Thais beat their chests a little less proudly now because they realize the enormous
social, environmental and cultural costs of becoming Asia's next "Economic Tiger."
Some also question whether Thailand can sustain economic growth.
But for the time being, the Thai economy's engines whir overtime and its growth rate
is the envy of a recession-plagued West.
The National Economic and Social Development Board projects growth of 7.7 percent
this year, up from 7.4 percent in 1992. Bangkok is one huge building site, the stock
market booms, new millionaires abound.
In part, Thailand's success has come from a solid agricultural base, sound fiscal
policy and a well-planned export drive in the 1980s. Foreign investors, especially
Japanese, have flocked in.
In an all-out race toward "tiger status," however, governments have followed
policies reminiscent of 19th century anything-goes capitalism, with predicable results.
Forests have been stripped, rivers poisoned, seas depleted.
"During the past three decades, the Economic Development of Thailand has been
dependent on growth achieved through increased utilization of natural resources,
but in the process, it has also resulted in improper exploitation," the Bangkok
Bank concluded in a study.
Human costs mount as well. An often corrupt, inept bureaucracy cannot keep pace with
a dynamic private sector with little social responsibility.
With profit, not law, often the maxim, sweatshop and patently unsafe factories proliferate.
Lack of planning has created a bloated, traffic-ridden, polluted capital that drives
some potential investors away.
The education system has lagged. Economic planners point to a growing shortage of
skilled labor and middle managers, which could hamper a move from labor-intensive
manufacturing to areas requiring greater technology and skills.-AP