Readers' Submissions

Economics

  • Written by Mr. Lucky
  • July 15th, 2005
  • 5 min read


A lot of talk has come up lately on this site criticising Thais for being money hungry. What I have to say has been said before on this site but in light of several recent submissions criticising or attempting to explain the apparent greediness of Thai women, it seems it must be said again.

I have worked in the media for a few years in Thailand. It's been a serious reality check, to put it lightly. One thing I have learned is that if you want to find the truth, trace the movement of money. What Stickman contributors mysteriously refer to as cultural differences can be much more easily understood when you look at the economics.

In fact, labelling a misunderstood behaviour as a cultural difference is anything but helpful. As soon as someone says some aspect of Thai behaviour is a cultural difference, it somehow becomes a sacred topic that outsiders cannot understand or challenge. While it sounds all erudite and puts the speaker on the moral high ground, it does nothing to help either party in a Thai-Farang misunderstanding.

So what do I mean by economics and tracing the movement of money? For a news reporter it means that, when the government spokesman tells you they don't have the capacity to enforce the moratorium on building hotels in the national park on Koh Samet, you can bet that someone high up in the Forestry department is getting a kickback from all the hotels that are operating on the island, and probably handing some down to the Rayong police.

And when the expected results of some multi-billion baht project fail to materialise on time (or ever), you know that several influential figures involved are planning an early retirement.

Now, to understand the seemingly unreasonable demands from Thai girls for support, sin sod, hospital bills, buffalos and homes for mom and dad, just look at the flow of money. Or in this case, the lack thereof.

Why don't people from the US, Canada, Australia, UK, etc., support their parents? Well, actually, they are, indirectly. Most Westerners (perhaps unwillingly) donate a percentage of earnings to the government, which in turn provides social security for the elderly. In addition, any halfway decent company offers retirement plans for their employees.

These buffers do not exist in Thailand. Even if a bill was put forward to pass such a tax law in Thailand, who the hell would vote for it, given the government's record with redistributing money? Who would trust a government that raked in 600 million baht for itself on the purchase of bomb detectors for its new airport?

So every Thai knows that they are on their own and retirement planning is entirely up to them. Step one: have children. When you are old and no longer able to work, you need someone who is young, healthy and totally dedicated to helping you. Step two: If it's a son, put him in the field. If it's a daughter, make sure she marries someone who can help out. Step three: make damn sure those kids grow up with a sense of parental devotion that runs all they way from their medulla oblongata right out their tailbone.

What this means for anyone marrying into a Thai family is that you have to be prepared to help the other children support the family in times of need. Anyone donating money to the family cause should do it in person, not by mail. Go upcountry and see how it is being spent, and make sure brother-in-law is not sitting on his ass while Khun Farang does all the work.

In addition to caring for the family, stability is an especially important consideration in the case of a female spouse, who faces a truly bleak future if a marriage goes wrong and she is out on the street as a divorcee, ostracised by Thai men and with very little earning potential. If a girl senses her man is not serious or a butterfly, then she is very logically going to pad her landing by getting as much money as possible while she can. She’ll tell her guy the buffalo died and keep the money. Then, if they stay together until the end of time, great. If not, she has a stipend until the real Mr Right comes along.

A Thai girl's reasoning in asking for money is completely valid, given her economic circumstances, and if her Western boyfriend is not willing to enter into this Thai social contract, then he has no business marrying a Thai. Better to try Japan, where the middle class makes up 98 per cent of the population and hot girls with crooked teeth do it for fun.

I am by no means saying that, because one is relatively rich compared to the average Thai that he somehow owes Thailand money. There is no need to tip exorbitantly or pay inflated Farang rates (or sin sods). I hate that crap and take it as a personal insult to my intelligence. I won't even bother to bargain with vendors who quote idiotic rates because of the colour of my skin, as there will be someone else up the road providing the same service more honestly who better deserves my money.

However, when it comes to a loved one, what kind of cretin wouldn't help out the family? She's your wife for Christ's sake. She exists and she’s beautiful and (hopefully) well adjusted, because her parents worked their asses off to feed extra mouths so that, when they were no longer able to work, they wouldn't starve. It seems beastly to them that a prospective son-in-law would consider taking away their child (read: retirement plan) without giving something back.

Again, no one needs to enter into a situation that goes against the economics of Western relationships, but anyone who has a problem with this arrangement has absolutely no business marrying into a Thai family. It's not a lofty cultural thing, it's simply economics.

Stickman's thoughts:

One of the problems, as I see it, is that many Thai families could have done a lot better for themselves – and their retirement planning – but have spent frivolously in lieu of the farang who is now viewed as their financial saviour. Obviously, not all, but a great number.

The paragraph about going upcountry and seeing how the money is being used is VERY VALID.