Giles Ji Ungpakorn
According to Dr Anusorn Tamajai, Dean of the Faculty of Economics at Rungsit University, the Gini Coefficient for Thailand in 2015, when the last measurements were taken, stood at 0.45, a slight improvement from the figure in 2006 of 0.51 [ see https://bit.ly/2kc3KPy ]. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality, with the highest inequality defined as a Gini Coefficient of 1.
Dr Anusorn believes that the improvement in inequality can be explained by pro-poor policies of previous governments, especially the Yingluk government’s fairly large increase in the minimum wage level, the rice price guarantee scheme and pro-poor policies introduced by the Taksin government such as the village job creation fund and the universal health care policy. Improvements in the social insurance scheme also helped.
However, inequality in wealth is still a huge problem given the low level of wages for workers and lack of land among poor farmers. The top 100 billionaires increased their wealth rapidly over the last 3-4 years while there was no increase in wealth among most ordinary citizens.
Thailand is among the top five unequal countries of the world with the top 1% of rich people owning 58% of the country’s wealth. Under the present military dictatorship the top 50 billionaires increased their ownership from 26% of GDP in 2014 to 30% in 2017.
None of this is unexpected since the two military juntas that have ruled Thailand since 2006 and the military appointed Democrat Party government all pursued extreme neo-liberal policies [see https://bit.ly/2kiUZSl ]. They and the middle-classes who supported the coups, hated Taksin and Yingluk’s pro-poor policies, complaining that such “Populism” was destroying fiscal discipline and ruining the country. The Democrat Party was a harsh critic of the universal health care scheme. Right-wing academics and media analysts liked to claim that pro-poor policies were just a form of corrupt vote-buying where the “uneducated poor” just used their improved economic position to buy frivolous luxuries.
The pro-military courts have also been used to try to punish members of the Yingluk government for the rice price guarantee scheme and also to prevent elected governments spending money on infrastructure development.
Today these neo-liberals are continually trying to erode the universal health care scheme by suggesting that citizens be made to pay for health care. The present junta also wants to enshrine neo-liberalism in the National Strategy in order to prevent pro-poor policies by future elected governments.
Of course none of the neo-liberals ever complain about the huge amount of wasted money spent on the monarchy and the military.
The building of a welfare state, funded through progressive taxation of the rich would go a long way towards reducing inequality. It would also improve political participation by citizens as their lives became more secure. Unfortunately, none of the political parties which are hoping to contest the next election, including the Future Forward Party, are prepared to tax the rich and the corporations in order to build a welfare state. This only goes to show that Thai society needs a stronger trade union movement and a workers’ party in order to campaign for such reforms.