You Can’t Get the Staff

There is rarely any shortage of nonsense written about Thailand but if ever we are running short we can rely on one consistent source: Shawn P Crispin, take a bow. In his latest piece in the usually quite good Asia Times online, Mr Crispin argues that an (imaginary) strong improvement in the economy is proving a political quandary for the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva. His evidence for this ‘unexpected’ opinion? A certain David Fernandez from J.P. Morgan, who believes there is no need for the government to apply (after inordinate delay) its stimulus package.

So, that is one of the bankers who have just brought the world’s economy to its knees through reckless, socially useless investment capitalism, causing the loss of millions of jobs and attendant suicides, depression, broken families and wasted childhoods telling us everything is going to be fine? And the remedy for this disastrous situation? Why, more of the same – more deregulation, less government involvement in controlling these parasites, more hyper-profit making for the wealthy few.

The rest of the article is full of half-truths and nonsense, largely spouting the usual pro-government and pro-establishment line that is seen in so much of the media. And his choice of verbs in particular is execrable.

Why is so much of the reporting on Thailand so bad? Various reasons explain part of the problem – censorship and self-censorship (backed by lese-majeste and other repressive laws) mean it is too dangerous even to discuss a wide range of topics; many of the journalists are simply inadequate and follow a tradition of deference and acquiescence; right-wing owners of wide swathes of the media (and the military/government own much of the rest). Even otherwise quite sensible commentators are forced to have some nonsense inserted in their columns in order to get published (do sub-editors put this stuff in or do writers understand what they have to do?). The repressive Abhisit/military regime has closed down scores, perhaps hundreds of community radio stations and thousands of websites over the last couple of years with a view of suppressing informed political discussion and dissent.

The Recession Is Not Over

Presumably there are political factors influencing the continuing and inaccurate series of newspaper reports that the recession is over, the economy is recovering and so forth (an alternative explanation is just that journalism standards are low here and that is also possible).

Today we learn, based on NESDB figures, that “The Thai economy emerged from the recession in the second quarter, thanks to a pickup in government spending.” This is not, of course, strictly speaking true.

What is true is that the contraction of the economy in the second quarter (4.9%) was not quite so disastrous as the contraction in the first quarter (7.1%). However, projections are that the economy will contract for the whole year some 3.0-3.5%. Recessions end when there is positive GDP growth – so, since the economy will contract at least until the end of the year (and probably beyond), Thailand has not exited recession.

The export sector continues to be the worst hit and this is where the bulk of the economy is concentrated. Since the nascent ‘recovery’ in the west, notably the USA, is being described as a ‘jobless recovery,’ the demand for Thai exports is not likely to rebound very quickly. The government spending has had an effect and, it is to be hoped, this will increase rapidly over the next few months (the delay in spending the money is at least partly due to the results of the anti-politician campaigns mounted by the unaccountable elites over decades) – the effects will be mostly in construction, since this is the principal means of developing the infrastructure. That means most of the new jobs will go to men, since men predominate in the construction industry.

However, it is far from clear that government spending is going to provide sustainable recovery in the economy – in other words, once the projects the government is planning to support end, will there have been secondary impacts in the wider economy to continue improvements without government money? For example, will improving the infrastructure make some activities profitable that were not profitable before and so people will open companies to take those profits. It is not yet possible to predict this accurately.

Of course, politicians have a duty to talk up what they are doing and encourage consumer and investor confidence but that does not mean it is right to misrepresent the facts.

The Poverty of Public Discourse (Not Just a Rant about Newspapers)

One of the frustrating things about living in and writing about Thailand is the low quality of the media and of public discourse. Consider this story, from the official government news website, entitled Poll: Public ponders possible ways to break political impasse.” This concerns a poll conducted by Suan Dusit Rajabhat University Poll – i.e., with students for interviewers. 1,266 individuals were, apparently, interviewed.

The beginning of the story runs: “Marginally over one-fourth — 28 per cent — of the Thai public look to the dissolution of the House of Representatives as an appropriate way for a political breakthrough to help ease the country’s conflicts and to end the ongoing protests aimed at bringing about a change of government, according to a new survey.”

That is not the most obvious way to begin such a story, especially by an official news agency which is, presumably, in support of the legally elected government’s mandate to uphold democracy in the country. Would it not be better to say that more than 70% reject the anti-democracy movement’s demands that the government be brought down on the basis of various contested court decisions? Suan Dusit does not, so far anyway, produce results as prejudiced as those emanating from ABAC Poll – part of Assumption University.

Newspapers are little better, if at all. Of the two English language dailies, the Nation has becoming an increasingly shrill and unbalanced hater of the pro-poor People’s Power Party and its predecessor, Thai Rak Thai. The Bangkok Post, to which I subscribe, is becoming increasingly worse with the casual bigotry and subjectivism of its supposed news coverage. This story about the removal of Public Health Minister Chaiya Sasornsab because of a decision by the Constitution Court contains a number of contentious statements posing as objective truth and this egregious sentence: “As minister, Mr Chaiya was a lightning rod of controversy as he took action that effectively halted and tried to reverse so-called “compulsory licensing” of drugs – the fancy term for busting patents so that the government does not have to pay intellectual property charges.” So-called? A fancy term that encapsulates in two words what the writer (who prefers to remain anonymous, which is scarcely surprising) uses an American colloquialism and 14 clumsily chosen words to explain only in part? No wonder people find it so difficult to formulate coherent intellectual positions on anything. Bah, humbug. And they steal taxis from under the nose of patient, diligent, long-waiting people standing in the rain. Not that I’m bitter or anything.