SAIS-Johns Hopkins University: Southeast Asia Studies Program
Political Economy of Thailand: Course Outline, Fall 2001
Professor Pasuk Phongpaichit, Visiting Professor
Thailand has changed very dramatically over the last generation. Until recently it was
perceived—rightly—as a very traditional country. The absolute monarchy became a
constitutional monarchy only in 1932. After that a military coup took place roughly once
every 3 years. Between 1932 and 1973, there were 14 coups altogether. On the economic
side Thailand was an agrarian economy, with a very small industrial sector. As late as the
early 1980s the textbook view of Thailand was that it was an agrarian society ruled by
generals blessed by a monarchy under the patronage of the US. But Thailand has changed
enormously in the last 40 years. Three events signify these changes. First in 1997
Thailand experienced a fully fledged economic crisis with global implications. Second, it
has evolved toward a democratic parliamentary system unlike its neighbours which
remain as military regimes, controlled party states, or one-party states. Third, Thailand
now has a lively civil society, press and people‘s politics to an extent which is disallowed
in most of its neighbours.
This course does not presume any background on Thailand. The objective of the course is
to understand how the dramatic changes have come about; what they mean; how much
they are due to economic and social changes, outside pressures, new ideas, new
aspirations, or new social movements; and what has been the role of the state, policy-
making, and policy lobbies.
Thailand today, dynamics of economic and political change. The scope and approach of
this course. Introduction to Thai society.
Identify the major approaches to the study of Thailand‘s modern development. ―Thailand has a unified, homogenous population.‖ Discuss. What are the alternatives to the ‗official nationalist‘ view of the development of the Thai nation?
Readings: Begin with Keyes and Girling for general background
C. F. Keyes, Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation State, Westview Press, 1989.
C. Reynolds, ed. National Identity and its Defenders, Thailand, 1939–1989, Melbourne:
Monash Papers on Southeast Asia No.25, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies,
Monash University, 1991, esp. chs. 1, 4, 12.
John L. S. Girling, Thailand: Society and Politics, Ithaca, Cornell University, 1981, esp.
Kevin Hewison, ed. Political Change in Thailand: Democracy and Participation, London
and New York: Routledge, 1997, esp. chs. 1, 2.
2. Economic change: the long-run picture
The traditional economy of agriculture and trade. The colonial impact. The development
of the rice economy and the agrarian frontier. Early urban growth: tax farming, rice
millers, court investors. The ‗take-off‘ after the second world war. The American era.
Japanese industrial relocation. Uneven development. Financial liberalization and the
The Thai peasantry is not at all traditional. Discuss.
How does the historic role of the Chinese in Thailand differ from other countries in the
What role has the state played in the different phases of economic change since 1950?
Can any single explanation account for the financial crisis of 1997?
Pasuk and Baker, Thailand: Economy and Politics, Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University
Press, chs. 1–5. [to be referred to as: Pasuk & Baker, TEP]
M. Parnwell, Uneven Development in Thailand, chs. 1, 2, 3
Jansen, Karel, ―Thailand: The Making of a Miracle?‖, Development and Change, 32(2)
(March 2001): 343-370.
Pasuk and Baker, Thailand’s Crisis, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2000, ch.9.
3. Political change: the long-run picture
Thai monarchy, sakdina, and absolutism. Urban nationalism and the 1932 revolution. The
growth of military power. US influence and the cold war. Insurgency and protest politics
in the 1970s. The framework of parliamentary democracy.
Why has Thailand emerged as more democratic than its neighbours? To what extent is it
What have been the roles of business and bureaucracy in Thai political development?
In retrospect, what is the significance of the 1973–6 era in Thai politics?
Pasuk & Baker, TEP, chs. 7–9.
David Morell and Chai-Anan Samudavanija, Political Conflict in Thailand : Reform,
Reaction, Revolution, Cambridge Massachusetts: Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain,
Publishers, Inc. chs.
