Readers' Submissions

The Inequality Gap

  • Written by Anonymous
  • January 29th, 2010
  • 10 min read


Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I have just read Stickman’s comments where he states that he would be glad to see an end to the P4P scene, and by coincidence, a report was issued by the UK government the same day as I read this pointing out that the gap between rich and poor in the UK is at its highest since 1945. I couldn’t find the figures for 1945, so it is difficult to know what the starting base is, but today, the richest 10% in the UK have net worth that is 48 times greater than the poorest 10%.

The solutions proposed by the report’s authors to narrow the gap were that educational opportunities need to be equalised. On the face of it, there are two ways to do this: you either restrict the opportunities of the rich, or you increase the opportunities of the poor. With regard to the first, I can’t see that the rich will not want to spend as much money as they can getting the best education for their offspring. With regard to the latter, I cannot see that any government is going to throw the resources at the problem that it would need.

I am an old-fashioned unreconstructed socialist. Before some of the more ignorant amongst you start to ask about my address in Russia, I would point out that socialism and communism are a world apart. To me, socialism is the state intervention to help those that need it, but can’t help themselves. Though many people may not appreciate this, the recent bail-out of the world’s banking system was socialism in action. I am not talking about the help given to the bankers who couldn’t help themselves (if anything, it was their helping themselves that caused the problems), but if the banks had been allowed to collapse, hundreds of millions of people would have lost their homes, businesses and personal savings. The knock-on effect if government had not intervened would have led to a domino effect that would have far outweighed the depression of the 1930’s.

Having declared my socialist credentials, I have to admit that I dismay of the educational policies of UK labour governments for the best part of fifty years. The first great disaster was the abolition of the grammar schools, where places were guaranteed by competition. For many, these were a stepping stone to Universities. Both I and one of my brothers went to Grammar Schools. The idea was that you took an exam at age 11 (the 11 Plus), and if you passed, you went to the local grammar school. If you failed you went to a Secondary Modern.

My brother attended a school which was then called the “Grocers Company School”. It had a reasonably interesting alumni including a certain Maurice Micklewhite whom most of us know better as Michael Caine.

When I used to pass the school while still at primary school, I noticed that there was a significant number of Jewish pupils, and later discovered that it was the preferred school of choice for Jews all over north London. It was generally accepted that Grammar School kids were better behaved as well as better educated.

Following the election of the Labour government in 1964, one of their flagship policies was the abolition of the grammar schools, to be replaced with Comprehensive schools. The idea was to replace the secondary modern and grammar school structure with schools that encompassed the entire range of abilities and then to stream pupils according to their abilities. I am going to oversimplify things here for the purpose of brevity, but there were some misguided fools who thought that grammar school kids with those of less ability, the brighter pupils would help to pull up (academically), those who were less bright.

The problem with this theory was that in some cases, the schools were effectively a warehouse to keep disinterested kids off the streets until they were old enough to get a job. Those kids didn’t want to be there, and would frequently make sure that everybody knew this through their disruptive behaviour. The idea that the best pupils can assist the less talented in a disrupted class flies in the face of logic.

Eventually, the name was changed to Hackney Downs Comprehensive School, and it went from being one of the finest schools in North London, to being closed down as a failed school in the space of about twenty five years. It was in my view, tragic that Hackney, Britain’s poorest borough lost such a great seat of learning.

I wouldn’t criticise all the reforms of the 1964 Labour government. One of their best ideas was the Open University which allowed people to obtain degrees through distance learning. When the Conservatives introduced student loans in the 1990’s, the then Labour opposition protested that higher education should be universally free, though when they eventually came back to power, rather than abolish student loans, they just expanded it.

I never did go to University. The economics of coming from Hackney militated against that. Unless of course, you want to consider that for a while, I went to Cambridge. Not to the University per se, but as a cab driver. I found that an interesting time.

Sometimes a student would ring for cab, and leave instructions, “Ring the bell marked Smith”. When you got to the address, there were no names on the bells, just numbers. Of course it would work in reverse too. Sometimes you would be told, “Ring bell No 4” and all the bells would have names on them. My favourite was the ones that told you to ring the middle bell, and there were only two bells. I guess these were philosophy students, who would argue, just because there are only two bells, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a middle bell.

