Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Industrialization with a Weak State: Thailand's Development in Historical Perspective

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Industrialization with a Weak State: Thailand's Development in Historical Perspective

Article excerpt

Industrialization with a Weak State: Thailand's Development in Historical Perspective Somboon Siriprachai (edited by Kaoru Sugihara, Pasuk Phongpaichit, and Chris Baker) Singapore and Kyoto: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press, 2012, xii+ 183p.

Over the past decade, Thailand has experienced constant political turmoil. Although fair evaluation of the economic "reforms" of the Thaksin government (2001-06) is not yet possible, there is little doubt that these "reforms" cut into Thailand's socio-economic fundamentals-long treated as a taboo subject-and affect the core factors that have stabilized and integrated the nation. Undoubtedly, Thaksin's growth strategies, various redistribution policies, and drastic rearrangements of vested interests (i.e. rents) enlarged the "economic pie." But these also brought vast wealth to crony business factions, attracting serious complaints from groups that held opposing traditional vested interests. Since the coup d'état of 2006, the political system has failed to adjust to conflicts in a democratic fashion and the last 10 years have seen the actual democratic process itself continually undermined. Public conflicts between competing groups have become a daily scene, leading to both the military and the judiciary asserting political control, even as the bureaucracy and monarchy do not show any signs of being in full control of the situation.

Somboon Siriprachai's posthumous book, Industrialization with a Weak State, develops his observations on and analyses of long-term economic development in post-war Thailand until 1990s. Adopting a critical stance toward standard development economic theory, it describes the Thai state as a "weak state," one contrasted to the "strong state" typically found in East Asian countries. Within such a context, the book discusses the characteristics and shortcomings of Thailand as well as the prospective challenges that the Thai economy faces. While the period the book focuses on is a little out of date (pre-1990), the argument nevertheless contains many insights which remain relevant for Thailand's present socio-economy.

The author, Professor Somboon Siriprachai, was a prominent Thai economist, who had long engaged in academic work on Thailand's economic development in Thammasat University. Regrettably, he suddenly passed away in December 2008 while in Japan, on his way back home from a conference at Kyoto University, where he gave a talk based on one part of the manuscript that became this book, and this reviewer was his discussant. Carrying out his wishes, his friends in academia, Kaoru Sugihara, Pasuk Phongpaichit, and Chris Baker, edited his published journal papers and gathered them together in this book.

Owing to the nature of the publication process, this book is a collection of the author's major journal papers, rather than a monograph. However, all chapters share a common concern: to shed light on the fundamental structure of the Thai economy. The seven chapters are divided into three parts. Chapter 1 presents an overview of the book and its basic questions. Chapter 2 focuses on export-led industrialization under the conditions of "land abundance"; chapter 3 on demographic change, land cultivation, and deforestation; and chapter 4 primarily on the inconsistency of development policy. The second half of the book, chapters 5 to 7, revisits the question of East Asian economic development. These chapters offer a critical overview of modern development economics and focus on the nature of the "state" as a policy authority in East Asia and Thailand by pointing out the limitations of the applicability of the East Asian miracle to Thailand.

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the trajectory of the development stages that took place between the 1940s and the 1990s. These were: the state-owned-enterprise-based economy of the Phibun regime in the 1940s; the private capital-led economy with national development plans and the conservative macroeconomic management of the Sarit regime in the late 1950s to 1960s; industrialization with primary product export and import substitution in 1960s; gradual conversion toward export-led industrialization while coping with the global economic recession of the 1970s; and serious macroeconomic imbalance and its recovery in the early 1980s. …

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