Pasuk & Baker, TEP, revised edition, ch. 12
4. The development of Thai capitalism
Chinese immigration and Chinese business practice. The role of the Thai banks.
Agricultural exports and import-substitution. The growth of the conglomerates. Liberal
corporatism. The switch to export manufacture. Origins of the boom. New business
What is Chinese business practice? How did Thai corporates grow? What are the roles of
How significant are the roles of government and private sector institutions in the growth
of agricultural and manufacturing exports?
What is the relevance of liberal corporatism for understanding Thai capitalism?
Why is it that focussing on corporate governance (along the World Bank lines) alone may
not speed up recovery and sustain growth in the Thai economy?
What is the relevance, if any, of the debate on the ―Asian Model‖ for framing economic
and political policy in Thailand after the 1997 financial crisis?
Akira Suehiro, Capital Accumulation in Thailand 1855-1985, Tokyo: Centre for East Asian
Cultural Studies, 1989, chs. 5-7.
Akira Suehiro, ―Capitalist Development in Postwar Thailand: Commercial Bankers,
Industrial Elite, and Agribusiness Groups‖, in R. McVey, Southeast Asian
Capitalists, Cornell Southeast Asia Program, 1992 .
K. Hewison, Bankers and Bureaucrats: Capital and the Role of the State in Thailand, New
Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1989, Part II.
Anek Laothamatas, Business Associations and the New Political Economy of Thailand:
From Bureaucratic Polity to Liberal Corporatism, Boulder: Westview Press,
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1992.
Chalmers Johnson, ―Economic Crisis in East Asia: the clash of capitalisms‖, Cambridge
Journal of Economics, 22, 1998, 853-61.
Akira Suehiro, ―Asian Corporate Governance: Disclosure-based Screening Systems and
Family Business Restructuring in Thailand‖, symposium paper, Institute of Social
Science, University of Tokyo, September 2000.
5. Corruption and the illegal economy
The development of the Thai bureaucracy. The growth of godfathers and money politics.
The illegal economy. Strategies to contain corruption.
Present-day corruption in Thailand has its roots in the old systems of tax-tax farming and
How did the rise of the military after 1932, and the rise of ‗new men‘ in business in
provincial areas alter the Thai corruption scene and politics?
If clientelism, corruption and rent-seeking are so damaging, how did Thailand grow so
fast for so long?
Why may it be difficult to ensure ―productive‖ rent in Thai politics after 2000?
What is the relevance of the illegal economy and money politics for corruption questions?
―Good governance‖ as defined by the World Bank will not be enough to contain
corruption in Thailand. Discuss. What are other policies can you suggest?
Mushtaq Khan, K.S. Jomo (eds.), Rent, Rent-seeking and Economic Development: Theory
and Evidence in Asia, Cambridge, N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp 1-
2; Chs. 3-4
Pasuk Phongpaichit, Sungsidh Piriyarangsan, Corruption and Democracy in Thailand,
Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1994, esp. chs1, 2, 3, 6.
Pasuk, Sungsidh and Nualnoi, Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja: Thailand’s Illegal Economy
and Public Policy, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1998, esp. ch.1, 3, 12.
R. McVey, ed. Money and Power in Provincial Thailand, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies,
2000, esp. chs. 1, 3, 4.
Pasuk Phongpaichit, ―Good Governance: Thailand‘s Experience‖, paper presented at the
8th Asian Pacific Finance Association Annual Conference, ―Rebuilding Our
Financial Architecture‖, July 22-25, 2001.
1997 Constitution. The section on anti-corruption provisions: Chapter VIII part 4 and
James R. Klein, ―The Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, 1997: A Blueprint for
Participatory democracy‖, The Asia Foundation Working Paper Series no.8,
6. Political economy of the environment
The closing of the land frontier and the emergence of resource conflicts. Forest
destruction, watersheds, and the issue of ‗people and forests‘. Water usage and the roots
of a ‗water crisis‘. Urban encroachment, waste and pollution. Forms of environmental
protest. Environmental laws.
