Tag Archives: neo-liberals

Tanks don’t solve the problem of flooding!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut has been scaring little children and telling them not to listen to “bad people” who spread anti-junta views.

The General scaring kids
The General scaring kids

No doubt he doesn’t want us to believe that elections will be postponed beyond 2018. Yet all his appointed representatives who pass laws and write constitutions according to the junta’s diktat are tying themselves in knots about the junta’s so-called “road map” for political anti-reforms and the future anti-democratic elections.

Their road map is beginning to look like a road map to nowhere, a bit like the severed roads in the flooded south.

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There is no let up in the rain at the moment and the people in the south are suffering as a result.

Anusorn Tamjai, an economist from Rungsit University, has estimated that the serious flooding in the south will cause up to 120 billion baht’s worth of damage to the economy of the region. Three hundred thousand families have been affected and there have been over 20 deaths. Amazingly, this economist had the courage to suggest that the junta might postpone the purchase of weapons for the bloated military. People have been asking questions on social media about the 50 Chinese tanks which have been bought at the expense of investing in flood affected areas and at the expense of building better railways and other useful public projects.

The Thai military has only used its tanks and weaponry to stage military coups and to suppress pro-democracy protesters in the streets. The military’s weaponry is the material basis of its illegitimate political power.

Yet the over-confident and authoritarian buffoon who is Prime Minister has blamed ordinary people for the flood crisis. Prayut said that the people didn’t listen and move to higher ground. He boasted that since he became head of the army almost ten years ago he has been “solving” problems caused by flooding.

It is also good to know that King Wachiralongkorn is concerned about the people. It was announced, in true royal mumbo-jumbo, that the Privy Council had “invited” the King’s wishes to be made public.

Wachiralongkorn is so concerned about others that he kept hundreds of graduates at a university in Chiang-Rai waiting for hours because he turned up late to the degree ceremony. He eventually arrived with his disgusting little white mutt trotting behind him. The ceremony ended around mid-night. Exiled academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun commented that His Majesty was running on “Munich time”, a reference to HM’s preferred residence. Wachiralongkorn probably only came back to Thailand to collect his crown and is now itching to get back to his “palace” and “women” in Germany. So much for his devotion to the Thai people!

The devastation caused by flooding in Thailand is a result of a lack of infrastructural investment, poor living standards and a lack of a welfare state for citizens. It is the military junta and the conservative anti-democrats who are the neo-liberal extremists in Thailand. They have long opposed any state funding to modernise Thai society and reduce inequality. They have supported the overthrow of democratically elected governments that sought to make minimal changes to the situation. They have also made sure that neoliberal fiscal discipline is written into the constitution. It is they who are guilty of causing the present flooding crisis.

The “road map” to a military “guided democracy” is designed to keep society in this backward deep-frozen state.

Thai neo-liberals constantly try to destroy universal health care

Giles Ji Ungpakorn 

The latest attack on the Taksin government’s universal health care policy has come from the junta’s health minister Beeyasakon Sakonsatyatorn. He is the latest in a string of free-market fanatics to propose reintroducing health care charges for the poor under the spurious excuse that the government cannot afford to keep it free. Naturally, Generalissimo Prayut, and the rest of the military dictatorship gang, agree with him.

Before the election of the first Thai Rak Thai government under Taksin, Poor people in Thailand could not afford proper health care. They were either forced to fall into debt, depend on relatives or grovel for scraps of charity. If all that failed they just suffered or died. Dr Sanguan Nitiyarumpong, and others, campaigned to encourage the Taksin government to introduce the first ever universal health care scheme. People were charged a token 30 baht for each hospital visit and they were then entitled to almost all treatments at no extra cost to them. The idea was to modernise Thai society and include all those who were not covered by any health insurance scheme in a basic universal health policy. The vast majority of those who received 30 baht health care cards were rural people working in the agricultural sector, the self-employed and the unemployed. The scheme also covered children and the elderly. It also benefitted urban workers who already had health insurance but had previously been responsible for the cost of their rural relatives’ health care.

From its very first introduction, the free-market neo-liberal fanatics started to criticise the idea that all citizens should be entitled to health care. Foremost among the critics were Democrat Party politicians like Abhisit Vejjajiva and various right-wing economists. The entire old guard of the un-elected elites were, and still are, strongly opposed to spending state money for the benefit of most citizens, especially the poor. An ugly and reactionary chorus complained of a “lack of fiscal discipline”. Naturally, no such terms or complaints are ever directed against increased military spending or lavish spending on the royals.

