Tag Archives: Welfare State

Let them eat cake!!

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Generalissimo Prayut has been frothing at the mouth about the poor. The junta’s idea about dealing with poverty was to make poor people go through the demeaning process of registering themselves as “poor” in order to receive small miserable payments. This year about 13 million people registered. At the same time, the junta has made attempts to cut the minimum wage and cut spending on health and education.

Millionaire dictator Prayut (worth 129 million baht three years ago) helped himself to state funded salaries by seizing power in a military coup. Top Thai generals grab much more than their military salaries by giving themselves multiple paid positions and creaming off percentages from arms purchases and other under the table activities.

Yet Prayut had the gall to give a lecture to the poor. The poor, he said, need to change their life-styles and stop being “lazy”. He ranted that the country could not afford to look after the poor. This is at a time when the junta’s cronies have been helping themselves to salaries for doing nothing, while never attending meetings. No doubt they have been “hard at work” lining their own pockets with various corrupt business dealings and state paid foreign shopping trips.

In the same week megalomaniac Prayut ranted about nurses. Thousands of nurses have been protesting because they are sick and tired of their temporary contracts and low pay. Their main demand is to be appointed as permanent state employees. At the same time, two thousand temporary staff at the Ministry of Justice are facing uncertainty about their futures.

Prayut harangued the nurses, asking them if they thought they were the only people who worked hard. He shouted that the country couldn’t afford to give everyone permanent jobs. The military then announced that they were in the process of buying some more tanks. This is after huge sums were spent on buying Chinese submarines. The junta are also spending millions on the late king’s funeral and the new king is enjoying himself flitting around in his own state funded airliner between his palace in Germany and royal palaces in Thailand.

Over the last three years since Prayut’s coup, military spending has sky-rocketed, increasing every year by huge amounts. Currently the military budget stands at 222 billion baht, more than the government spends on public health.

After the nurses protested, the Ministry of Health promised to gradually appoint some of them to permanent posts over a period of 3 years. This falls short of the nurses’ demands, but it does show that mass protests are effective and still possible if people have the determination.

After threatening to shut down Facebook unless they censored articles and pictures which the junta do not like, Prayut gave a TV lecture on the need for Thai people to “think outside the box”. He claimed that the government was doing all that it could to develop the use of the internet! In reality anyone daring to think outside the junta’s box faces being dragged off for “attitude changing sessions” in secret military camps and also being imprisoned under the draconian lèse-majesté law. Merely asking in public about the missing 1932 revolution plaque, or attempting to commemorate Prayut’s massacre of Red Shirt pro-democracy demonstrators in 2010, has resulted in arrests.

This is indeed a lying, corrupt and hypocritical authoritarian regime.

Thailand is a grossly unequal society

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

A recent report by Credit Suisse showed that the top 1% of Thais owned 60% of the nation’s wealth. This should come as no surprise to anyone. When challenged about this, the Dictator Prayut only managed a pathetically feeble excuse, saying that it would be “very hard” to do anything about this “because people don’t trust the state”. Well, it might be true that people don’t trust the dictatorship, but that is hardly a reason for the gross inequality in Thailand. In fact, if there was a popular uprising against the dictatorship and the state, it would do much to help eradicate inequality.

Thai-Rut newspaper cartoonist, "Sia", drew this to expose inequality. In the past he has been summonsed to an "attitude" changing session by the junta.
Thai-Rut newspaper cartoonist, “Sia”, drew this to expose inequality. In the past he has been summonsed to an “attitude” changing session by the junta.

The causes of Thailand’s inequality lie with the lack of democracy, the domination of the military, the extreme ideology of the monarchy and the fact that there is a serious lack of a strong labour movement with its own political party.

Despite the fact that Thailand’s GDP is 40 times smaller than that of the USA, Thailand has 3 billionaires who are among the world’s richest 85 people in the world. They are the monarchy, which is the 8th richest monarchy in the world with $44.24 billion, Dhanin Chearavanont, 58th richest man in the world with $12.6 billion and Charoen Sirivadhanabhakdi, 82nd richest man in the world with $10.6 billion. Taksin Shinawat is the 882nd richest man in the world and the 7th richest Thai with $ 1.7 billion. At the same time, most ordinary workers in the private sector earn a minimum wage of 300 baht per day ($9.3) and migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector earn even less.

Generalissimo Prayut’s official salary is ten times that of a qualified nurse and 16 times what ordinary workers earn. But of course that does not include all the shadowy earnings and multiple positions that many top generals enjoy, which far exceed their official salaries.

The rich, from the monarchy downwards, pay little or no tax. The majority of the tax burden being placed upon ordinary working people and the poor. Eighty percent of government tax from Thai citizens is collected in the form of regressive Value Added Tax and taxes on petrol, alcohol, cigarettes and vehicles. Only 19% is collected from income tax, which the rich avoid anyway. It has long been this way with ordinary people being forced to keep the elites in their luxurious life styles through exploitation of labour and collection of taxes. The rich are parasitic blood-suckers.

Abolition of the monarchy, down-sizing the military and introducing progressive taxation on the rich would go far towards redressing inequality.

Diamond-studded "Santa" outfit for one of the Princess' dogs.
Diamond-studded “Santa” outfit for one of the Princess’ dogs.