Why have environment issues become an important element in Thai politics, especially
Why does the Thai government now have difficulty in gaining consensus support for
dams, power stations and other large projects?
Is there a water crisis? If so why?
Why does the decision-making process of big projects have to change?
What are the shortcomings of the present environmental laws and how can they be
Readings: Start with Bello, Siamese Tragedy. This gives you a background on the
problems. Then read Hirsch, 1996; browse through Hirsch 1993, and Riggs, 1995,
focussing on chapters which have not been covered by Hirsch, 1997; look at my paper on
―Why the Decision-making Process...‖.
P. Hirsch, Political Economy of the Environment in Thailand, Manila: Journal of
Contemporary Asia Publishers, 1993, esp. chs. 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 10.
P. Hirsch, Seeing Forests for Trees: Environment and Environmentalism in Thailand,
Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 1996, esp. chs. 2, 7, 10, 13
J. Rigg, ed. Counting the Costs: Economic Growth and Environmental Change in Thailand,
Singapore: ISEAS, 1995, esp. chs. 6, 11
W. Bello, Siamese Tragedy, chs. 9, 10.
Pasuk Phongpaichit. ―Why the Decision-Making Process on Big Projects has to Change‖,
available at: http://pioneer.netserve.chula.ac.th/~ppasuk
7. Political overview, from 1976 to the present
Electoral politics and the development of political parties. Prem, the military, and semi-
democracy. Rise and fall of Chamlong. The coup and crisis of 1992. The Democrat
Party‘s dominance in the 1990s. Politics of financial crisis and the rise of Thaksin.
What is the significance of Chamlong‘s rise and fall? Why did money politics become such an important factor in Thai politics?
Why was the Democrat Party the most successful Thai political party in the 1990s?
In what ways did political legitimacy change over the 1990‘s? ―Thaksin was created by the financial crisis.‖ Discuss.
Pasuk & Baker, TEP, ch. 10
Pasuk and Baker, Thailand Crisis, chs. 5, 6.
Hewison, ed, Political Change in Thailand, chs. 1-4, 7, 8
D. McCargo, Chamlong Srimuang and the New Thai Politics, London: Hurst & Company,
Ukrit Pathamanand, ―The Thaksin Shinawatra Group: A Study of the Relationship between
Money and Politics in Thailand‖. Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 13.1998.
Ukrit Pathamanand, ―Globalization and Democratic Development in Thailand: The New
Path of the Military, Private Sector, Civil Society”, Contemporary Southeast Asia,
ISEAS, Singapore, Vol.23, No.1 April 2001.
8. The 1997 constitution: genesis and meaning
The meaning of the constitution in Thai political culture. Origins of the pressure for
constitutional change in 1991-2. Key elements in the constitution. Rites of passage.
Aftermath and impact.
Is this the people‘s constitution or a conservative plot?
What in your view are the most important aspects of the constitution?
Readings: Start with Pasuk and Baker, Thailand’s Crisis, Ch. 5; followed by Jim Klein;
Prudhisan, pp. 270–280; then Connors, 1999; Ockey 1997; Naruemon, 1998.
Connors, Michael K. (1999), ‗Political Reform and the State in Thailand‘, Journal of
Contemporary Asia, 29.
D. McCargo (1998), ‗Alternative Meanings of Political Reform in Contemporary Thailand‘,
Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 13.
Naruemon Thabchumpon (1998), ‗Grassroots NGOs and Political Reform in Thailand:
Democracy behind Civil Society‘, Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 13.
Ockey, James (1997), ‗Thailand: The Crafting of Democracy‘, in Southeast Asian Affairs
1997, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Prudhisan Jumbala in Southeast Asian Affairs 1998, Singapore: ISEAS.
Pasuk and Baker, Thailand’s Crisis, ch. 5.
