Thais, Farang, And The Land
Casanundra’s little debate with the Thai lawyer concerning land was interesting. To me, the Thai lawyer’s excuse that there is not enough land for the Thais just doesn’t wash with me. Casanundra is right. Poor people, regardless of
where they are from, can’t afford to own real estate. The problem of land scarcity is not a Thai problem, it is a universal one. Besides, outside Bangkok, Thailand doesn’t have a population density problem. And the notion that farang
would displace poor Thais from their land is probably the farthest thing from the truth. There is neither a historical nor a legal precedent for it. Also, what of the notion of reciprocity and fairness? If farang aren’t allowed to own land
in Thailand, then why are Thais allowed to own land overseas? Instead of complaining, why don’t farang write to their Congressmen or MPs about the unfairness of it all? Why should Thai nationals be allowed to own billions of dollars of
our real estate in Europe, North America, and Oceania outright, while they bitch and moan about us owning a little rai for a place of residence? And what if our Congressmen and MPs actually took action against Thais owning land?
What if we Westerners lobbied our governments into making laws that would force Thais into owning only 49% of their businesses while making them seek out farang partners for the other 51%? Rich Thais and the Chinese are already screwing the poor
people in their own country by hording all the wealth, power and land, so why should we allow them to screw us as well with their hypocrisy and double-standards? From our western perspective, we think we are being wronged by the Thais. But the
Thais have their reasons for doing what they do. In this submission, I’ll be going over some of them.
The thing that bugs me about Thais, and this is really not their fault, is that they know so little about their own country and its history. Thailand’s Education Department, especially pertaining to secondary education, should be re-named the Department of Thai Nationalism. Most educated Thais, even the ones from the more prestigious universities, know the truth and are dedicated to the truth about Thailand, but people who enter the bureaucracies, the karatchakan, which literally means “slaves of the King” <but the intended meaning is government official – Stick>, are more or less products and propagators of the official meta-history of Thailand, a history that intends to blame all of Thailand’s problems on foreigners. Whether the foreigners are Burmese, Cambodians, Lao, Malay, British, French, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese Communists, and last but not least, Americans doesn’t really matter, because in the end, the Thais will always make sure that their problems are somebody else’s fault.
As you may have or have not noticed, I have left out the Chinese from the blame the foreigners list. They are not on the list for one simple reason: They control all private and public propaganda in Thailand. The Chinese are the one group of foreigners who are really responsible for screwing up Thailand. In my opinion, they are responsible for the so-called land shortage in Thailand. They are the ones who own most of the land, because they’ve spent the last 250 years cheating the real ethnic Thais out of it, usually through corruption, confiscation backed by police and military forces, and usury. If you look at the faces of the Thai Rak Thai Party, all those good, honest capitalists who own a big chunk of Thailand’s wealth, how many of them are not Chinese? Who own all the major banks in Thailand? Bangkok Bank, Bank of Ayutthaya, Thai Farmers Bank, Bank Thai, the Book Club? Who owns all the major land development companies? The Chinese. The farang don’t own the banks or the land development companies. The farang don’t confiscate the land of poor farmers who can’t pay their debts. And they never have. The Thais actually banned foreigners, namely farang, from operating banks on Thai soil since 1932 (the overthrowing of the absolute monarchy) up until recently. Every single Thai bank, with the exception of Siam Commercial Bank, which is part of the Privy Purse portfolio, has been owned and operated by the Chinese.
