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Thai 'tiger'counts price of progress

Thai 'tiger'counts price of progress

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

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