Issue cover-dated November 16, 2000



By Bertil Lintner

Asia's financial crisis has spawned a slew of books giving big-picture, macroeconomic analyses of the regional collapse. Thailand's Crisis, for a change, examines in highly readable detail the social and cultural impact of the 1997-98 crisis on one country and the political changes it generated.

Authors Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker, two of Thailand's best-known social critics, maintain that corruption scandals and government profligacy did not greatly trouble most Thais before 1997. They began mobilizing against these practices, and demanding justice and accountability, only as the recession cut into their livelihoods. These demands led to political reform, a new constitution and a greater assertiveness by civil society. Many Thais also questioned the growth-oriented values of the 1980s and explored vague alternatives like "Buddhist economics."

Pasuk and Baker blame the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank for exacerbating Thailand's crisis: "The IMF's first priority is to maintain the stability of the international financial system, and that means that the big players are not damaged. Its second is to enforce neoliberal policy reforms. Achieving recovery comes in third place."

But they argue that official ineptitude has also spurred Thailand's many non-governmental organizations to push for human rights, environmental protection, better health care and other issues. These social groups, the authors say, are emerging as "the conscience of the society and will act as forces for change toward a better future."

Bertil Lintner is a REVIEW correspondent based in Thailand