Before the 1997 crisis, there were more banks than there are now. Many of those Chinese banks' owners cashed out quickly with the assets of the common people before it really got rough and fled to the West with hundreds of millions of dollars. And since the Thai government / Chinese business axis is so strong in Thailand, many Chinese came out ahead in the crisis, because they knew of the Baht devaluation before hand. They were responsible for much of the capital flight that ruined Thailand’s economy. (Even now, while the Thai Government is going hat in hand to foreign countries and multi-national companies begging for investment, Thai-Chinese businessmen have billions of dollars parked in the Cayman Islands earning interest. This is not some conspiracy theory I cooked up. One can go to the Bank of Thailand’s website to see for themselves. And how come the C.P. Group, Bangkok Bank and other Thai multi-nationals are investing billions of dollars outside the country while their government goes begging for capital from foreigners for its mega-projects? And do you know what foreign multi-nationals get in return for their billions of dollars in capital investment? Rice. Yes, Thais really think farang are this stupid.) Believe it or not, the 1997 crisis was not originally caused by government malfeasance, but by private actors, such as Thai finance companies and banks, who borrowed money at ridiculous interest rates from abroad to finance equity and property speculation (Funny how Thais have unlimited access to Western public and private capital, yet farang can’t own land or get a loan from a Thai bank). When foreign banks started to call in their loans, many Thais couldn’t pony up, so the government used its foreign reserves to cover the backsides of Thai finance companies that shouldn’t have been in business to begin with. Thailand was run like the Enron Corporation and / or the mafia, and it still is.
This is how it was before the crisis: A Thai, usually an influential or connected person, would go to a finance company for a loan for a property development project. He would put up his home and other assets, which were probably mortgaged to the hilt, as collateral. But the value of his collateral was inflated to justify the size of the mega loan; for example, the value of the collateral was probably worth 1% of the loan rather the normal 10%. But this was OK, because property values were quadrupling every year. And the reason they were quadrupling was because everybody was going into real estate speculation. At this time, many property investors were making enough money to cover the cost of ridiculous mortgage rates – think 15-20% range. In economics, though, the market always ends up finding its equilibrium. The problems started when Thais could no longer afford to make their interest payments. It would have been different if they were defaulting on small, locally made loans, but what happened was Thai finance companies were looking abroad for the much needed liquidity / cash to finance mega-projects. Things began to fall apart when Thai finance companies began defaulting on loans they received from foreign banks. In the real world, not the Thai world, these foreign banks would start re-possessing the property that was made as collateral. There were two problems, however. First, the Thai finance company would have to admit to the foreign bank that it had neither capital reserves nor collateral. And if there were capital reserves, they were being skimmed from and deposited in Cayman Island and Swiss Bank accounts. Second, there was no way in hell that an influential Thai person would ever give up his home to a foreign bank; besides, legal confiscation of land is extremely difficult to enforce in Thailand. So eventually the Thai Government had to step in and pay off the private loans, because the government and capitalist elite in Thailand is pretty much the same thing. Thailand was running current account deficits: it was importing more than it was exporting; and on top of that, foreign capital was fleeing the country. Eventually, the Bank of Thailand ran out of money. George Soros saw what was coming a mile away. It was just a matter of time. He knew that the Thai Government would eventually float its currency. In fact, he bet and made billions of dollars on it. . But for Thais to say that it was his fault that their economy collapsed is pure self-delusion. Remember, when Thailand has problems, blame the farang.
So no, it wasn’t George Soros’s fault that many of the economies in the world tanked because of Thai incompetence, corruption and collusion. After the crisis, many international institutions and multi-national banks infused the Thai government and its banking system with much needed liquidity. America refused to do so. The Clinton Administration knew the Thai Government and the private finance sector were corrupt. In the end, a consortium made up of Japan, Australia, and some private banks bailed Thailand out from a crisis of its own making. So the Chinese screw Thailand, the West and Japan comes in to save Thailand from itself, and in the end, who gets blamed? The farang, of course. And what is ironic is that many of the Thai assets that were picked up on the cheap because of the 97 crisis were not bought by Westerners, as the Thais thought would happen, but instead the Chinese in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan snapped them up mostly for 20 cents or less on the dollar. Anybody can look this up. It is a matter of public record. After the crisis, American and European investors fled the country in droves; the overseas Chinese came in and picked the meat off the bone.