9. Buddhism and society
Traditional roles of Buddhism. State control of the Sangha in the twentieth century.
Conservative themes in Buddhism in the 1970s and 1980s. Urban-liberal themes in the
1980s and 1990s. The spread of prosperity religions.
thWhy have governments in the 20 century legislated to govern the Sangha?
What is the significance of new urban movements within Buddhism since 1980?
Does the explosion of ‗prosperity cults‘ indicate a decline in the importance of Buddhism?
Readings: Start with Charles Keyes, which gives a good background, then read the
suggested readings. For Peter Jackson, 1989 focus on chs. 1, 6-8
P. Jackson, Buddhism, Buddhism, Legitimation and Conflict: The Political Functions of
Urban Thai Buddhism, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1989.
P. Jackson in Hewison, ed, Political Change in Thailand, ch. 5.
Jackson, Peter A. (1999), ‗Royal Spirits, Chinese Gods and Magic Monks: Thailand‘s
Boom Time Religions of Prosperity‘, South East Asia Research, 7(3).
Charles Keyes (1989), Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation-State, pp. 32-39
and chs. 6, 8.
Peter A. Jackson (2001), “Thailand‘s Culture Wars: Economic Crisis, Resurgent
Doctrinalism and Critiques of Religions of Prosperity.‖ (Paper to be handed out
10. Gender: traditional roles and changing forms
The heritage of gender roles: rural kinship; bureaucratic culture; Chinese patriarchy.
Gender and urbanization. Sex industry, AIDS, and changing practice. Multi-genderism.
Women in Thai society are economically powerful, but politically weak. Agreed? If so
why? How could the situation be changed?
To understand prostitution in Thailand, should we be looking at the women or the men?
Is Thailand tolerant or intolerant of diversity in gender/sexuality, and why?
Readings: You should start with Charles Keyes, Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom, pp. 123-126
as introduction to gender in Thailand; then Peter Jackson and N.M. Cook (eds.) 1999;
Beyrer, 1998; M. B. Mills 1999. For those interested in women in Thai literature, apart
from chapters in Jackson and Cook (eds.) read also Susan Fulop Kepner, The Lioness in
Bloom: Modern Thai Fiction about Women, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los
Angeles, London, 1996. O‘Neill, Prostitution is good on the issues surrounding prostitution
and the politics of the female body.
P. van Esterik, Materializing Thailand, Oxford, New York: Berg, 2000.
M. B. Mills, Thai Women in the Global Labour Force: Consuming Desires, Contested
Selves, New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 1999
chs. 1, 5, 9.
C. Beyrer, War in the Blood: Sex, Politics and AIDS in Southeast Asia, Bangkok: White
Lotus, London & New York: Zed Books, 1998, chs. 2, 10, 11
P. A. Jackson and N. M. Cook, eds. Genders and Sexualities in Modern Thailand, Chiang
Mai: Silkworm Books, 1999 esp. Intro, 2, 9, 15
Charles Keyes, Thailand: Buddhist Kingdom as Modern Nation State, 1989. pp. 123-126.
Susan Fulop Kepner, The Lion in Bloom: Modern Thai Fiction about Women. Berkeley,
Los Angeles, London, University of California Press, 1996.
Maggie O‘Neill, Prostitution and Feminism: Towards a Politics of Feeling, Polity Press in
Association with Blackwell Publishers, 2001. Part I and III; pp. 168-182.
For more literature on women and the sex industry in Thailand, see bibliography at
Traditional roles and the 1932 hiatus. The development of the modern monarchy.
Relations with Buddhism, the military, business, and rural groups.
Why does the Thai king remain such a prominent figure?
Define the political and ideological roles of the modern Thai monarchy.
Kevin Hewison, Political Change in Thailand. Chapter on Monarchy.
Pasuk and Baker, Thailand: Economy and Politics, pp. 244-55, 281-5, 314-20.
David Streckfuss, Modern Thai Monarchy and Cultural Politics.
