Thailand: Globalisers Vs Communitarians


Dr Craig Reynolds

Three years ago, well before the economic crisis in Asia, a Thai political scientist published a little book on the debate among public intellectuals about globalisation. A regular contributor to “Manager,” a daily newspaper read by people in business and public service, this author is himself a well-known public intellectual, and he was on speaking terms with many of the academics and public figures active in the debate. The author characterised this debate as a kind of boxing match between globalisers and communitarians. Globalisers and communitarians agree on several points. They agree on their opposition to the bureaucratic state, its lack of direction, and its inefficiencies. Where they differ is in how they propose to reform relations between the state and society. The globalisers want the state to reduce its power and interference in the private sector, to free up the economy, and to deregulate business activity. They want the Thai economy to be internationalised, and the middle class is to have more of a free hand as a result of economic reform. By contrast, the communitarians want the state to reduce its power and interference in village communities and to respect and ensure the inalienable right of village communities to govern themselves and to manage their own resources by themselves. Empowering village communities will enable them to participate in economic decision-making with the public and private sectors. In sum, the globalising camp wants to reduce state power over individuals, while the communitarian camp wants to reduce state power over communities. The impact of the financial crisis of mid-July cast doubt on the approach advocated by the globalisers. Internationalising the economy exposed the country to a flood of foreign investment, and deregulation proved costly to businesses and individuals alike. A new spirit of economic self-reliance and self-sufficiency has taken hold, encouraged by King Bhumiphol’s annual birthday message of late last year. The King called for restraint and “making do with less.” So in the boxing match between the globalisers and the communitarians, the globalisers have taken a few hard punches. They have been knocked down, but not knocked out. They will get up on their feet again, dust themselves off, and resume the fight.

WATCHPOINT: Will a strengthening of the communitarian position damage Thailand's global standing?


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