If you are to believe the Thai media, one would think that all of Thailand’s private and public assets are mostly owned by foreigners, namely whitey. Of course, this is why every Thai goes absolutely nuts when it comes to free trade agreements with Western countries, because they think the government is selling out the country to the farang for a quick buck. Of course, you never hear about the Thai-China free trade agreement, the one that really screwed many Thai farmers and SMEs. The fact is China will be beat Thailand in terms of comparative advantage every time. But Thailand and Western countries plus Japan don’t really compete directly with each other at all. Let us take the example of agriculture. Thai farmers can’t compete with Chinese farmers when it comes to common staples like garlic and fruit, whereas Australian produce – even with a free trade agreement – is five times more expensive than what is locally grown. Anybody can go to a major supermarket to see this for themselves. Yet it is always whitey who is blamed for destroying the livelihood for the Thai farmer, who is, by the way, already getting screwed by the Thai-Chinese middleman. You hear a lot of rhetoric of how foreign competition will destroy the livelihood of the Thai farmer. The fact is that Thai farmers have never got a fair shake from their own people, politically, economically, and socially. It is not the farang who keeps the Thai farmer poor and stupid. It is not the farang who exploits the Thai farmer for his labor. It is not the farang who socially discriminates against the Thai farmer in terms of social stratification and bigotry. In short, farang don’t behave like the Chinese and the Thai ruling class.
If there is one group of foreigners who are really screwing the Thais, it is the Chinese, but you will never hear about that in the Thai media and academic circles, because the Chinese already own Thailand lock, stock, and barrel. Farang are the scapegoats, because they are easy to blame, and they never defend themselves. Plus, most Thai academics and journalists are Chinese. I would argue that if Thaksin had sold the Shin Group companies to a US or European multi-national rather to a Singaporean / Chinese company, the outrage would have been tenfold what it was, and the deal would have never gone through, regardless of Thaksin’s absolute power at the time.
People from European / Caucasian countries own very little of Thailand, because, to put it simply, it is against the law. Even though one may see signs of foreign ownership, like brand name outlets like Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, Tesco / Lotus, Carrefour, Toyota, Mercedes, and so forth, that doesn’t mean that those foreign multi-national companies actually own the assets inside of Thailand. For the most part, with very few exceptions, most brand name franchises are owned by the Thais who just license the brand and pay residuals to the mother corporation. In most, if not all cases, Thais own the majority shareholders in any multi-national partnership. There are certain parts of Thailand that are pegged for foreign development through the Bank of Investment like the Eastern Seaboard, for example, but that doesn’t mean farang are taking away land from the people. That land would be pegged from commercial / industrial development regardless. And the few scraps of rai here and there that are begotten through legal loopholes that the Thai lawyer was talking about is so minuscule that it doesn’t mean shit in the big scheme of things. And when you really think about it, how much of Thailand has been actually been visited by farang? I’d bet a lot of money that farang haven’t invested in land through nefarious, legal loopholes in about 98% of the country; further the land that the farang are buying is just turned into another form of capital called money, which goes into the hands of the Thais, and believe it when I say that the Thais are profiting from land sales to foreigners. Plus, a multiplier effect that goes into play when foreign capital is injected into the Thai economy. Regardless, I think most would agree with me that farang mostly care about land in Bangkok, Chonburi / Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and the little crappy villages in Isaan that their significant others come from. Personally, the Thai argument that farang will buy up all the land is completely unfounded. Even if farang were given the right, I doubt they would venture outside the regions I mentioned and most of the country would remain fairly untouched.