I found that most Cambridge students lived in a bit of a dream world. Crossing the road, they were frequently oblivious to the dangers of traffic, and the same applied when they were riding bicycles. After driving a cab there for a while, I was able to work out why Britain was so screwed up. We had students at an elite University, who couldn’t ride a bike, cross the road safely, or order a taxi, and in twenty years time, we were going to let them run the country.

Having said that, the Cambridge students, many of whom came from wealthy families, were generally very nice kids. There were the odd “Hooray Henry’s” who were busy working their way through Daddy’s credit card who were sometimes a bit of a pain, but the students who impressed me most were those from working class backgrounds. Two that stood out, were an Afro-Caribbean girl from Finsbury Park. For those of you who know London, you will appreciate that Finsbury Park which adjoins Hackney, is another deprived area, so to be black and a woman from Finsbury Park, and to then graduate from Cambridge is pretty much the equivalent of climbing Everest unaided, and without oxygen, while wearing summer clothes.

The other was a girl from Blackburn who was halfway through her degree in Medicine, while both her parents were unemployed. In between, she was working as a waitress in a cafe, and her tutors had recognised her abilities so much, that she also had a part time teaching job at the college. When I last spoke to her, she was so delighted, she had just heard from her sister, who had also been accepted into Cambridge. Bearing in mind my comments about how I could not afford to go to University, she makes me look like a bit of a wimp.

Quite apart from my socialist credentials, I think it is pretty clear that I regard Education as very high on the lists of ‘must haves’ for people and yet again, I realise how lucky we are in the developed world to have free education. Most of the BG’s that I have met, tell me that they are sending money home to pay for their kid’s education, and as far as I can work, it costs about 10,000 THB a year to send a child to school in Thailand.

I recall that one of my trips to LOS, there were some local elections going on. One ex-pat who is a regular drinking buddy of mine, pointed out that the elections interfered with his drinking, as the bars were required to close. His complaint was that 80% of the residents of Pattaya were from Isaan, and not entitled to vote in Chonburi province. He also told me that the incumbent was running on a platform of cleaning up the P4P scene in Pattaya.

I have to take issue with Stickman’s suggestion that if the P4P scene was removed from Pattaya, it would reinvent itself. There would be a certain amount of reinvention, but there is a hell of a lot of infrastructure catering to P4P that needs to be converted before the reinvention becomes economically viable. I take the view, that P4P is going to be around for a long time to come, regardless of any politicians manifesto. Quite simply, there is to many, an economic imperative towards it.

So if it is going to be around for a long time to come, and let’s face it, it will never be totally eradicated, is there any alternative strategy? I read a piece in Wikipedia, that the average wage In Isaan, is half the national average wage. Clearly, this is a recipe for migratory workers to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

The government could offer tax breaks to foreign businesses such as Japanese and Korean companies to open up factories in Isaan. The problem with this, is that most of these businesses require an educated workforce, so the idea of opening a factory where there is a skills shortage cannot work. Everything comes back to Education, and the lack of free education is the cause of the Inequality gap.

It occurred to me that if the Politicos cannot effectively abolish this trade, then the alternative is to create an environment where the young men and women of Isaan don’t need to become cabbies or bargirls. One such idea could be a beer levy. If there was a levy of one baht on every bottle of beer sold in Pattaya, the amounts raised would educate a substantial number of children in Isaan, up to and including University.

A bar that sold just 27 beers in a day (slightly over one case) would raise 10,000 THB in a year. I read somewhere that there are an estimated 3,000 bars in Pattaya, most of whom would not be in business if it were not for the good ladies of Isaan. If the average bar sold just two cases of beer a day, this would pay for well over 5,000 Isaan Schoolchildren to be educated, as well as reduce the numbers of parents who migrate to Pattaya. You start adding the revenues that would be produced from BKK, Samui, Phuket etc if they adopted a similar scheme, we are talking in terms of probably 10,000 plus children who could get a full education.

The money would be donated to the brightest and the best by way of competitive exam, and eventually, there would be a small but significant pool of educated workers in Isaan, to work for the Japanese and Koreans who transfer work to Thailand to cut their costs base.

More importantly, Isaan would develop its own pool of graduates for parliamentary elections. I have a strong suspicion that a lot of what is wrong in Thailand, is the requirement that to stand for Parliament, you must be a university graduate. Hence you have a country with immense poverty that is being run by the middle classes who have no affinity with that poverty, and even less motivation to do something about it, such as provide free education.

Stickman's thoughts:

Yep, if education was a genuine option a lot of the problems that exist in Thailand would not.