A Little Bit of Thai History: From rice to HDs
Well, about a year ago from now a friend of mine did me a huge favor. And as part of my debt of honor I write a post about Thai history. So here goes:
In October 2011 the charming picturesque holiday destination of Thailand suffered severe floods, putting large tracts of the country under water. Hundreds died, and much of Thailand’s infrastructure was destroyed. Also, it drove the price of hard drives sky high.
Hang on, hard drives? Thailand?
Well, as it turns out Thailand has industries as well. And with the dawning of globalization, well…
OK, to start with the beginning: In the 1940s Thailand bet on the wrong horse. Specifically, they allied with Japan. As the average student of history and most war gamers will know, things ended up less than stellar with Japan, and as one of very few in Japans corner in the Asian version of the WWII Thailand was forced to pay damages. Now, this being a country barely industrialized the damages were paid in rice. Suddenly, Thailand needed to get itself organized. Earlier rulers were mostly concerned with building up the armed forces and planning coups against one another, but now there was the necessity of organizing large shipments out. So from being just barely above colonial status (most international businesses organized lumber and mine extraction themselves) Thailand developed a stock exchange for rice, plus a comprehensive system for determining the value of rice.
Two years passed after the end of the war and the newly installed (by the Allies, BTW. Not the Thai) government was couped. Again. This time the coup leader was the former prime minister. Now, seeing as how this was the guy behind the whole “lets ally with Imperial Japan” thing he was not exactly in the good books of the US, who were the only people ending the war with cash to spare for foreign aid. So he did what was the new thing for attracting support from the Western countries: Anti-communism campaigns.
And it worked. Money came in, development aid and subsidies, and the government being anti communist set up large state owned companies for developing industries (nope, not communist at all). This was administered by a large body of state bureaucrats (Hah! D’you think communism would EVER do something like that?) and denouncing China, breaking all ties with them (OK that last one actually qualifies). And all was well underway by the time of the next coup in 1957.
The next government did things mostly the same. Some businesses were actually privatized, with only the ones vital for infrastructure kept on by the state. Oh, and this government continued Thailand’s proud foreign policy tradition of “What could possibly go wrong with this?” by joining the US in what was to be called the Vietnam War. This brought in a lot of US support, monetary as well as militarily.
Then in the 1970s the US were gone ,gone, GONE from the region, neighboring Cambodia and Laos were Communist puppets of a Vietnam that was Communist, had just won an epic conflict with the US and a smaller one with China, and was good at remembering past grievances… And of course Burma, that already in the 70 was a close ally of China. Who at this point had resumed diplomatic and trade ties with the US. Oh, and since USA was more than busy forgetting Southeast Asia ever existed, aid to Thailand petered out. Witch was a shame, because at this point Thailand WAS a bulwark against Communism by sheer geography.
As luck would have it Thailand was never invaded (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were busy fighting each other in the 70s) but the economy nearly crashed in the mid-80s. Thailand did what any sane country not part of the Euro Zone did, and devalued the Bath, Thailand’s currency. The third time they did, Thailand actually got an unexpected windfall: When your currency is at rock bottom, exports and labor costs are WAY competitive. So competitive Toyota and Ford set up car factories there. and that’s when Thailand got lucrative as a target for outsourcing.
In October 2011, Western Digital and Toshiba lost some of their biggest Hard Drive production plants when the flood hit. As well as doing what they could to help the local communities the plants were operating in, they worked their ASS off to get the plants up and running. Thailand isn’t the biggest industrialized economy in the world. But ion a country where even the military coups are comparatively polite and people have the will and means to work harder and cheaper than many others, Thailand today is a part of the global village. When something happens in Thailand, the world takes notice.