Many farang guys apparently have girlfriends from Isaan. Many of those girls are working the bars because their parents are in debt. You guys should start asking who these parents are indebted to. I guarantee the mafia and the money lenders upcountry taking advantage and cheating the poor out of their land are not farang or multi-national corporations. I bet you most of them are Chinese. I would also bet that if you asked the parents and grandparents of these bargirls if their parents owned land somewhere else before, they would say yes, but they lost it to Chinese moneylenders, so they had to migrate to shittier and shittier land further and further away from the nearest town or regional center. I have noticed that the poorest Thai families always live furthest away from the villages and towns. There are reasons for this. Most farang should understand that most of Thailand has been developed – even agriculturally – in the last hundred years. A lot of the farmland one sees in Thailand hasn’t been continuously cultivated for hundreds of years. Thais were not originally an agricultural people; they were hunter gatherers. Up until a hundred years ago, Thailand was an under populated country. If you go back in time before the era of European imperialism in Southeast Asia, Thailand and its neighbors didn’t go to war in order to politically dominate each other or to steal resources like our European forebears. Instead, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma were fighting to kidnap and enslave people in order to colonize their own countries with people from neighboring countries, because their own countries were so sparsely populated. What marks Thailand’s feudal system differently than most other feudal systems is that it was based upon the control over people rather than control over land. Again, simple economics: There were infinite amounts of land and not many human resources – which was more valuable if you wanted power? Labor power, of course, was more valuable. The king pretty much gave away land to anybody who wanted it, but each free Thai was required to give up four months of every year of his life in service to the Crown. Well, you know how much Thais love to work. So instead of serving, many Thais fled into the jungle. Then the government started tattooing every free Thai with markings which described where he came from and to whom he belonged, because regardless of whether a Thai was free or not, he had to have a patron or nai. This is important, because this is where the origins of the house registration and patron / client relationship come to play. One could make the argument that if one is Thai one has to be part of the feudal system. Farang have never been part of this system and they are not expected to even understand it. But this system is what made Thailand tick in the past and it is what makes Thailand tick now. Thailand’s bureaucratic and capitalist systems are reflections of the feudal past. For the most part, Farang are neither victims (except when it comes to sin soht) nor beneficiaries of Thai culture. I would argue that this is one reason why farang are not entitled to land rights. They have no stake in the culture. And farang are certainly not perpetuators of the feudal mentality, which is why many Thais and the Chinese see farang as a threat. The Chinese, on the other hand, thrive off of and exploit the Thai feudal mentality; they are culturally at home. But to be fair to the Chinese, they were at one time victims of the Thais also. In the beginning, Chinese were used by the Thai for three things: finance, labor and expertise. They had very limited political rights. Like Rama 6 said, “The Chinese are the Jews of Asia.” But the Chinese made good use of their finance and expertise and started to accumulate more wealth than the Crown and the Thai aristocracy. Eventually, the Thais formed strategic alliances with the Chinese. In exchange for financing the state and paying off the powers at be, the Thais would allow the Chinese to become part of Thai society. The King started giving titles and land rights to those Chinese who paid a fee to the crown in exchange for economic and legal rights. This was called the tax farm system. Interestingly, this system is still in place. Thaksin, for example, got a concession from the state to develop the telecommunications industry. He had to pay off the powers at be up front, and then continuously pay a concession fee to the state. After Thaksin came to power though, he tried to renege on the original deal by getting the Shin Group reduced rates on his concessions.
Originally, the Chinese got their start from going up country and buying rice from Thai farmers. Every major Thai conglomerate got its start in the rice trade. But rice was not a cash crop until the mid-19th century. Up until 150 years ago, Thailand was mostly covered in jungle. Originally, Thais were an urban people who were afraid of the monsters and the ghosts in the wild jungle. While rice has always been in Thailand and an important part of the culture, it wasn’t developed as a cash crop until the 19th century. Up until then, Thailand wasn’t really trading that much rice, but with jungle products instead. But after the Bowring Treaty was signed by King Mongkut (Rama IV) and the British, the first free trade treaty of its kind in the world, the rice trade took off. The Chinese were encouraged to immigrate to Siam. Indeed, it was government policy. Many Thais left the urban centers and became farmers, cultivating rice. It took less than a hundred years to turn a country that was 90% jungle into a country that was mostly rice paddies. One could compare what happened to Thailand with what happened to America, in terms of transforming a country that was mostly jungle into farmland, except that the farmland