Dr. Prawese Wasi, senile citizen | 16.01.06

The vice-chairman of our National Rationalization Commission took time off from voicing bin-Ladenist propaganda to comment on the Thailand-US free-trade negotiations:

ศ.นพ.ประเวศ วะสี ราษฎรอาวุโส กล่าวว่า เรื่องการค้าเสรีนั้นเป็นเรื่องของคนรวยเอาเปรียบคนจน โดยส่วนตัวแล้วไม่เชื่อในเรื่องของการการค้าเสรีใดๆ ทั้งสิ้น แต่เชื่อในระบบการอยู่อย่างสันติและการเคลื่อนไหวอย่างสมดุล แม้แต่เซลล์ในร่างกายก็ยังไม่มีการเคลื่อนไหวอย่างเสรี เพราะไม่สามารถทำได้ ไม่เช่นนั้นร่างกายจะพังหากเซลล์เคลื่อนไหวอย่างเสรี

Dr. Prawese Wasi, senior citizen, said that free trade is a matter of the rich exploiting the poor. [He] personally does not believe in anything about free trade, but believe in the system of peaceful existence and balanced movement. Even cells in the body do not move freely, because they cannot. Otherwise the body will break down if cells move freely.

[Translated by yours truly. Link added.]

And not a moment to soon. I mean, “the body” is a metaphor for Kim Jong-il’s regime and the “cells”, his enslaved subjects, right? Right?

“ขอเตือนว่าการค้าเสรีหากไม่ระวังกันให้ดี คนไทยจะตกเป็นวัวควาย ทำงานเหนื่อยหนัก แต่ผลประโยชน์กลับไปอยู่ที่คนอื่น ในกรอบของการเจรจาถ้าเป็นไปตามที่สหรัฐกำหนดมา การแพทย์ของไทยจะย่ำแย่ คนไทยจะลำบากกันหมดเพราะผลประโยชน์ไปตกอยู่กับคนต่างชาติ” ศ.นพ.ประเวศกล่าว

“Let me warn that free trade, if one is not careful, [will cause] the Thai people to become cows and water buffaloes. [We] have to work hard, but the benefits accrue to others. In the negotiation framework, if it is according to what the United States determines, Thailand’s medical practice will deteriorate. Thai people will all struggle because the benefits accrue to foreigners.”

I don’t know about you, but cows and water buffaloes sound to me vastly superior to individual cells in a body.

But seriously, if the cattle are so badly exploited, then how come they don’t storm out and, as it were, move on to greener pastures? You know, find some other rice farmers who would buy their talents and sell them room and board on better terms? Obviously, they can’t because their whole lives — labor, meat, leather, milk, and offspring — belong to others and hence are not up to them to trade.

Now tell me again why Thai people cannot buy from and sell to whomever they so please, including foreigners. Because they’ll turn into cattle? Yeah, right.

Doctor, heal thy brain cells.

Update Thai version: “นพ. ประเวศ วะสี, senile citizen”.

16:50 ▪ politics

« The king’s speech can do no wrong | Main | Bigots against FTA »

1
JW 17.01.06

The thing that riles me the most about anti-free trade people is that no one is forced to buy the foreign products. People have a choice. Perhaps, the anti-free trade people should all go and live in their little self-sufficient communes. I would be happy then!

It was a few years ago now, but I remember the anger directed at the large, mainly foreign owned hypermarkets (Carrefour, Tesco) that they will put mom-and-pop stores out of business.

No, Tesco won’t put mom-and-pop stores out of business, they will go out of business as they are badly run. I mean who wants to go to the mom-and-pop store where the seller is more concerned what is happening in the gameshow/lakorn they are watching, with whoever they are chatting on the mobile phone with, where the prices might change or they might run out of stock.

Those minimarts at the bottom of an apartment building are just as bad. They never seemed to understand why people would prefer to go to 7/11 instead of them. It is simple you sell overpriced rubbish with little product variety.

If you offer products and services that people want you won’t go out of business. No one is forced to buy anything.

Finally, one argument raised by the esteemed senior citizen is that all the benefits will accrue to foreigners. Damn right, we must stop that! Only Thai should exploit fellow Thais!

2
Tom Vamvanij 17.01.06

JW:

Would you mind explaining that (and perhaps more) to Golffee, the second commenter under the “พรรคประชาธิปัตย์ vs. เอฟทีเอ” post. I’m really getting tired of ranting.

3
Naphat 18.01.06

JW: Funny you should bring up convenience stores - in my soi both Tesco Lotus Express and 7-Eleven recently took over the old apartment-basement-style minimarts. Maybe the mom-and-pop places should find a niche like the legendary จีฉ่อย . (Don’t u just love wikipedia?)

