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Reflections on recession in Bangkok

by FarEasterner Tue Sep 8th, 2009 at 01:39:20 PM EST

It is late evening in Bangkok and it is still raining. Monsoon time. After some time I found myself again in the friendly Asian megapolis waiting for visa processing (quite a usual timepass when one is out of her country for a long time).


Tourist ghetto of Khaosan Rd area under the rain.

My friend left Bangkok long ago, her friend who entertained me last time in March too, she left for dreadful Baghdad, so this time I am on my own, mixing expeditions into rich Bangkok's past with browsing gleaming malls and cozy family-run bookstalls in search for wonderful books.


The rain intensifies

With both kinds of business I was extremely lucky this time so I had run out of my budget for Bangkok rather quickly. That's why I am sitting in internet café in my hotel's lobby and printing these words.



Obsession with gold has a long history in Thailand.

I just don't know how to begin. Everything it seems was already said about Bangkok. Unlike Indian cities Bangkok never sleeps. No, it does not mean that all people never sleep, but many people (including tourists) do, I think. Last night when one my friend (she is studying Thai massage in Chiang Mai) called me at 3AM waking (and angering) me up I looked into the window and saw the street full of people. I am not sure whether it was just arrived people looking for a spare bed or crowd returning from infamous Bangkok red light districts somewhere on Sukhumvit Rd or around Nana Plaza. Thai sex industry apparently escaped recession.


Asia Books which was so afraid of Thaksin that they refused to sell Pasuk Phonpaichit's biography of the then premier minister of Thailand, now His Excellency Nicaraguan ambassador.

More about recession, don't you think it was unusually mild this time? Maybe massive bailouts somehow helped? I was thinking about this paradox while reading during lunch of fried rice with pork and pineapple fopr just 1 dollar Jeffrey Sachs's book The End of Poverty I purchased in Silom's branch of the Asia Books.


My lunch with a copy of IHT in the backdrop.

In India we are mostly obsessed and concerned with what happening inside the country and books like Sachs's are not readily available. He published it in 2005 in the height of Bush presidency. In the book he is explaining his "crimes" in rapid privatization, liberalization, shock therapy he advised to governments in Bolivia, Poland and Russia in 1980-90s, so at first I had a feeling "I caught a thief!".


"Das Kapital" of the XXI century?

I've found who was responsible for unnecessary suffering caused to scores of innocent people who were not paid their salary because Mr Sachs had recommended the governments to rein in budget deficits trying to stop hyperinflation. They were not paid their paychecks in many months, in some instances years, Mr Sachs, and coped with lack of cash selling their valuables. Just at that time I was studying in Moscow trying to become gas field engineer and I was forced to stop my study due to financial turmoil. Now I know whom to thank for cardinal change in my life!


Now and again I am stuck in infamous Bangkok's jams.

Whatever, his book is wonderful treat in development economics, his flamboyant boasting a la Virgin owner notwithstanding. He did not open new continent preferring to quote (extensively) Adam Smith and John Meynard Keynes. He gives crash course of world economic history, noting importance of geography (besides other factors like favorable for innovations political system) for destiny of different countries, illustrates development points on examples of Bolivia, Poland, Russia, China, India and Malawi (in Africa). Illustrations are at their most strength when he interrupts his boasts and turn into Bono-style activist like in his description of Malawi's fight against AIDS. Had Madonna adopted her two children from this impoverished country because of Jeffrey Sachs' book? I am not keen watcher of pop celebrities but remembering her visit to Dharavi (Mumbai's slum celebrated in Slumdog) with Gregory David Roberts (author of Shantaram) in hand it's not improbable. Or maybe Mr Sachs's book was of great importance for generous help offered by George W Bush to Africa in his second term (Now it seems like his only achievement in office, millions of Africans should be grateful and I will not wonder when his busts one day will dot the continent's landscape).

My time is up, I'll continue tomorrow..


What is inside?

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Thank you for the post and comments FE.  Nice to hear from you again. Bangkok is a joy, even in the rain and traffic. Happy hunting!

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Sep 8th, 2009 at 11:45:22 PM EST
Thank you for this diary and for the review of Sachs' book.  Books can often serve a useful purpose even if the main intent of the author is off the mark.  I might now buy a copy of The End of Poverty as a guide book to late 20th century developmental thinking even though it seems preposterous that the goal he advocates should be accomplished via the means he proposes.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Sep 9th, 2009 at 01:31:26 PM EST
why? i did not have impression that his book was about late 20th century development thinking.

his book in many aspects is very powerful because he demolishes many stereotypes, myths and "magic bullets" about economics, which flourish even here on ET up to date.