in the US is more diversified. Anyway, as rice paddies grew across the land and the economy expanded rapidly, the Thai population exploded. Before the globalization of the Thai economy, any Thai could take as much as land as he pleased as long as he could cultivate it, but as access to arable land became less and less and the population grew more and more, the economic principle of scarcity started to kick in. In the rice trade, the Chinese were always the middlemen. Foreigners / farang was not allowed to be middlemen. If I remember correctly, no farang trader was allowed to trade in rice products at all. They were only allowed to take the rice from port to port. How did the Crown and the ethnic Thai aristocracy make their money? In Thailand, somebody always has to pay the piper. Well, the King was in no sense an absolute monarch. King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn were both put on the thrown by their royal cousins in the aristocracy, and those powerful cousins controlled the customs department, which was the key to the kingdom’s wealth. They held the finances of the state in their hands. They were also the ones who forced the King to open up Siam to free trade agreements with almost every European country and the US. The Thai aristocracy and the Chinese made a lot of money during that time while keeping the state in pretty poor shape, financially and otherwise. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? If you want to understand why corruption, drugs, and prostitution are an integral part of Thai society, one has to know about the economic dynamics of what’s going on in mid 19th century Siam. The prostitution trade took off in Siam during the mid 19th century to service male Chinese immigrants. The drug trade took off because the British forced Thailand to become an entrepot for opium trading. The poppy plants in the Golden Triangle are not indigenous to the region. The British planted the seeds there in order to drug Asian populations into submission, and for money, of course. If anybody knows their history, these were the years of the great opium wars in China. At one point in the 19th century, I forget when, the opium trade accounted for 40% of Thailand’s state revenue, and prostitution was actually a state monopoly. Yeah, that’s right, you will never read this shit it in a Thai history text book. I want to make a point about globalization. Thailand has always been part of a global trading network. All this bullshit about how Thailand is a victim of international capitalism and American economic imperialism is really a crock of shit. Before the European imperialism came on the scene in Southeast Asia, Thailand was trading with Persia, the Arab principalities, the Malay principalities, India, China, the Indonesian Malay states, and Japan. It has always been part of a global trading network. Thailand has had over 700 years to develop economically. The fact is that the powers at be chose to horde all their wealth at the expense of the rest of the population. When you look at the history of Japan or Korea – countries that are economically developed, but had much harsher histories than Thailand – I feel no sympathy for those Thais who cry about how poor and undeveloped Thailand is. They have nobody to blame but themselves. And look at China, it has only opened its economy up for the last 25 years or so, yet it is an economic powerhouse. And then there is Singapore. Singapore doesn’t have the resources or the manpower of Thailand, yet it has one of the highest per capita GDPs in the world. There are many leftists who moan about what a victim Thailand is to the economic and cultural imperialism of the evil West. First, the Thais are not the indigenous people of Thailand. The Thais were originally an ethnic group from Southern China. There were other people in this land we call Thailand long before the Thais were here. The Thais stole their land. Second, Thais have always been victims (or assimilators) of foreign cultures. It wasn’t the farang who introduced Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam to the Thais. The farang didn’t introduce slavery and feudalism to the Thais. And these foreign aspects of Thai culture did not magically integrate themselves into the Thai people over night. Much of these ideas came from foreign traders over a long period of time. Globalization has been part of Thailand’s identity long before the term even existed. By the way, where would the Thais be today without farang capital and technology? Imagine what the country would look like. It would be no further along than a prehistoric tribe in Papua New Guinea. Indeed, without the farang, Thailand probably would not exist as a country. Like the Middle East, Southeast Asian countries are nothing more than a product of European imperialism. Contrary to Thai propaganda, Thailand only retained its so-called independence because the British and French chose to keep it independent for their own political purposes. Both Britain and France reported the Siamese armed forces were worthless in the 19th century. They could have taken the country any time they wished. But they chose to keep Thailand as a buffer between their colonial assets in Asia. Even if British didn’t acquire Burma and Malaysia and the French didn’t take Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, Thailand’s existence as a country would have been determined by who the West sold its weapons to. Put simply, Britain and France could have sold weapons to Thailand’s traditional enemies, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia, and they could have wiped Siam off the face of the map. Interestingly, the Thais accuse the West of economically exploiting Thailand, yet the Thais practice economic imperialism against their neighboring countries.
