The big issue: T is for Thailand...and teflon

The big issue: T is for Thailand...and teflon

An international poll taken at the lowest point of national self-esteem has revealed that the military's obsession with driving Happiness and National Pride into the population may be the political equivalent of taking along a bowl of red rice and a fish head to a wedding buffet. What's already there is better than what's being added.

The Pew Research Centre, based in Washington and author of dozens of fascinating studies, included Thailand — as it often does — among 44 countries surveyed for how people think about opportunity and inequality.

The survey began in April, and the 1,000 Thai respondents were still being interviewed as the street protests came to a head and the military replied with martial law followed by a full-blown coup. Things don't get much more depressing, and you'd think you might have to excuse Thailand, maybe throw it out as an aberration, for seeing the future in darkest terms and giving the pollsters pessimism with every reply.

You might think that. And then you’d have to smack your forehead over how wrong you were.

Far from being depressed over the state of the nation, Thais came off consistently near, or occasionally right at the very top of the Optimistic end of how they feel about things. While there was no final, sum-up question (or by-nation summary by the authors), the Thai participants in the Pew survey came off as feeling pretty good about it all: themselves and country included.

You should set aside the natural prejudice of "you can prove anything with statistics", because this survey was just looking to find out how people around the world feel about the future. The Pew folks went to 44 countries, interviewed hundreds of people in each one, and last week reported the responses.

Its conclusion is the title of the report: Emerging and developing economies (are) much more optimistic than rich countries about the future. The full report runs 50 pages and can be downloaded in PDF format, or just read it on the Pew website at

Overall, in the 10 advanced countries, citizens felt their children would be worse off than they are, by a margin of 65 to 28%. But in the emerging countries, including Thailand, it was close to the opposite, with a 50 to 25% break towards those who think their children will be better off.

Less than half of Thais believe the gap between the rich and the rest of the country is a problem, with 57% believing that the poor and the middle class have a shot at the brass ring. (Strangely, to some, 56% of the Thais in the survey also said that outside forces have a greater influence on the course of their life than their own diligence, hard work and perseverance. Make of that what you will.)

Thais are near the top of the world rankings in respect for education. That will surprise many, given the actual quality of education.

It’s largely unremarkable up to now, and then you turn to this question: "What would you recommend to a young person in our country today who wants a good life? Should they move to another country, or stay in Thailand?"

Take a quick guess on the Thai answer.

By the highest rate in the world 94% to four, respondents said, "Stay in Thailand".

The trouble with polls and surveys is that you don't get collective follow-up questions, so one must speculate that Thais think their country provides true opportunity. And repeat: As this survey was taking place, as people were answering these questions, violent street protests were leaving children and other people dead. The survey continued right through the actual military coup.

It's a remarkable commentary on what some see as national resilience, some see as the ability to bend like bamboo but never break, and some see as that remarkable coating that sheds all dirt and unwanted grease — Teflon.

One foreign resident with a full lifetime in Thailand wrote in an email, "Over the past 59 years, I’ve written the country off — I mean off! — a half dozen times. Like the proverbial cat, it always manages to land on its feet in the most unlikely of ways. I'm betting on that tradition holding true."

Alan Dawson

Online Reporter / Sub-Editor

A Canadian by birth. Former Saigon's UPI bureau chief. Drafted into the American Armed Forces. He has survived eleven wars and innumerable coups. A walking encyclopedia of knowledge.

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