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Thailand: Boom, Bust, and Recovery

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image of Perspectives on Global Development and Technology
For more content, please see Journal of Developing Societies.

Thailand's economic performance from 1957 to 1996 was remarkable, with uninterrupted, sometimes very rapid, growth. The decade to 1997 witnessed an unprecedented economic boom that came to a crunching and dramatic halt in July 1997, with the beginning of the Asian economic crisis, the impact of which is still being played out. Despite the crisis, Thailand's economic development has amounted to a capitalist revolution that has been more thorough than many would have thought possible even two or three decades ago. Thai society has been dragged from its agricultural past and plunged into an industrial present. Capitalism's ascendancy has incorporated the country in a world system, subjecting the economy and society to its many vagaries. Thailand's capitalist transition has had its own characteristics, but there have been processes at work, which mean that there is much that it also has in common with other capitalist transitions. The force of these processes has dominated the last century or so. This paper examines the evolution of Thailand's capitalism, preceded by a brief outline of theoretical debates regarding this development. In examining Thailand's capitalist development, this paper proceeds chronologically, charting broad development epochs. It delineates the social and political forces that shaped each phase of industrialization. The paper also addresses the changes to Thailand's political economy since the advent of the Asian economic crisis in mid-1997, and indicates how these developments are reshaping political and economic power.


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