After the 2006 military coup, which overthrew the Taksin government, the Bangkok Post reported that the Budget Bureau cut the budget for Thai Rak Thai’s universal health care scheme by 23% while increasing military spending by 30%. The military budget had started to fall under the Taksin administration.

The military junta at the time decided to scrap the 30 baht charge, but this was a double-edged sword because many members of the junta and their advisors had a nasty hidden agenda. They had long made it clear that they wanted to introduce so-called “co-payments” at a later date which would have far exceeded the original 30 baht fee. These co-payments would be charged according to income with only the poorest of the poor being given low grade free health care. Fortunately they could not immediately achieve their warped dream. This is mainly because the ruling class is wary of destroying this popular policy.

The term “co-payment” is a dishonest term. All Thai citizens pay tax to the government and this is used for state spending. Even the poorest people who pay no income tax are still forced to pay indirect taxes such as VAT. In fact, while many of the rich avoid tax, the poorer sections of society pay more in taxes than the rich when compared to their incomes. This is due to an over-dependence on indirect and regressive taxation. So-called “co-payment” is nothing but the state’s withdrawal from the responsibility to provide basic services in health care.

The degeneration of politics under the Yingluk government was exposed by its frantic use of the lèse majesté law, but also by the fact that the minister of health in that government reintroduced the idea of co-payments in May 2013. Fortunately it also came to nothing.

After the Prayut military coup in May 2014 the permanent secretary for health, Dr Narong Sahametapat, suggested that the universal health scheme be scrapped and patients be made to pay up to half of their own health care costs. Narong Sahametapat had been part Sutep’s violent middle-class mob which eventually wrecked the February 2014 elections. He later joined the junta’s anti-reform committee. Naturally the military budget shot up to unprecedented levels after the coup and the health care budget was cut back.

Now these creatures are again claiming that there is no money for health care. The truth is the exact opposite. There is plenty of money in Thailand but the problem is that it is concentrated in the wrong hands.

Health activist Nimit Teanudom has pointed out that since the Prayut coup, new bureaucratic regulations introduced by the junta have made it harder for hospitals to use funds from the “30 baht” scheme for many vital activities. The junta has also restricted the role of the state pharmaceutical organisation in supplying drugs to hospitals. It seems that they are quietly attacking the system through the back door in order to claim that the scheme, as it stands, needs to be abolished.

Never the less, past experience shows that public criticism of schemes to roll-back the “30 baht” system have forced government officials on to the back foot. We must increase this criticism.

An essential part of the struggle for democracy is the need to destroy the power and influence of the military. The military and royal budgets should be slashed. Progressive taxes should be levied on the rich and the large corporations. State pharmaceutical companies should break the oppressive drug patents controlled by big pharma in order to lower the cost of essential drugs. There cannot be democracy without the right of all citizens to access free decent health care and education.

“A Coup for the Rich” revisited

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut’s junta has announced that it will scrap the 300 baht national minimum wage which was introduced by the previous Yingluk government. Instead they want to use the “floating” minimum wage system favoured by free-market fanatics like Pridiyatorn Devakul. This so-called “floating” minimum wage system allows businessmen and government officials in each province to set a local minimum wage according to their interests. Even though these provincial committees are supposed to have trade union representation, in practice they are either week stooges of the employers or not real representatives of unions at all. This will increase inequality throughout the country.

Deputy Prime Minister for economic affairs, Pridiyatorn Devakul, has claimed that the decline in Thai exports over the last 4 years is due to the 300 baht minimum wage policy. There is absolutely no evidence for this and declines in exports and imports have been experienced in all major emerging economies (see graph). The real cause is the continuing global economic slump.

EM Trade (from the Financial Times)
EM Trade (from the Financial Times)

The lesson from the Thai and Asian economic crisis in 1997 was that the low wage and low technology export strategy, followed by most Thai governments for decades, was making the country uncompetitive, since it had to compete with new entries to the low wage export market like Vietnam, China and Bangladesh. What is more, the neo-liberal free-market policies of previous military and civilian governments had allowed a speculative bubble to grow because of the removal of controls and the fall in profitability of the productive sectors in the economy.

Added to this, the low wages of Thai workers meant that when exports fell in 1996, the purchasing power of citizens within the country was not strong enough to rescue ailing businesses by substituting domestic demand for lost exports.

Today, as Thai exports fall again, repressing the spending power of Thai workers can only make matters worse. It exposes a “race to the bottom strategy” pursued by the neoliberals at the centre of the military junta. This would turn the clock back and make Thailand a low wage – low technology under-developed country. Domestic demand would be suppressed by low wages and could not compensate for the fall in exports, as in the last recession.