Thailand has no welfare state. There is no universal unemployment benefit and most elderly people do not have real pensions. Yet billions are spent on the already over-rich monarchy and the bloated military. A Welfare State was proposed by the leftist revolutionary leader Pridi Panomyong just after the anti-monarchy revolution in 1932, but it was successfully and vigorously opposed by the conservative ruling class, including the monarch, Rama 7th. Pumipon was also very much against a welfare state, instead proposing the reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology. In this ideology, the richest man in Thailand claimed that the poor needed to “learn” to live within their means.

The “Sufficiency Economy” dogma was enthusiastically taken up by the rest of the ruling class, especially the military dictatorships of 2006 and Prayut’s present dictatorship. As an extreme neo-liberal ideology, it fitted well with free-market beliefs and both the worship of the free-market and the “Sufficiency Economy” were written into various military sponsored constitutions, binding future governments to anti-poor policies. The yellow-shirted middle-classes loved this because they had long derided Taksin Shinawat’s Universal Health Care scheme and his weak attempts to improve the standard of living for ordinary people. The present junta are threatening to introduce “co-payments” into the healthcare scheme and have devolved the minimum wage rate in order to keep wages low. They have also tried to prosecute former Prime Minister Yingluk for her government’s rice price support scheme which helped farmers. Of course Taksin was no socialist, he tried to avoid tax, and was also committed to the free-market, although he also favoured grass-roots Keynesianism by which the state intervened to help the poor. These policies were denounced by yellow-shirted academics as “populist vote-buying”. It would be “better” for the country if the poor, who make up the majority of the population, just starved or lived short and bitter lives.

What was shocking was the way in which many NGOs lapped up the “Sufficiency Economy” ideology because of their anarchistic rejection of state welfare. Academics like Chris Baker also praised it.

Welfare states are built through the struggle of social movements, especially the trade unions. Unfortunately, a combination of Maoist rejection of the working class by Thai left-wing radicals in the past, a patronising attitude to unions by the NGOs today, and ruling class repression, has meant that both the left and the unions remain too weak. This a problem which needs to be urgently addressed if we are to build a more equal society.

Abolition of the monarchy would not only save millions of baht, which could be put to better use, it would also end the obscene crawling on the ground in front of “big shots” and would be a political and ideological blow against inequality.

Puey Ungphakorn

It is soon going to be the 100th anniversary year of my father Puey Ungphakorn. Unfortunately the Thai military junta and its creatures are busy trying to gain false legitimacy from taking part in public meetings about Puey. This is no surprise since the lying and double standards in Thailand today knows no limits. General Prayut, self-appointed junta leader claims that Thailand is not a dictatorship and the collection of anti-democrats who are busy crafting “guided democracy” are claiming that they are conducting a process of “political reform”.

Puey Ungpakorn was an economics graduate from the London School of Economics. He joined the Free Thai movement during the Second World War and was captured in Thailand. He studied in Britain on a Thai government scholarship and thus returned to work in the Thai civil service. Eventually he became governor of the Bank of Thailand. Puey’s economic views were more or less mainstream. He worked with the World Bank and IMF. But in those days mainstream economics was more about a “mixed economy” rather than free-market ideology. Puey was also a supporter of the Welfare State and he wrote a short article about this.  He was in favour of progressive taxation of the rich to fund such a Welfare State. His ideas were similar to those of Pridi Panomyong, the leader of the People’s Party which staged the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy. Pridi was older and he was my father’s mentor.

Of course the conservative elites opposed these ideas and Pridi was forced into exile by the military and the royalists. He died in France. Much later, Puey was also forced into exile after the 6th October 1976 massacre at Thammasart University. Puey was hounded out of Thailand by the military and the right-wing who accused him of wanting to abolish the monarchy. They also accused him of being a communist, which he was not. A year later Puey suffered a serious stroke and never spoke or wrote anything again. He remained living in London until he died, although, unlike Pridi, he was able to visit Thailand on a number of occasions.

At the time of the 6th October massacre Puey was no longer working at the Bank of Thailand. He had become rector of Thammasart University and decided to dedicate more time to teaching and to building up a team of graduate volunteers for rural development.

There is myth perpetuated by supporters of the military that Puey would have “understood” the need for the military to stage coups against the elected governments of Yingluk and Taksin. One among those who is perpetuating this myth is scientist Yongyut Yuttawong, who is a junta deputy Prime Minisiter. Yongyut also served in the 2006 military junta. He is also my cousin. What is quite appalling is that Yongyut has staked a claim to speak as a representative of Puey’s ideas on more than one public occasion.

My father was a staunch supporter of democracy and wrote and spoke out against the 6th October 1976 massacre. He also openly criticised the Sarit and Tanom military dictatorships, especially on the issue of corruption and authoritarianism. Pueys’ belief in democracy and opposition to military rule meant that he regarded King Pumipon with contempt because Pumipon never stood up to the military and allowed himself to be used by various dictatorships. In our house at Soi Aree, where I  was born and grew up, there was never a picture of the King or even a Buddha image. On the King and Queen’s birthdays no flags or lights were ever displayed at the front of the house. Puey was not necessarily a republican. He was just indifferent to the monarchy.

At Thammasart University Rungsit campus there is grotesque statue of Puey. A Malaysian socialist friend of mine once said that it looked like a statue of Chairman Mao. It is grotesque because in Thailand statues of people are deified. It is also grotesque because the rector of Thammasrt University, a creature of two military juntas, has just sacked ajarn Somsak Jeamteerasakun for going into enforced exile. Somsak stands to lose his pension as a result.

Giles Ji Ungpakorn