Thailand, a Salutary Crisis ?
The West, with the World Bank in lead, has maintained two illusions about a Thai miracle : that it was a triumph of capitalism assisted by good governance. In fact, it rose on a wave of foreign investment which stimulated exports and overheated the economy.
The crisis which unfolded over the summer of 1997 should have been foreseen for three reasons which were overlooked by observers:
- They mistook growth for development. The commercial success of the country obscured its industrial and technological weakness, its shortage of skilled workers, and the degree to which corruption was feeding the speculation.
- They overestimated the process of democratization and allowed themselves to be deceived by appearances: referendums and multi-party elections gave the appearance of change without shifting the groups which held power on the basis of more or less corrupt alliances (especially within the middle classes).
- They didn't understand that the accelerated modernization (frenetic consumerism, for example) challenged traditional values and behaviour and left too little time for a deeper social adaptation.
The crisis, though, however deep it may be, could turn out to be salutary in the long term if Thailand makes effective use of three main political, economic and social assets:
- by virtue of its strategic geographic position in Asia it could play a pivotal role in greater regional trade flows, which should receive a boost from the establishment of a free trade zone in the ASEAN;
- the rise of industrial structures and an entrepreneurial middle class blessed by important investments in education is assurance of real dynamism which will restore confidence;
- finally, the rise of a true middle class to make real pressure for not only economic reform but also for socio-political changes to sanitize a public administration system that has up to now been very corrupt.
S. Boisseau du Rocher and J.C. Simon are being deliberately optimistic. They maintain that artificial growth could be followed by a true dynamic of development and democratization, emerging from a period of adjustment which is certain to be painful for the short term.