The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) Index has dropped by nearly 5% today in what is described as heavy trading – this is in addition to a fall of just over 2% yesterday (of course, now that the Index is down below 700, even comparatively small changes can represent seemingly large percentage changes). As usual, commentators seem keen to put forward their own reasons for these falls – some will talk about loss of investor confidence following the closing of the Map Ta Phut industrial estate facilities, some talk about concerns over HM the King’s health, some talk about political uncertainty in advance of political rallies to be held this weekend and some will talk of the semi-mythical ‘profit-taking.’ In reality, of course, markets generally move for a whole range of different reasons, including the release of information on specific industries or companies which rarely make the headline news. Evidence increasingly suggests that when several factors coincide in order to create a movement in the same direction (but especially when the movement is downwards), then at some point a herd-like mentality can take over, brokers panic and a more or less random movement turns into an emergent crash. To stop this happening, there are usually ‘circuit breakers’ inserted into the exchanges – for example, trading would be suspended for the rest of the day on the SET if there is a loss of 10% or more in a single day. That gives people time to cool off and return to a more rational frame of mind. On the whole, we might reasonably expect a general decline in the level of the SET (and other regional indices) as the ongoing global financial crisis continues to lead to depressed export markets. This can be exacerbated in Thailand by uncertainty over the future but there are also reasons to feel optimistic about the future economically (although we would probably need a change in those responsible for the economic management of the country). Besides which, the time to sell shares is when prices have gone up and the price to buy them is when prices have gone down.
Buddhism, the religion of some 95% of the subjects of Thailand, calls for moderation in nearly all things – opium, for example, was for centuries accepted as a means of controlling pain, used in moderation. Those activities not proscribed (e.g. theft or murder) are accepted in, once again, moderation. This is a very humane approach and enables people whose lives were if not nasty, brutish and short at least often difficult, unrewarding and tedious to enjoy the occasional celebration. It is no surprise that animist rituals throughout the country (throughout mainland Southeast Asia more or less) feature the drinking of rice wine and feasting on pigs to recognize important events (e.g. weddings, successful births) and the passing of important dates (e.g. harvests, the monsoon’s arrival).
Of course, there is potential for people to abuse all things and excessive alcohol consumption causes many health and social issues. In other countries which have turned to paternalist authoritarianism, notably South Korea, alcohol (soju, specifically) was manufactured in large amounts and the price kept low as a means of keeping the self-sacrificing working classes compliant in the continual urging to work harder to save the country. There was some justification to this since it is very likely that had South Korea not managed to outdistance its neighbour to the north in industrial and economic terms, then further invasion attempts would have occurred.
In Thailand, the attempt to control the behaviour of the working classes has occurred comparatively recently, although there have always been small abstinence movements largely for the middle classes. The movement occurred as part of the anti-government protests which began in 2005 and has now turned into a fully fledged anti-democracy proto-fascist movement prepared to use violence to overthrow the state. In 2005, a resurgence of ostentatious nationalism and loyalty to the throne through wearing yellow shirts and protesting that loyalty very publicly. One extremist Buddhist school of thought has been led by Chamlong Srimuang, one of the ringleaders of the anti-democracy movement, who protested against the attempt by Thai Bev, one of the country’s leading companies, from registering on the local stock exchange (the SET). Protests were so tediously persistent that Thai Bev listed in Singapore instead. Now it is planning, according to newspaper reports anyway, to attempt once more to list on the SET. The weekend threatens bloodshed on the streets of Bangkok and throughout the country (which will be largely unreported). Whether religious groups again seek to involve themselves remains to be seen.