
the role of these “Godfathers” since they were often sought
after by politicians, cabinet members, business tycoons, and the
like. Moreover, as
globalization further skewed the distribution of income, with
the chaopho on one end
and their clients on the other, vote buying became increasingly
easier and further embedded the patron-client paradigm into the
social infrastructure. In
tandem with the political restructuring of the early 1990s was
the economic transition. This
too has had profound effects on the visibility and the
legitimacy of practitioners of organized crime.
As liberalization brought industry and FDI into Bangkok
and its environs, the new wealth sponsored an emergent middle
class and restructured the existing classes.
With the growth and integration of the “Nouveau
Riche,” one’s background and the origins of one’s wealth
were no longer relevant to social standing, thus the mafia could
move with complete freedom among the ranks of the elite.
The combination of even more wealth, political and
corporate leverage, and a veritable celebrity status has had the
effect, in recent years, of causing the numbers of mafia
associates to jump significantly and of causing their realm of
influence to expand much more widely in scope.
Once again, in the case of Thai organized crime, we see
the boundaries between criminal, political and corporate spheres
growing increasingly fluid as Thailand is seduced by the
promises of the free market.
weakens governments. To
a certain extent, it is this revision of sovereignty and the
accompanying influx of foreign capital that fosters crime, in
all its forms, in countries such as Thailand. Thailand was particularly vulnerable to globalization’s
adverse side effects because the sudden transition from
protectionism and import-substitution to free trade and Foreign
Direct Investment left its economy shaken and “off-guard”.
The transmutations in Thai culture under globalization
are myriad and diverse. The
growing monopolization of agriculture in Thailand by
multinational corporations, and the replacement of sustainable
rice farming with western, factory-style beef ranches constitute
significant environmental damage.
Thailand’s city-centered, urban orientation has further
resulted in deforestation, negative trends in soil quality,
pollution, and so forth. Additionally,
the commercialization of Buddhism, the demise of village-level
agriculture, the “lucid eye” of western media, advertising,
and products, and the tourist oriented development taking place
in port areas, have all contributed conclusively to the erosion
of Thai culture and tradition.
The rapidly widening gulf between income levels (wherein
income distribution and spatial distribution are directly
related) is also the result of globalization.
The desperate poverty of the rural citizenry, in
juxtaposition to the mirthful wealth of the urban middle class,
is stark and telling. Furthermore,
it has been shown that globalization has reinforced the legacy
of corruption that is active and extensive in the police force,
the military, the business elite, the bureaucracy and the
elected officials of Thailand. Lastly, globalization is largely culpable for the prevalence
of organized crime in Thailand and for the exponential expansion
of the sex industry in recent decades.
The problem is
clear. It is the
formulation of viable solutions that is the challenge.
The problem of globalization is not, by any means,
Thailand’s alone. Universally,
in the tripartite societal architecture of market, state, and
citizenry, the market has become preeminent.
Markets are vehicles of profit, conceptually driven by
are inherently inhumane, and in a human world, the body of
governance must rightly practice humanity.
Humanity exists at the level of individual interaction.
It thrives at the micro-levels of family and community.
Markets are biased against the small, thus markets and
humanity mutually exclude one another.
A statist society, however, is little better.
States have the tendency to become autocratic and
When state apparatuses are allowed to develop untempered,
media freedom and individual expression are often sharply
both free market capitalism and democracy are emphatic of
competition and individualism.
Notions of political and economic liberalism run counter
to the development of integrated, harmonious communities.
In other words, before humanity can ensure its
preservation, the operative point of view must switch from
“I” to “We”. The
entity which must “take the helm” in Thailand, and
elsewhere, is the village-level civil sector.
The emphasis must be on the family and community levels
where the incremental decisions that affect daily life are made.
Education, also, must be practiced at this level.
Education should be functional and culturally specific,
and pedagogy should not be a force for individualism or cultural
homogenization, but rather should incorporate and utilize the
strength of diversity. Curricula
must also develop, in their students, the capacity to critically
read media, advertising and product packaging.