Tom: I think another anti-trade line of thought from Dr. Prawase is the (irrational?) fear that is that trade policy disproportionately benefits the rich, well-connected and leave the poor behind (“เรื่องการค้าเสรีนั้นเป็นเรื่องของคนรวยเอาเปรียบคนจน”).

On this arguement, I like Robert Wade’s article and the Economist’s response here.

PS: I’m trying to see if my pro-trade my point of view will change by reading Noam Chomsky on neoliberalism - was just flipping through and got some food for thought with this quote:

Freedom without opportunity is a devil’s gift, and the refusal to provide such opportunity is criminal.

PPS: I think Tom would enjoy this - UNUSED AUDIO COMMENTARY BY HOWARD ZINN AND NOAM CHOMSKY, RECORDED FOR THE RETURN OF THE KING (PLATINUM SERIES EXTENDED EDITION) DVD

4
JW 18.01.06

Tom: One good argument I like when talking with people about free trade agreements and protectionism is the hospitality industry. Normally, arguments with people I have had have arisen in some kind of restaurant/pub and I always use it as an example.

In many countries, there are some barriers to entry in the hospitality industry (ie licensing), but the barriers are quite low. In Thailand, you have restaurants, the local markets, roadside stalls etc. New places open up all the time, others close. People lose their jobs and find new ones. Generally, the market determines the price and whether a business stays open - I am aware there are regulations on the setting of food input prices (ie eggs or at least so I have been told), but not for the setting of food selling prices.

If a restaurant is no longer meeting market expectations because of bad food, poor customer service, or high prices, shouldn’t we artificially keep them open. Very few people seem to think they should be supporting such restaurants (your argument becomes poignant when the place you are in is a glowing example of a poorly run restaurant). Given this, I always ask anti-free trader/protectionists why should we allow restaurants to close, but be so concerned about factories? Is the hospitality industry somehow inherently different that hospitality workers are valued less than factory workers. Also ask them, should we close down restaurants which sells food at cheaper prices because it could leave that expensive restaurant next door to close down?

One argument against bilateral/regional free trade agreements is that it distorts trade and we should be focusing on multilateral free trade agreements. Well, I would be happy if we could just skip bilateral free trade agreements and could depend on the WTO/APEC to ensure universal free trade everywhere, but I don’t have much confidence we will achieve free trade globally without bilateral/regional free trade agreements.

In many cases, a bilateral free trade agreement will expose only certain, previously protected industries, to free trade and often over a period of time, giving people time to adjust or government support to move into a new industry. Once such an industry has been exposed to free trade, to me, the indsutry is open. You can count it as one industry down and focus on the next industry. It is much easier to do this one industry at a time and put in measures to support the readjustment. I believe that bilateral free trade agreements make it easier in the longterm to have multilateral free trade because they allow for incremental steps to free trade - which can also happen with multilateral agreements.

Naphat:
I could only wish that Tesco Lotus or 7/11 were running the minimart at the Condo at one place I lived in the outer suburbs of Bangkok instead the minimart was run by an evil cabal of price fixers who instead of focusing their attention on ordering new products/figuring out what customers wanted they focused their attention on the latest gameshow/lakorn - they were smart enough to release that walking the 500 metres, past the soi dogs, to the 7/11 wasn’t going to be option for small items.

Thanks for the Economist links

Please no more Chomsky links. It was bad enough at university having to sit through the documentary Manufacturing Consent.

5
Tom Vamvanij 25.01.06

JW:

You may like this Thai article that I wrote a couple of years ago: “โช่ห่วย ประเทศไม่ห่วย”.

6
Naphat 25.01.06

JW:

You’re welcomed.

That last Chomsky link was suppose to a send-up which I thought it was pretty funny. I should have heeded your warning though – he’s way too paranoid for me. Thankfully he hasn’t changed my mind what so ever on free trade.

I like your second free trade argument (on the hospitality) less than the first one. Even though barrier of entry for this market is minimal, you still don’t see foreign firms taking a large chunk of the market. The market efficiencies that you cited are more from internal competition, which would exist regardless of whether we have food service industry liberalization to foreign competition or not.

7
JW 28.01.06

Tom:

Thanks for the article.

Naphat:

On my analogy of the hospitality industry, I more use it more as an argument against protectionism and for free competition. The point of an FTA is ultimately free trade (or at least freer trade) and this does relate back to free competition. I just like it as it is not an abstract concept and particularly in Thailand were eating out is so common, at least compared with where I live, people find it easier to relate with.

If anything as the foreign firms aren’t capturing a large percentage of the market, doesn’t this then show, how Thais can compete when there is free trade? They aren’t disadvantaged, I doubt McDonalds et al would be able to do much more if they were 100% foreign owned.