But the most important issue is that wages are still much too low to allow workers to enjoy a good standard of living. Three hundred baht per day is not enough for anyone. The level of economic inequality in Thailand is unacceptable. Yet, the generals and royalist officials who have never had to live on 300 baht a day, constantly lecture workers that their wages are too high. Since the coup last year these elites have been giving themselves huge pay rises and other benefits. They have created a bloated military budget and have multiplied the country’s economic problems by the uncertainty due to continued oppression against all critics of the junta and the militarisation of all branches of the administration.

Of course, the junta and its lackeys all profess to follow the King’s Sufficiency Economy. But the Sufficiency Economy is just a neoliberal ideology which aims to preserve economic inequalities because it says that the poor must adapt to their poverty while the rich can remain rich. This reactionary ideology has been constantly promoted by the two military juntas after the 2006 coup and after Prayut’s coup last year. My criticism of the Sufficiency Economy ideology in my anti-dictatorship book was the main reason why I was charged with lèse-majesté back in 2008.

After the 2006 military coup, I wrote in my book, “A Coup for the Rich”, that the new military appointed cabinet was stuffed full of neo-liberals. “The Finance Minister, Pridiyatorn Devakul, was a man who believed in neo-liberal fiscal discipline. He was opposed to too much spending on public health. After the coup the Budget Bureau cut the budget for Thai Rak Thai’s universal health care scheme by 23% while increasing military spending by 30%. Pridiyatorn threatened to axe many good mass transit projects which could solve Bangkok’s traffic…”

Today Pridiyatorn is back in government, keen to push forward with more neo-liberal policies like introducing “co-payments” for the currently free health care system. The junta has already privatised more universities, just like the previous 2006 junta.

Junta chief Prayut has also thrown in some nasty racist comments to back up his opposition to a national minimum wage. Firstly he has trotted out the usual neo-liberal nonsense about so-called “high wages” in Thailand frightening away investors. Worse than that, he tried to play the racist card by saying that it was “wrong” that foreign migrant workers were the main beneficiaries of the 300 baht minimum wage. This is a classic divide and rule policy to destroy solidarity among the working class. In reality, Thailand has a shortage of labour and needs workers from neighbouring countries. They are usually treated very badly anyway and may not receive the legal wage rate. As far as investors are concerned, many large foreign companies in the auto industry, and the high-tech end of the electronics industry, pay above the minimum wage for skilled workers. It is only the backward low investment domestic sweatshops who might complain about the 300 baht wage.

Thai trade unionists need to unite in solidarity across the different nationalities and they need to struggle for a decent standard of living along with freedom and democracy.

Download “A Coup for the Rich” here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn

Guided Democracy Neo-liberal Style

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

We are now seeing the anti-democratic neo-liberals crawling out of the woodwork to help the junta in its road map to “Guided Democracy Neo-liberal Style”.

First, the Permanent Secretary for Health is now suggesting that the 30 baht universal health scheme be scrapped and patients be made to pay up to half of their own health care costs. Dr Narong Sahametapat, the Permanent Secretary for Health, joined Sutep’s mob and called for the resignation of the elected government earlier this year. He is also delaying measures to provide essential drugs to people with hepatitis and cancer.

In my 2006 book “A Coup for the Rich” I warned that the first military junta back then was thinking of introducing “co-payments” for the health service to replace the 30 baht health care scheme.

Secondly, the Counter Corruption Commission is talking to the Election Commission about a plan to force all political parties to submit their manifestos to the Electoral Commission before an election campaign can start. This is so that these unelected anti-democratic neo-liberals can “weed out” any pro-poor policies which use state funds. The neo-liberals hate the use of state funds for the benefit of the majority of people. But they just love the military for vastly increasing its own budget!

Finally, the Thai Development Research Institute (TDRI) has proposed that the minimum wage should not be raised like it was during the Yingluk government because it resulted in raised prices and workers are still poor! Well, given that most workers are too poor, the minimum wage ought to be doubled to 600 baht per day! Most middle class Thais, including the academics at the TDRI enjoy salaries much higher than most workers. What is more, the wage costs in Thailand are very low and could not have resulted in raised prices, but if they did, a pro-poor government could bring in price controls.

The TDRI has a history of opposing the rice price protection scheme which benefitted small farmers. It also opposes the idea of a welfare state.

This only goes to show that neo-liberalism and dictatorship go hand in hand.