With this knowledge, one can appropriately grasp the
potential tedium of “monoculture” and the dynamism of
variety. The goal
of fostering this kind of “critical consciousness” is to
elucidate, critique and eventually overcome the way in which
popular media manipulates the consumer through omission,
euphemism and imagery, thus arming students with the ability to
strip away the layers of social condition and develop free and
true identities, be they individual, “tribal” or cultural. Education must also recognize and convey that new technology
creates a false sense of proximity and intimacy, and that
spatial and temporal distance is purposeful and necessary.
Finally, It should be an objective of education, at the
village-level, to debunk the “culture of convenience” that
modern technology has created.
particular, must resurrect Buddhist tradition because
spirituality and virtue are values that normatively preside over
economics and politics. Village-level
society must also encourage agriculture over industry.
It is a caustic irony that the global economy is so
biased against the very practice that sustains us as humans.
Farming nourishes human life on the most fundamental
level; therefore agriculture should naturally compel these
It is also imperative that humanity recognizes the
growing scarcity of natural resources.
With the expansion of the human population and increased
pockets of consumption due to increased concentrations of
wealth, the limits of the natural environment are rapidly being
genetic modification and cloning are not reasonable alternatives
to natural agriculture because these creations are nutritionally
communities can, infrequently, tend to exclude and breed certain
biases which run counter to the larger designs of the “village
level solution” proposed herein.
The goal of a renewed focus on the micro-level is not to
foster internally bonded communities with narrow ideologies, but
to develop small-scale communities, which interact,
symbiotically, with similar neighboring communities and share
resources in a “bridging” fashion.
Nevertheless, while the potential for such
narrow-mindedness threatens the village level solution, to some
extent, the alternative world-model breeds a bias of a
considerably more venomous variety. Globalization is, in effect, a “hate crime” perpetrated
by the West against the people of the global South.
Simply because of their respective spheres of influence
and scope, no “small town mentality,” however, entrenched
and prejudicial, could compete with globalization in terms of
potential for harm.
In order to
reroute the ominous tack in which humanity is headed, people
must live on a local level, think on a local level, work on a
local level and trade on a local level.
Humanity stands at a crossroads facing what is maybe the
most significant decision of its history.
The choice is between sustainability and exhaustion,
between the longevity of humankind and imminent
self-destruction, between the local and the global.
If Gandhi were
alive today he would have been in Seattle, smiling, taking a
faceful of tear gas in protest of the World Trade Organization.
His vision of village-level home rule and home economy,
swadeshi, is the normative model for a post-globalization
era construction of society.
Just as Gandhi argued that village-level foci were
imperative for Indian survival, so too must Bangkok be undone,
and independent, spiritual, agricultural communities, such as
Ban Meo Non Hoi in Northern Thailand, be brought to the fore, to
preserve Thailand’s “soul.”
A few passing
references aside, the above text fails to take into account a
major, recent intersection of globalization and the Thai
economy; the devaluation of the Thai Baht in 1997 and the
ensuing financial crisis. Therefore,
as an epilogue of sorts, it seems pertinent to include a few
words relating to this event.
The crash of 1997, while a fine example of the extent of
global interconnectivity and the primacy of markets over state
and civil actors under the current framework, neither directly
supports nor contradicts the above argumentation.
Nevertheless, it warrants discussion. Thailand and
globalization have a long and complicated rapport.
Globalization, in its various era-specific incarnations
has affected Thailand profoundly.
Most recently, globalization was responsible for the
forced devaluation of the Thai Baht in 1997.
The contention is that the Thai financial crisis was
spawned not by corruption, nepotism, financial risk-taking, and
so forth, as are typically thought to be the case, but rather by
the liberalization of the Thai economy and the establishment of
an international banking center in Bangkok.
These two developments, in connection with Thailand’s
high domestic interest rates, fixed exchange rates and an influx
of short term capital that rattled the economy led to the
devaluation of the Baht and the consequent financial “shot
felt ‘round the world.”
The level of global, proximate complexity that this
incident articulates can be observed in the fact that when the
Thai government reneged on it promise to maintain a fixed
exchange rate against the U.S. dollar, investors worldwide were
In this one example, that of the new interactivity of
financial markets, we see the most current manifestation of
globalization at work.
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