Back in the 19th century, during King Chulalongkorn’s reign, his royal cousins who controlled the strings of power during his youth started dying off one by one. And that is when Rama V started to take control of the country and rest away the power of the purse away from those influential families. Believe it or not, King Chulalongkorn actually put his finance department into the hands of the British. He actually divvied up many of the government departments between European and American advisors. Did he do this to modernize the country or did he not trust his own people to do the right thing? I believe it was the latter. The irony of the Thai monarchy is that if you look at the history of the most successful kings – King Naresuan, King Narai, King Mongkut, King Chulalongkorn – they trusted foreign / European advisors more then their own people. King Naresuan is not only famous for bringing Siam back from the brink of destruction after the first sacking of Ayutthaya, but he also killed thousands of his own people. He didn’t trust the Thais very much and there are European sources that quote him as saying so. King Narai, of course, is famous for appointing Greek Constance Phaulkon as his prime minister at the expense of his conspiratorial cousins at court. King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn spoke English fluently, and if you ask any English teacher in Thailand, their love for the language didn’t influence their subjects into loving it as well. And their royal cousins in the aristocracy had even better relations with the farang, because they were making tons of money off them through international trade. Further, the Europeans had access to modern weapons, which for obvious reasons the Crown and the aristocracy coveted and needed to sustain their power. King Vajirayudh and King Pradi were unrepentant Anglophiles. Rama 6 was educated at Sandhurst and Rama 7 abdicated and fled to Britain to live his last remaining years in exile as gentleman gardener soon after the 1932 Revolution. At the top, there was really not a lot of antipathy towards the farang. Notions of Thai nationalism or Thai Exceptionalism didn’t really start to take off until the 1930’s. Nationalism, fascism, racism, and National Socialism are European inventions, anyway. The Thai military just used those Europeans ideologies to unite (or frighten) the people, so they could justify keeping their power. And today, the Thai-Chinese use the tools of nationalist propaganda to keep all the wealth of the country in their hands, which is ironic, because the Chinese were once victims of the same propaganda.
I read this awesome book concerning the inter-war period in Siam. I no longer have it. But its thesis centered upon US-British political maneuverings in Siam during that time. The Thai meta-narrative states that the Revolution in 1932 came about because the people were clamoring for democracy, which is, of course, a load of crap. The two major instigators of the revolution were Pridi Banomyong and Plaek Pibunsongkram. They were both educated in Europe and formed a Siamese student club in Paris. I am American, so I know my American history more than my European history, but I assume during those inter-war years that radical political and economic theories were being bounced around the intellectual classes, the universities, and the salons of Paris. Many Asians from Southeast Asia were being sent to Europe in order to be trained as bureaucrats mostly to serve as middle-managers in colonial governments, ironically. I presume that they were exposed to a lot of these radical theories. Ho Chi Minh, for example, was also in Paris at this time, observing what was going on in Europe, and all that radicalism seemed to have an affect upon him. These Southeast Asians saw first hand the fragility of liberal democracy and the appeal of the revolutionary thought of Marxist / Leninism and adjunct theories related to both. There were also many radicals in Paris, both French and colonials, who were vehemently opposed to colonialism and imperialism. Lenin’s theory concerning international capitalism and imperialism were hot at the time.
