by Marque A. Rome
As is my wont most mornings, today over coffee, I scanned the Bangkok Post for news. Local pundits (a word derived from Sanskrit, by the way, meaning ‘scholar’ in that language, not ‘blowhard’) are all abuzz over statements Wednesday from Thailand’s present penultimate leader, Gen. Prayut Janocha, who led the 22nd May 2014 coup d’etat to wrest power from the popularly elected government. Gen. Prayut said, in effect, that if those opposed to the current state of affairs continue to make trouble for his government, he will stay in power and “close the country” until peace has returned.
The general, it must be noted, has repeatedly made plain during the last two years his scorn for both popular elections and representative democracy. He thinks such institutions are prey to corruption and lead only to parliamentary tyranny. Such criticism is nothing new: Athenian critics of Alcibiades said much the same in the 5th Century B.C.
His threat to “close the country”, however, is new (although it finds a Greek parallel as well in the word ‘xenophobia’), and, as he did not elaborate, we can only speculate on just how draconian (an adjective rooted in the actions of Athenian legislator Draco) such closing might be. Will he kick out the foreigners? Millions now live here. (Picture to yourself long lines of mostly fat, 50-ish, pampered Europeans and Americans making the trek back home across Central Asia — prey to Turkomen, Kyrghyz and Kazakh rogues, whose governments declare their inability to safeguard the invading horde of refugees.)
Will he imitate Mao Tse Tung after the Communists came to power in China and close the borders? Or, worse, the Chinese emperor who, in the 17th Century, forbid even fishermen to go to sea and ordered the coastal population to remove itself 25 kilometres back from the shore?
Will he order migrating birds shot as foreign interlopers? The possibilities are mind-boggling.
Such a stance, of course, excited notice of the Commentariat, none favourable that I can see. I was struck, however, by the reasoning of Umesh Pandey, editor of the Bangkok Post’s Asia Focus section, who wrote:
“Gen Prayut’s plans to isolate the country, even if only words, do not bode well for anyone.
“The business community is already spooked by various actions of this government, not to mention the floundering economic situation. Such statements are in no way helpful to Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who has been taken onboard to shore up the economy and drum up support from the international business community….
“Mr. Somkid has been meeting foreign investors, trying to convince them of the benefits — while the overall ranking of Thailand continues to slip by the day.
“With countries all across the world, and especially ASEAN, looking to become more business friendly, pointless statements by a government leader do not go down well among investors.
“Thailand is already struggling with so many drawbacks, be they the rising cost of labour, political instability, a shortage of labour, the lack of a skilled labour force, a lack of research and development….”
Now, I realize daily newspapers cannot survive without pandering to Business and that advertising expenditures are today much harder to win. I expect they may disappear altogether, however, as businesses (including newspapers) become more adept at managing opportunities offered by the ‘Internet of Things’, and increasing usage of what is commonly (and I think wrongly) termed ‘social media’. (‘Media’ comes from ‘middle’; what have Facebook and Instagram to do with the the middle? Wouldn’t ‘network’ be a better choice of words?) That being the case, seeing as the fate of the nation is at stake, what is the point of pandering to the very people who brought us to this impasse?
For, make no mistake about it, it is Business — ever expanding, more ruthless, more unyielding and rapacious Business — that is wrecking Thailand and the world. Indeed, each of the “drawbacks” cited by Umesh above is directly attributable to Business.
Is there a “rising cost of labour”? This is one of the businessman’s favourite bugaboos. Why does the cost of labour rise? Because the value of currency decreases. It’s called ‘inflation’, and is a deliberate policy of central banks everywhere. For example, Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, quite openly made inflation the centre-piece of his domestic political policy a couple years ago — a policy that has found universal favour in the Business press. Why? Because inflation makes fixed-rate loans cheaper to pay off with time, and Business operates on fixed-rate loans. For Business, inflation means profit. For workers, on the other hand, especially those who are not homeowners with fixed-rate mortgages, inflation is the invisible thief, who robs them in the night, bit by bit, of means to survive.
Thus, under such conditions, wages inevitably rise, eating into Business’ profits — and Business hates any expenditure (always excepting, of course, CEO salaries) that does not conduce to increased revenue. In so far as Business is concerned, labour ought really to be free.
So Business itself is responsible for the rising cost of labour. Political instability? It, too, goes hand-in-glove with Business. “Stuff and nonsense!” you say, “Business thrives on political stability.” That may well be, but political instability in Thailand and throughout the world is, undeniably a by-product of Business: last year’s coup resulted from the Old Money crowd’s opposition to policies enacted by the New Money business crowd of Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. That’s not a controversial idea — everyone is pretty well agreed on that.
But political instability takes form not only in street demonstrations. It is prompted by corruption, which hearkens back to Gen. Prayut’s criticism of democracy. Businessmen feel they must have their way or succumb to competitors, and they care not how they get it. So they bribe administrators, infiltrate governments with their minions, write laws and regulations for their own benefit. Thaksin, for example, when he was prime minister, had parliament pass a law favouring the telecom company he owned, Advanced Info Systems (AIS), over all others. He quite openly used control of government to advance his business interests, eventually exciting opposition from other businessmen (notably his former business partner, Sonthi Limtongkul), resulting in massive street demonstrations, government paralysis and…a coup d’etat.
I needn’t go into detail regarding the United States’ more or less perpetual warring, as every thinking person long ago realized human rights have nothing to do with it, and advantages in business everything. (Even the 18th and 19th Century Indian Wars in America were, at heart, mostly over trading advantage and property development.) Other nations follow the same model. Indeed, I can’t think of a single war or serious political dispute not prompted, ultimately, by Business.
As for the other drawbacks cited by Umesh in his Bangkok Post piece: “shortages of labour” occur when Business tries to expand beyond its capacity or willingness to pay for the same; a “lack of skills” ensues when Business forces the costs of training on taxpayers while refusing to train its own workforce; and whom shall we blame for a “lack of research and development”? Umesh obviously blames the government. Why? Who’s going to use all that research and development the businessmen think is lacking?
They are. So why aren’t they doing the work instead of condemning government lassitude? We already know the answer to that: because they don’t like to pay.
Scientists tell us our biosphere is nearing collapse. This is good news for the people awaiting Jesus’ Second Coming: they may soon have a chance to see whether their good books have been telling them the truth. For the rest of us…well, for most of us present circumstances are worrisome — but not for the businessmen! They want more cars, more roads, more poisons, more aircraft, more electrical plants, more weapons, more slaughter of animals, more inane anti-intellectual entertainment; more of everything that will bring on the crisis sooner.
Who knows? Maybe Jesus when he comes wants to see us all plugged into inter-connected digital devices, stuck in traffic, longing for premium quality junkfood, diverting ourselves with activities even savages might have sneered at a hundred years ago.
But I doubt it; and that’s why I say, “More business? Who needs it!”