MAY 19th 2010
I do not intend to start a running file on Thailand and its troubles. I bring the subject up now because it is highly educational. I recently sat next to a conventionally brained UK Tory and the discussion turned to 'poverty'. Once I had got him to agree to discuss relative rather than absolute poverty as the main problem in democracies (that took about 10 minutes), I asked him if he knew what caused relative poverty. He freely admitted he hadn't a clue.

OK, here is the answer. Relative poverty is the inevitable result of successful growth and national wealth in any country where there is more than one linguistic culture, more than one educational culture,  more than one level of agricultural culture etc such that the wealth generated in the evolving economy cannot involve and employ a significant majority of both the urban and rural population. If modernization and competition create an efficient industrial, commercial and agricultural society, it must be one that either gainfully employs or unashamedly supports those it cannot prepare for the employment, which it must if necessary provide by either private or public investment.

If a country's currency is valued by its ability to maintain a balance of payments, it matters not one whit how many people are employed by the state or by private enterprise as long as it balances the books in an open-trade world economy. Private enterprise has many proven advantages in a viable mixed economy, but the buck stops at the political top, and the United States has been the biggest state-driven economy to date, with the great advantage of of giving rein to private enterprise within. The best of both words they once thought, secure from the abuse and corruption of totalitarian economics.

Moving along, what was the late Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, doing before he was accused of corruption and overthrown by a military coup? We are told he had made a fortune in telecommunications. His wealth enabled him through various means to get political power. He used this to get more financial control and gain in the Thai economy which was booming on a successful tourist trade. He then poured money into the long negelected rural areas in the north that were in relative poverty.

His financial clout and technical expertise enabled him to substantially ignore the traditional rules of democracy and human rights. The guardians of the constitution took it personally, as their status and wealth was at risk as well as their political power. However, Thaksin Shinawatra was doing in an unauthordox and technically illegal way what a democratically elected government could have done if it owned some highly profitable national utilities, and decided to subsidise the areas of the coubtry and economy that for reasons covered in para 2 above could not share in the boom-time.

So there we are: go for growth in any society that is not sufficiently homogenous to share in it, and relative poverty will grow, and there is no cure unless the subsidy that is allotted from the carefully tapped boom is spent in such a way as to support the people, the land and their evolving education to manage that land in the evolving economy. Once the people you aim to help have turned to violence, due to expectations exceeding delivery, you have a real problem.

The mechanism described above applies anywhere, Thailand, Afghanistan and even the United Kingdom where we have a relative poverty problem of our own. It's amazing what you can fix in a dictatorship, benigh or otherwise. As for the arguments between Gordon Brown and David Cameron and Clegg, where now is right or left? Left, we suppose, is government action on what the marke can't fix. Right, now is apparently "Government can't act, you do it, come on guys, we're all in this together. We all agree on the aim at least don't we? Or are you going to argue?