Needless to say, when Pridi and Plaek came back to Siam, they both put their new found theories to use. But it wasn’t the political situation or their love for democracy that instigated their coup, but rather the bleak economic situation at that time. After all, this was the time of the Great Depression. Now, my personal theory of what really set off Thai economic nationalism is because of what happened right before the 1932 revolution. During those inter-war years, the financial advisor to the Siamese government was British. Because Siam was more or less a de facto colony of the British government, the Thais kept all their money and gold at the Bank of England. The Baht was linked to the pound. Siam had no authority over its own monetary or fiscal policy; everything had to be done through its British advisor. So when the Great Depression hit Siam, Rama 7 and his Thai advisors couldn’t pursue policies in the country’s best interests, because the British wouldn’t allow the Thais access to their own money. Further, the British Government refused Siam access to its own money because the Bank of England was broke and needed Siam’s capital to stay in its bank. The British wouldn’t even allow the Thais to pursue their own monetary policy. The British advisor kept the Baht overvalued against everybody’s better judgment and Thai goods ended up being too pricey to sell on the international market. Since Siam’s economy was tied to the international economy, it fell into a depression. Farmers weren’t getting paid. But, of course, when have Thais ever cared about the poor farmers? The revolution didn’t start to roll until the bureaucrats and the military stopped getting their paychecks. Guess what? Pridi was a lawyer / bureaucrat. Plaek was a soldier. Coincidence. I think not. Pridi and Plaek were not of the aristocracy or the Chinese merchant classes. They were broke but talented commoners who went to study in Europe on scholarship. From their perspective, they saw the Chinese merchant classes, the feudal aristocracy, and the British imperialists as the main enemies to Siamese progress. Since Rama 7 was the head of that nexus, they had to get rid of him. They recalled the King, who was in Hua Hin entertaining a British arms dealer, and submitted a Declaration of Independence, which, by the way, resembles the American Declaration of Independence (which didn’t have nice things to say about the king), and that was that. Pridi and Plaek were not kind to the royal family, especially the ones who had money. Many of the royal cousins were killed, jailed, and exiled. Rama 7 was eventually forced into exile. Many farang and Thais don’t really get how bad it was for the Royal Family between 1932 and 1957. It was bad. Today, the Royal Family is worshipped, of course, but there were some dark times for it many years ago.
Pridi and Plaek set up the process of reform by closing down all the newspapers, purging, jailing, and murdering the Royalists, nationalizing the foreign industries and banks, and kicking out all the foreign advisors from the government. They created a parliamentary government run by one political party called the People’s Party. Pridi also had a plan called the Pridi Plan, which basically outlined how he wanted to turn Siam into a Communist dictatorship. Pridi is known as the Father of Thai Democracy, but the guy was a Communist. But one could say he was a Communist with his heart in the right place, or maybe not, the historical jury is still out on that. Some Thais will say that Pridi wasn’t a Commie. I read his economic plan. Trust me, the dude was a Commie, and he didn’t want foreigners owning any land either.
To make a long story short, Pridi eventually lost out in that ruthless game of Thai politics, and was sent into exile, being accused of murdering Rama 8. In the thirties, Plaek came out on top, chose the wrong side during World War II, prosecuted and sentenced for war crimes, then was eventually rehabilitated and served as dictator until 1957. Most of the Thai nationalistic crap that seems kind of cartoonish to us Westerners today is a product of Plaek’s time in power. I think the most obvious and recognizable thing we foreigners see today of his legacy is the 8:00 am and 6:00 pm playing of the national anthem. We also have him to thank for a lot of the Thai economic nationalism. Plaek was no free-trader. He believed in import substitution and high tariffs on foreign goods. He didn’t really like the Chinese, and he even punished them for a time, along with the farang. But eventually the Thai military made a deal with the Chinese. The Chinese were given free reign over the economy. The foreigners / farang was kept out of Thailand, except the US military, and the generals got their cut from the Chinese profits. Since that time, there have been periods of economic liberalization, but never to an extent that gave foreigners, namely whitey, the same economic rights that the Chinese enjoy. And who can blame the Chinese? They were invited by the king to settle here, they set up regional distribution systems, they cheated the ethnic Thais out of their land, they built up huge banking, agricultural, and land development conglomerates, they own the press, the bureaucracy, and the technological and financial infrastructure of the economy, and now they own parliament with Thaksin as their spokesmen. The Chinese aren’t stupid. They are not about to open the Thai economy to farang competition when they have complete control over Thailand’s means of production. It’s not personal; it’s just business.
