Notes from Farangland – Part 2 – Earning Power and Opportunity Cost
It would be nice to pretend that money doesn’t matter, but it does. People will say it’s all about quality of life – but I know from bitter experience how not having money affects your quality of life. This is especially true if you have children who need to be clothed, fed, educated, and married off, and you want to leave them more than your last bar bill, and “I Love NEP” t-shirt, and a pair of flip flops. You only have so many productive years in which to make a crust – best make the most of them if you want to avoid abject poverty when you can’t work any more (that day will surely come). So many farang in Thailand who went the “early retirement” route are now down to their last baht, and with no ticket home in many cases. Do you want to end up down with the dossers sleeping under the skytrain stations?
That Britain has a robust economy is no longer in doubt – yes, conditions vary locally, but overall it is strong. If you want to be rich, Britain is the place to be. Britain has more billionaires per capita than any other country. There is probably only one other economy that is more powerful than Britain in Europe and that is Germany’s – but it is weighed down supporting the rest of the Euro Zone. Countries like Spain and Greece are toast. In parts of Spain youth unemployment is running at over 33%, and is averaged over the country at around 25%. At time of writing Britain’s is 6.8%, and falling. When those countries joined the Euro it was like hitching a donkey to the front of a BMW. Any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
In Britain it is possible to plug into a high-tech powerhouse – a connection of companies and professionals that simply does not exist in Thailand, and perhaps anywhere in Asia, with the exception of maybe Singapore (although that market is increasingly restricted to those westerners who do not speak Mandarin).
But there’s more to it than that – Britain provides endless opportunities for self-improvement. Britain provides a ready-made learning infrastructure that just doesn’t exist in countries like Thailand. A network of free libraries, schools, and colleges. Education is free up to 18, and among the best in the world if you include our Universities. Adult education classes in almost any subject can be taken, locally, at low cost. We have the BBC and the Open University – which provides much free educational content, as well as paid courses up to PhD level. There’s the National Extension College that allows you to do GCSEs and many A levels by distance learning.
Of course some of these opportunities are available to you from anywhere in the world, but being on the ground here has definite advantages.
Part of earning more is to enhance your skillset – this is something you can do at any age – in any part of the country – if you have the inclination. Private tuition is available at reasonable cost in everything from playing the trumpet to creating accounts. There is no excuse here not to have the right skills. Several friends have returned from Thailand and gone back to university – good on ‘em I say.
In Britain it is simple to start a business. You can start as a sole trader today. You can create a limited company at almost negligible cost – no Thai partner required! Whether you are into high-tech or muck-hawking, there is an avenue for you to take – legally.
Ignore what you read in the Daily Mail and The Sun and forget what the other merchants of doom say. Really, just throw that shit in a skip. It’s junk. While Thailand is mired in political unrest and corruption, Britain is booming. Many companies are begging for good people, and they are prepared to pay for the best. My son works in a company that builds air conditioning systems, and they have never been busier. In my own field of software I have never known the market to be so buoyant. We are hiring like crazy, growing sales and staff at around 30%+ per year, and many others I know in the business say the same thing. Friends continue to amass fortunes in businesses ranging from car valeting to property development, to providing agricultural equipment and services, from software to painting and decorating. One of the richest guys I know runs a network of rental properties. His full-time job was loading bags for BA at Heathrow. Today he is worth millions. You cannot replicate this accessibility to wealth in Thailand without a serious network of connections – the well-connected Hi-So Thai families, military, and Chinese businessmen dominate – no wonder the rest of the country is out on the streets. Yes, Thailand’s economy is growing, but most of the opportunities being created will be snapped up by Thais, and that is the way the system is designed. In Britain you have a fighting chance to make some good money, if you aren’t scared of hard work, and you are flexible. In Thailand the cards are stacked against you. In Bangkok many up-and-comers with great potential are embarrassingly grateful when they are slung 30k baht a month, a mere pittance, to teach English in a corrupt system where exams are passed by the simple expedient of bribery. Yes, the astute few who have a wise and, that rarest of species in Thailand, a trustworthy partner, have the potential to make very good money, but business is less stressful and less vulnerable to foul play in Britain.
There is a huge opportunity cost to moving to Thailand full time in the best earning years of your life. Let’s take for example of an imaginary professional at age 40. It’s not uncommon to be earning around £60K at that point in your life. Of course if you are a pilot or a doctor or lawyer it will be a lot more, but your typical professional (think engineer) should be pulling in close to that at that age (if not more). Let’s say he spends ten years in Thailand. That represents lost earnings of 10x60K which is £600,000 gross. More than half a million pounds! If we assume our professional worked until they were 65, and didn’t get a pay rise, that would be 25x£60K, or £1,500,000 of lost earning potential – one and a half million! That is a considerable sum to leave on the table. Even a moderately paid teacher in the UK would be leaving £750,000 gross on the table over that time span.
But there is a deeper problem here too. What chance has the individual got to reclaim that level of salary on his return from his 10 year sabbatical in the Land of Sin? He would be lucky to get a job – 50 years old with a ten year black hole on your CV is not a good place to be. I once interviewed a guy for a job who was in exactly that boat – you could almost smell the desperation. Better to take the £600k and take a few weeks a year in Thailand, or branch out and go somewhere really interesting like Northern India or do something different like cross-country skiing across Norway.
Here’s why it’s important to earn the maximum hourly rate you can. You have a finite time in this world. When you work you exchange some of your time, your precious life, for money. Surely you want the best deal possible in this exchange? Do you really want to exchange your precious life for a few Baht per hour?
At some point everyone who lives in Thailand has to ask themselves the fateful question “Why am I here?” If the answer is no more than to waste your best years having sex with cheap tarts and easy women, then maybe it’s time to go home and build a legacy you will be proud of.
The opportunity cost of living in Thailand in year "work years" is not insignificant. Of course the other side of that is that a lot of people of that age in the West may be making good money but are not necessarily happy. I think it all comes down to being brutally honest with oneself, knowing oneself and knowing what one genuinely wants. Too often people lack the character to speak the truth and they simply make justification of their chosen lifestyle irrespective of whether that is what they really want. I do very much agree with you that money IS important…and one has to be conscious that failure to maximise earning potential may come back and bite them on the bum later in life.