Unequal Thailand: trends and consequences
Thailand has experienced rapid growth and a structural transformation since the 1950s. However, Thailand has also experienced growth without equity. Although it has fallen in recent years, Thailand’s Gini index has been above 0.40 for the last 30 years. This is high by Asian standards, and makes Thailand look like China rather than Taiwan and South Korea.
Figure 1 – Gini coefficient for Thailand and other Asian countries
Looking at income share by quintile, we can see that the richest 20 per cent own about 50 per cent of Thailand’s national income. This share has slightly fallen over the last 30 years. However, in 2013, the poorest 20 per cent still received only seven per cent of the country’s prosperity.
Figure 2 – Income shares by quintile for Thailand
According to Albert Hirschman, the losers from economic development can tolerate income inequality at the beginning because they hope and expect that the windfall will be shared soon. However, if eventually the gap between the rich and the poor does not fall over time, the losers become intolerant. They think that this kind of economic growth is unfair. The result is social movements and political unrest. A well-known example is the Occupy movement protests by young people against economic inequality that began in New York in 2011 and spread to other countries such as Brazil, Spain, and India.
Why hasn’t high inequality led to protests in Thailand? It is hard to believe that the modest reduction in inequality in the reason.
There are other, more compelling reasons for why inequality is not a pressing social issue in Thailand. Firstly, there is ‘Thainess.’ Thais are often described as friendly, polite, modest, respectful, neat, and discreet. Another important trait is “kreng …read more