Regular readers will know that PPT often re-posts Ji Ungpakorn’s work on Thailand. In a recent post at Ugly Thailand, he asks: Does the Thai King’s immense wealth give him political power?
His answer to this is made in the context of his acknowledgement that the king:
… owns a huge capitalist conglomerate, in the shape of the Crown Property Bureau (CPB), and … he is also the richest person in Thailand…. The CPB owns a large number of shares in the Siam Commercial Bank and Siam Cement. It also owns huge amounts of land, often in prime real-estate sites…. The monarch is formally in charge of its investments. The King also has a separate private fortune.
Even so, Ji asks: “But does immense wealth and being nominally in charge of a huge conglomerate automatically confer political power?” His answer is that it doesn’t and makes a kind of Poulantzian argument about the state being relatively autonomous of the capitalist class.
Yet Ji wants to make the state even more autonomous than this, arguing that the king “is beholden to the military for his wealth.” More than this, the king has no power over the armed forces. Even so, Ji acknowledges that the king “cannot be separated from political power, but not because he or the institution of the monarchy are powerful. It is because those who have real political power use him as a tool.”
We are not so sure (see below), but we do agree with this:
Nor can he be separated from his role in perpetuating Thailand’s gross economic inequality. That is why the monarchy should be abolished and its vast wealth nationalised for the benefit of ordinary people.
Here’s an article that says why PPT prefers to see economic and political power as intertwined. It is from The Independent and looks at broader issues associated with the sex scandal enveloping Britain’s Prince Andrew and written by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:
As you know by now, Prince Andrew has been accused by a woman known as Jane Doe 3 of being “forced” by Jeremy Epstein to have sex with him when she was a teenager.
Of course, Buckingham Palace denies the allegations. However, as Alibhai-Brown says,
The story will not end there, but for now that is all we can say on this particular scandal. It should, however, raise questions about our monarchy, its role and position, the devious, secret way it operates.
She’d be jailed in Thailand. No local journalist has dared touch any of the scandals, sexual and otherwise, in the royal family. But British law does not prevent reasonable questioning of the monarchy and royal behavior.
She looks at the roots of the deviousness and secretiveness of the monarchy:
The Magna Carta is now 800 years old…. The document did not give every subject fundamental equality and rights. It was a charter by and for the upper classes. Still, there will be events marking this much mythologised moment throughout 2015.
… OK, so let join in with this latest national commemoration, part truth, part fantasy. It may encourage us all to contemplate and renew our faith in liberty, freedoms, fundamental human rights and democracy, which came much later.
But how is that possible when the family at the top of the social structure undermines every one of the ideals and principles that our nation proclaims at home and abroad?
She mentions “Prince Andrew … cavorting with insalubrious billionaires and vicious autocrats.” She observes:
Human rights? Why should an ageing, playboy prince care about those? Prince Charles is matey with Arab despots too. The next time you feel the urge to denounce Robert Mugabe, remember these royal appeasers. Yes Blair, Clinton and Bush also had unsavoury friendships. But they lost power, eventually. Our royals can carry on sleazing indefinitely.
That’s because they aren’t elected but are of the right blood. That blood, the privileges it presents and the access to power and wealth taint the monarchy:
Freedom of speech and expression is held up as a shining British value. But the Queen and her brood can and do stop the media and authors from pursuing legitimate investigations and asking tough questions. They can come down so heavy that seasoned journalists shake with terror and give up.
The BBC has been persuaded from broadcasting two programmes fronted by Steve Hewlett, a much respected multi-media man. If we, the people, had been allowed to watch the programmes, we might have seen how the Palace used scheming spin doctors to erase Diana from national memory and replace her with Camilla, and how Prince Charles’s actions go way beyond his constitutional role and so on. I don’t blame the BBC. Lawyers employed by the royals are like Alsatians, fiercely protective and very sharp.
Imagine what the reaction would be if, say, Tony Blair stopped the BBC from broadcasting a critical programme on his activities. Britons would be outraged. But with the Royal Family, there is only quiet acquiescence. We are subjects after all, the great brainwashed.
They have particular benefits that result from blood and privilege: “The Queen, the Duke, her children, and grandchildren are not covered by the freedom of Information Act.”
Once in a while, we get to hear of private jets and costly jaunts, but the conversation is quickly shut down by a largely loyalist fourth estate. What about power? As Owen Jones writes in his book, The Establishment: “In practice…members of the Royal Family have a powerful platform from which to intervene in democratic decisions. Prince Charles, the designated successor to the throne has met with ministers at least three dozen times since the election…’ His correspondence with ministers is still kept from the public eye. Transparency is for only for plebs and politicians, it seems. The royals sit among the clouds, at the summit of the secret state and look down on us.
If we accept this settlement we cannot be a proper democracy. When some – whether wicked, stupid, or even wonderful – inherit limitless privileges and untold wealth, and are handed the highest positions in society, we, the rest, are lesser beings. Humans in Britain are not born equal, cannot be equal.
We will not have a credible meritocracy until this unholy edifice is dismantled. I know monarchists will say privileged families are found in strong republics too and that this system gives us stability and unity. All bosh. Wealth is indeed passed on by the rich everywhere, but they are not subsided by their nations, and they are not revered.
Blood and wealth make for a social, political and economic order that is unequal, unfair and maintained by state, capitalists and others who benefit from the maintenance of hierarchy. To quote Ji, this system is “perpetuating Thailand’s gross economic inequality. That is why the monarchy should be abolished…”.
Update: A reader points out another interesting approach to succession, this time in Britain. Nick Cohen at The Guardian comments on a banal and likely interventionist King Charles III, when he get his hands on the throne. If you doubt this, look at the claims made by the next king’s supporters, speaking for him. Blood, wealth and hierarchy mean political access.