His means to eradicate extreme poverty seem to me very reasonable. It is a scandal how less developed world contribute to this noble goal, especially US, France and Italy.

His means include strengthening and empowering UN institutions, especially IMF and WB on condition that they change their usual ways. This is ongoing process as we all see, because Western powers far too long monopolized decision taking in these vital institutions. Now after developing countries like BRIC agreed to hike their contributions to IMF and WB budget I hope they will have more say in decision making process.

Then, Mr Jeffrey Sachs is absolutely right when he speaks about urgent need of massive external financing of the first very difficult step on the ladder of development. When one particular country is desperately poor in the first place no matter how good governance will be it still will be very poor country after many decades. Many African countries unfortunately were caught in this poverty trap and without helping hand they will not raise themselves out of trap.  

The poorest countries have also slim chances to be useful for richer countries on geopolitical reasons, getting much needed grants, but this rule usually not applied incase of war and poverty ridden (often landlocked) African nations.

by FarEasterner on Thu Sep 17th, 2009 at 12:20:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
FarEasterner:
Now after developing countries like BRIC agreed to hike their contributions to IMF and WB budget I hope they will have more say in decision making process.
The only thing I've heard in this regard is that the US is arguing that EU countries should have a smaller share of the vote at the IMF, while the US retains its veto power by keeping its own share above 15%.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Sep 17th, 2009 at 12:29:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for interesting diary and nice and informative photos.Unfortunately I just had a chance to spend 8 hours on Bangkok's airport once...It was the day when Prices Diana died and I saw it on TV there.
It looks like the world generally progressed a lot in last 10-20 years...standard of life wise.Actually I am under impression (that may be wrong) that places like Asia and South America (and probably East Europe and Russia) that we used to believe are poor and not very "livable" (compering to Western world) actually progressed much more then Western world it self ( excluding USA I suppose).
I recently saw some photos from Brazil for example( friend spent a year working there) and it's fantastic place...I know that there are slums in Brazil (but they exist everywhere ... (homeless people are in huge numbers in USA too) but generally standard of life improved worldwide and especially in those countries that were considered poor.OK those who has oil are obviously better of now but not only them.
Definitely this recession will make a difference in lives for people individually but we are yet to see what it is going to mean for different communities and nations on a larger scale.They say we are all borrowing our way out from this recession...Who is landing ? It looks like we are still " creating " money ( values) that does not exist?

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Sun Sep 13th, 2009 at 08:21:19 PM EST
There are now people like "us" pretty much all over the world except Africa. But with the population growth of the last century, the number of people either dirt poor or living outside of the globalised money economy is still increasing...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 08:43:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a globalization of the middle class and a thirdworldization of the first world. And Africa to the dogs, unfortunately.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 09:09:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's also a third world ization of the third world. It's harder for the poors of the world to remain out of mainstream globalisation and money economy ; people who lived in autarcy become destitute in the modern world.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 09:28:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a globalization of the middle class and a thirdworldization of the first world
-----
Interesting expression...and probably true...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein
by vbo on Mon Sep 21st, 2009 at 08:21:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
thank you for your first letter reply to my diaries. indeed bangkok is very developed though this cannot be said yet about the rest of the region especially cambodia and laos. but the presence of bangkok will eventually lift them out of poverty.

i made some statements which i did not explain. for example about mild recession. i was thinking about it not because nobody is suffering but because i was reminded by mr Sachs how painful was transition from autarcic to market economy in some countries in the end of the last century (including Yugoslavia).

Much water has flown since then. Now the West after disastrous Bush presidencies (and many missed opportunities during Clinton era) is much weaker. Many countries like China, Russia, India, Brazil and even Thailand were better prepared to withstand global recession. They are propping up smaller regimes around their perifery for example supporting their budgets and currencies. Kyrgyzstan is clear example in this regard.

That's why all does not seem so bad unlike 1980's or 1990's which were very bad almost everywhere (perhaps except China which however experienced political and ethnic turmoil at the time).

by FarEasterner on Thu Sep 17th, 2009 at 12:32:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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