There are also spiritual and cultural reasons why farang are not allowed to own land in Thailand. If there is one thing that has been consistent about Thai culture for the last two thousand years or so are their spiritual ties to their land. Thais were animists and ancestor worshippers before they were Buddhists, and animists / ancestor worshippers have strong ties to nature and to the land. I am not going to go into a long drawn out description concerning Thai land rituals, but trust me when I say that there are a lot. The most noticeable piece of Thai culture concerning their land and the spirit world is the ubiquitous spirit house found almost everywhere in Thailand. There are spirit houses for the smallest pieces of land up to a huge spirit house that protects the whole country. Indeed, monuments to the spirit world were what distinguished international boundaries in ancient times. Internally, they distinguish city and village boundaries as well. I know most people think that the spirit house is a piece of superstitious malarkey, but this is an important part of Thai culture that farang people do not practice. Just think, what if farang were buying up land all over Thailand, yet were doing nothing to appease the spirits of the land? Many Thais would see this as disrespectful to the spirit world.
Another reason why Thais don’t want farang owning land has to do with HM The King. Thais see His Majesty the King as the ruler of the realm; he is literally “The Lord of the Land.” In the end, he is the owner of the land, regardless of whether Thailand is a capitalist country or not. Since farang are not subjects of His Majesty the King, it wouldn’t be right for them to be taking his land now, would it?
To sum up: In terms of the modern political / economic situation in Thailand, the Chinese have a monopoly on power. And they want to keep it that way. After all, they earned their stripes through hundreds of years of hard work, alliance building, and treachery. The last thing in the world that they want is competition from the more honest, law-abiding farang who believe in giving everybody a fair shot at the, ahem, Siamese Dream. I think people need to understand that the Chinese and the farang operate on a different set of principles and from completely different world views. The Chinese believe in accumulating as much wealth and power as humanly possible, and it would be just plain stupid to give their competitors any kind of advantage or benefit. So why should they let farang own land in Thailand when that will just create a means to greater wealth for the farang and less power for themselves? And people need to understand that the Chinese in Thailand were not granted any automatic rights to the land. For the last few hundred years, they had to grease many palms in the Thai bureaucracy and aristocracy. Further, the Chinese have made an effort to integrate themselves into Thai society, whereas very few farang have done so. Also, to understand Thai hesitancy towards farang and land rights, one has to look at the history of European imperialism and colonialism in Thailand. The Thai education system teaches that the British and the French stole Thai land – the Shan States that are now part of Burma, Laos, the Northern Malay states, and Western Cambodia. One could say that the Thais still hold a grudge. And Leftist Thai intellectuals still believe that the free trade agreements that the Thai Crown signed back in the early 1800’s with the Europeans and the Americans are what destroyed Thailand’s self-sustaining economy. Those free trade treaties, ironically, did give farang limited rights to own land. They could own land in Bangkok and up to 90 kilometers outside the city’s vicinity. But those land rights, along with the free trade treaties, were rescinded after Plaek Pibunsongkram and Pridi Banomyong came to power in the 1930’s. One of the reasons why Thailand cozied up to the Japanese during the 30’s was to get their help in weaning Thailand off European, notably British, economic and political dependence, which was quite understandable since the British destroyed Siam’s economy during the Great Depression. But even when you take away the political and economic reasons, the Thais are wary of giving land up to the farang based upon spiritual and traditional principles. We farang don’t believe in the Thai spirit world, we don’t honor the spirits of the land, and we are not subjects of His Majesty the King.
In the end, we farang can’t make the Thais give us land. But we can do two things. First, we can start demanding from our own governments reciprocity in relations with the Thais. Why should western governments give the Thais legal / property / business rights in our countries and capital financing for their private and public projects when the Thais don’t entertain the same rights for the farang? The second thing we can do is start cooperating with one another in the same way that the Chinese and Jews have been doing for centuries. If farang in Thailand ever decided to pool their capital in honest and ethical ways instead of cheating each other or blowing their cash on whores, they could be a powerful force to be reckoned with. Farang don’t have to conspire to take over Thailand with all their wealth and I believe that they have no desire to do so. Farang are not like the greedy and power hungry Chinese. But farang do have the opportunity to unite and use their capital to protect each other from legal and economic discrimination. At the very least, we should use what we have to instigate changes that promote legal and economic liberty based upon reciprocity and justice.
Fascinating. And at last we have a green star. Well done, excellent reading.