Assessing the Government’s Response to the Economic Crisis

After the best part of a year, the Democrat-led coalition government is now not much less than three months away from starting to award the contracts that are the basis of the Keynesian-stimulus package. The so-called ‘Strength to Strength’ campaign will begin with highway construction, rubberized asphalt road construction and similar projects. Companies will bid for these projects, presumably, and the most satisfactory bid selected (obviously, there is no room in such a process for politically-influenced judificial decisions).

Is this good enough? Well, nothing is ever going to be enough considering the size of the economic crisis but at least something is better than nothing and at least we do not have here (influential) people spouting the kind of nonsense that there are in America and elsewhere that spending money is the wrong thing to do. For whatever reason they have come to it, all elements of the political class have accepted that there is a need to invest in the future.

Has the response been quick enough? Obviously not – this kind of project could have been rushed through the best part of a year ago – there has not been any real debate as to what to do, although some about how to do it. So why has it all taken so long (and it is unlikely any money will be released this year, on current schedule)? It is not just Abhisit’s indolence and the incompetence of the Democrats generally (although these factors have not helped), it is the result of the weakening of the political classes vis-à-vis the unaccountable secret hand of power – by relentlessly accusing politicians, nearly all politicians, of being corrupt as a category of person (not without justification in some cases, of course), so many hedges have been put on their actions that it takes an enormous effort to do anything at all. Inevitably, the poor and most vulnerable have suffered while the elite use these tactics to hold on to their money, power and status.

Are the projects well-designed? To a limited extent. Building or improving roads is always going to be useful in Thailand and even though there are more urgent problems needing attention this is not the worst thing to be doing (assuming that it will be handled properly and transparently). Has it properly taken into account the environmental impact? It would seem not. Has it addressed the gender issue? Again, apparently not. Most jobs are being lost in the manufacturing industry (where women predominate) and new jobs are being created in the construction industry (where men predominate).

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JW has been one of the first contributors to this blog before he gave up on it all in April 2010, during a time when Thai society got more and more polarized about political matters because of red-shirt protesters.

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