Roger Kershaw, Monarchy in Southeast Asia: The Faces of Tradition in Transition.
Routledge, 2001, chs. on Thailand and the conclusion.
12. Civil society, NGOs, and social movements
Education, prosperity and the emergence of civil society. Challenging centralized state
power and ideology. The early 1990s debate on civil society. Origins of the NGO
movement. Changes in the NGO movement in the 1990s. Social movements. The
Assembly of the Poor.
What are the roles of NGOs in Thai society? How are they changing?
Is ―civil society‖ only urban and mainly middle class? What is a social movement in the contemporary Thai context?
What do social movements in contemporary Thailand tell us about Thai society and
The focus on social movements and NGOs retards the development of a political party
Readings: Start with TEP and Prudhisan-Maneerat, then pick around. For those interested
in debates on globalisation and localism, see the Hewison and Connors pieces.
Pasuk & Baker, TEP, ch.10
Prudhisan Jumbala and Maneerat Mitprasat, ―Non-governmental Development
Organisations: Empowerment and Environment," in Hewison, ed. Political
Change in Thailand, ch. 12.
Chris Baker, ―Assembly of the Poor: Background, Drama, Reaction‖, Southeast Asia
Research, 8 no.1, 2000.
Pasuk Phongpaichit, ―Social Movements in Contemporary Thailand‖, 2001 [hand out in
Prudhisan Jumbala in Southeast Asian Affairs 1998, sections on the Assembly of the Poor
and the constitutional movement.
Naruemon Thabchumpon (1998), ‗Grassroots NGOs and Political Reform in Thailand:
Democracy behind Civil Society‘, Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, 13.
Pasuk Phongpaichit, Civilising the State: State, Civil Society and Politics in Thailand,
Amsterdam: CASA, 1999.
Kevin Hewison, ‗Resisting Globalisation: A study of localism in Thailand‘, Pacific Review,
Michael K. Connors, ‗Ideological Aspects of Democratisation in Thailand‘, City University
of Hong Kong Working Paper, 12, 2001, http://www.cityu.edu.hk/searc/WP.html
13. Foreign policy
Thailand‘s foreign and security policies amidst rapid changes in domestic and
international scenes. Impact of the 1997 crisis. Security issues and military reforms. US-
China relations, the Burma and drug questions. Thailand-ASEAN relations in the context
of US and China. The future directions of Thai foreign policy.
How did Thailand‘s foreign and security policies change between a) WWII to the 1970s;
and b) the 1980s and 1990s?
How has Thailand‘s relations with the US, Japan and China changed after the financial
crisis of 1997, and why?
How might the ―personal diplomacy‖ of General Chavalit in the Thaksin government
affect relations with Burma and Laos.
How has the decline of the military and rise of the urban middle class affected Thailand‘s
foreign and security policies?
How should Thailand deal with China‘s emergence?
Readings: Start with Kusuma, which is a must read. Continue with Ockey, particularly on
the readjustment within the Thai military, and Panitan.
Kusuma Snitwongse, ―Thai Foreign Policy in the Global Age: Principle or Profit?‖
Contemporary Southeast Asia, 23 no.2 (August 2001). This is a must reading.
James Ockey, ―Thailand: The Struggle to Redefine Civil-Military Relations‖, in Muthiah
Alagappa (ed.), Coercion and Governance: The Declining Political Role of the
Military in Asia, Stanford California: Stanford University Press, 2001. On the
decline of the military in Thailand.
Chayachoke Chulasiriwongs, ―Thailand‘s Relations with the New ASEAN Members,‖ in
Southeast Asian Affairs 2001.
John Funston, ―Thailand‘s Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Managing Domestic and Global
Turmoil‖, International Insights, 14, Special Issue, 1998.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, ―Thailand‖ in Asian Security Practice: Material and Ideational
Influences, ed. Muthiah Alagappa, (California: Stanford Press, 1998)