Everyone has dreams. Everyone needs to have a dream, as it is human imagination which lends us the strength to strive and struggle for our betterment and to attempt what we would never imagine possible or achievable.
Ms Yingluck plans to spend 2 trillion baht on infrastructure investments over the next seven years. Thailand’s deep political and ideological divides may prevent her dreams from becoming reality.
Nations are no exception, and it rests with our leaders to envision, articulate and motivate the people in the name of progress. Last week Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra voiced her own dream for Thailand, namely her desire to raise the wealth and well-being for both the country and its people. Her lieutenants offered similar views, with PM's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn stressing the need for Thailand to emerge from the "middle-income trap" and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong emphasising the importance for a balance between growth, income distribution and price stability.
The aspirations voiced by Ms Yingluck and her ministers echo a vision once put forth by Singaporean leaders in the years following independence from British rule. I wonder how Singapore's residents felt at the time, to hear their leaders articulate a grandiose dream for their small island state. Decades later, they have reason to take pride in their accomplishments, having built an economy that ranks among the highest in the world in terms of per capita income and competitiveness.
Another Asean country, Malaysia, is also moving forward with its own plans to shed its title as an emerging economy to join the ranks of the developed world. The country, whose motto Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu means "Unity is Strength", has set a target of 2020 for boosting annual per capita income to US$15,000 from $9,000 now under its "economic transformation programme" launched at the beginning of the decade.
Thailand, in contrast, has a per capita income of around $5,200 per year.
Alas, I am less sanguine about Thailand's own prospects, and fear that the deep splits in ideology and political philosophy which have hamstrung the country in recent years may prevent Ms Yingluck's dreams from ever becoming reality. A pity. For I would think that the vision of a richer society, both in terms of happiness and wealth, is one that anyone, regardless of political affiliation or preference, could happily embrace. Or are we so divided that our recalcitrance comes not from the substance of the vision, but rather our views about the person who articulates the dream? Are we so willing to allow base passions to trump reason and logic? Or do we have so little esteem for our elected leaders that their words, no matter how portentous, simply fade into background noise?
Ms Yingluck plans to commit 2 trillion baht in taxpayer funds toward infrastructure investments over the next seven years as part of plans to make her dreams for the country a reality. Together with another 350 billion baht in funds already approved for flood management programmes, the investments represent the largest by any government in history, a drive to build a "New Thailand" and unveil a new wave of prosperity for the Thai people.
But long-term problems by definition require long-term solutions. Educational reform, for instance, may require a generation before true progress materialises. Few politicians _ or voters, for that matter _ have the patience to wait. So it's little surprise that the past several governments, Ms Yingluck's no exception, have emphasised quick implementation of programmes and policies developed over the course of election campaigning such as minimum wage hikes, first-car buyer rebates or farm crop price guarantees that lend themselves to easily-marketed slogans, never mind the fine print.
I suppose it's a mark of progress of sorts that recent governments have actually implemented the policies they said they would do from the campaign stump. Hence, Thai rice farmers now have a ready, almost guaranteed buyer in the form of the government, auto sales are at an all-time high thanks in part to the tax rebate scheme and minimum wages will rise to 300 baht per day nationwide starting next month.
Yet, I doubt such programmes will truly bring Ms Yingluck's dream any closer to reality. Oh, no doubt for some, recent policies have genuinely resulted in higher incomes and the opportunity to buy their first car or home. But for how long? It's no real challenge for any government to buy public satisfaction given the willingness to spend money today taken from tomorrow. The real question though is whether once we awaken, will we be truly better off, both individually and as a people?.
Wichit Chantanusornsiri is a senior economics reporter, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Wichit Chantanusornsiri
Position: Business Reporter