Obscene inequality

21 04 2019

Agence France-Presse has an interesting report on the fabulously wealthy in Thailand. It begins by noting that Thailand “has 50 billionaires – ninth in global rankings – [while] 14.5 million people live on welfare…”.

It adds that wealth – or inequality – was “a hot election issue this year…”. In fact, PPT can’t think of an election this century where the inequality of wealth has not been an issue. Thailand has long been at the top of Southeast Asia’s inequality rankings, going back to when estimates were first made in the early 1960s.

The hook for the AFP story is the absurdity of the ridiculously rich playing and watching polo that witnesses “teams of jodhpur-clad Argentines and moneyed Asians gallop onto the flawless field in Chonburi as spectators spill from a pavilion – glasses of champagne in hand – for the final chukka.”

The so-called sport of kings is obscenely expensive limited to royals and the obscenely rich. We have mentioned it in a couple of posts. As well as the King Power Srivaddhanaprabha family others in jodhpurs include naturalized billionaire Harald Link. Polo allows Thailand’s hugely wealthy to hobnob globally with royals and the obscenely rich. That includes the British royals, Brian Xu, of Shanghai Marco Stationery and Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah now the Malaysian king.

The article notes that Thailand is home to polo because “royalty, wealth and elite networks are cross-hatched into the social fabric.”

Interestingly, the article cites Kobsak Pootrakool of the junta’s  Phalang Pracharath Party, lamenting the huge inequality in the country. He states that “[t]he top 20 per cent own 80 per cent of wealth…”. He should know as most of the very wealthy support his side of politics.

It’s actually even more skewed that that. The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report had 1% of the richest Thais controlling 66.9% of the country’s wealth in 2018. And that probably doesn’t include a calculation for the obscenely rich monarch.

In contrast, as the report observes, “[m]ore than 14.5 million Thais qualify for welfare, with most of them earning less than US$1,000 a year.”

The report also notes that a feature of Thailand’s politics is the military coup, usually “with the support of much of the Bangkok-based elite, who underpin the kingdom’s sharp hierarchy and bristle at economic and political challenges from below.”

It is wryly observed that “[c]ash … cascades down family-run businesses, whose monopolies are inoculated against competition by friends and family in politics and generous tax breaks, while generals sit on company boards.”

The military’s task is to ensure the poor do not rise. When they have, it has jailed, beaten and murdered them.

Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, himself a scion of huge wealth, declares: “Inequality won’t be solved … unless that clot of power and money is removed,” warning that inequality is “a threat to stability in the country.”

We doubt that many in the polo set and their hi-so brethren care much at all, recognizing that their wealth depends on the state’s largess and the capacity to exploit workers at will and destroy the environment.

That allows the obscenely wealthy to party obscenely, collect palatial condominiums and super cars by the score, travel the world and buy a “justice” denied the poor.





Thailand’s billionaires in 2019

7 03 2019

Forbes has released its 2019 billionaires list. It includes 31 Thai individuals and families.

To make matters a little easier, we have constructed a table where all persons with the same family name have been combined and we have listed just the top 10.

That aggregating mainly impacts the Chearavanont family who have several scions listed this year. Putting all of those individuals together reveals how vast the clan’s wealth is, expanding at a rate that means it rivals the king for economic power.

But, as usual, the king is missing from the list. This year that does seem rather odd as laws have been changed to make King Vajiralongkorn the personal owner of all crown property. Essentially, that is as it has been for a long time, but the current king just got rid of the quasi-legal mechanism to allow the government and the Crown Property Bureau to protest that the king’s property was not really his.

That charade is now gone, so Forbes should list him at number 1. A rough estimate of the king’s wealth would be at least $60 billion (using data from 2005, and estimating changes in stock and land values since then).

The table reveals how the top 3, including the king and his crown property, have moved well ahead of the rest in terms of measurable wealth. We do acknowledge that the fabulously wealthy are adept at hiding their personal wealth, so all those listed are probably a lot wealthier than these figures allow.








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