Updated: Amartya Sen on Thailand

18 12 2010

In December 2010:

Speaking on the topic of “Justice and the Social Gap” at the closing ceremony of the third National Health Assembly yesterday, … [Nobel laureate Amartya] Sen said significant inequalities between regions, classes, genders, religions, communities and health are all sources of social discontent facing the country.

“My list of the sources of social gaps is obviously not exhaustive. The basic point to make here is we have to put our heads together and identify what can be and often are sources of inequality that may be particularly important for a particular country,” he said.


Inequality is not only bad in itself but it also contributes to a reduction in social cohesion and unity. It gives birth to aggressive discontent…. Has the division between the privileged and underprivileged been reduced? I don’t know. Certainly there are a lot of grievances.

Hanging out with authoritarian leaders: Sen with Singapore's George Yeo

In July 2010:

Nobel economist Amartya Sen says foreign media describing Thailand’s politics as class warfare are oversimplifying a complex problem….

Some foreign media have reported the protests as being between the rural poor and urban middle class.

But Indian-born economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen says calling the crisis ‘class warfare’ is an ‘oversimplification’ of the problem.

“To describe the whole thing as a class war between the rich and poor of a very complex problem – I could not begin to take that as a good way of describing it,” he said. “While I was skeptical of basically the foreign news coverage, the BBC as well as CNN and it also includes the New York Times, I have to say that I knew well enough both about Thailand and about conflict in general to regard this to be hardly a possible explanation, to say it is class war.”

Oh, we get it… it is not just about class but about inequality, regional disparity, classes, gender, religion [we assume he means for the southern conflict, but look at the incomes data there too], and so on. As far as PPT can discern, Sen is telling a story of class-based politics in Thailand but refusing, as many economists with Nobel prizes do, that class can’t be a driving factor in historical and political development.

And we can’t neglect this point in his Bangkok Post interview: “Thailand is a democracy. There are few democracies in the world where protesters can occupy the centre of the town without being moved out. Thailand does not get enough credit for tolerating that.” We take it that the good professor missed the crackdown by the government that saw at least 92 killed and several thousand injured. Or maybe he just forgot. No he didn’t, he knows, he just wants the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime to get credit for everything but the killing.

Well at least he keeps getting invited back to Thailand by royalists who love having the aura of a Nobel laureate around to speak for them.

Update: A wag suggests we change our title to: Amartya for the amart. It sounds appropriate to us. Another reader asks that PPT say a little more on class. Official statistics and even World Bank analysis show very clearly that inequality in income and wealth and regional disparities are all related to the state’s proxies for class. Those who have least are overwhelmingly in the north and northeast, engage in agriculture, have no land or small plots. The most recent UNDP report on Thailand (a 6MB download) has much of the official data that can be easily read into class categories.



2 responses

18 12 2010
Tweets that mention Amartya Sen on Thailand | Political Prisoners in Thailand -- Topsy.com

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by อิสระภาพ แห่งข่าวสาร. อิสระภาพ แห่งข่าวสาร said: Amartya Sen on Thailand: In December 2010: Speaking on the topic of “Justice and the Social Gap” at the closing … http://bit.ly/hXni0Y […]

1 10 2019
Forgetfulness | Political Prisoners in Thailand

[…] between … the rich and the poor.” How quickly the basic facts are forgotten. We recall Amartya Sen’s confusing rhetoric on this, perhaps better forgotten. And it may be easily forgotten that back in 2007, per capita […]