For the past five months, Thailand’s students have taken to the streets to demand change. They have called on the government, and the military-appointed senate, to resign and they’ve called for an end to military intervention in politics.
At times, the students have touched on taboo subjects previously unimaginable in the Thai political discourse. Their bravery and their ideals cannot be questioned and they have brought into debate subjects that sorely need discussing.
But what the students have not touched upon is what happens if all their demands are met.
What happens if they get what they want?
Their ideas for the future have been vague at best – with familiar and important talking points about equality and democracy.
Might I suggest then, in a country like Thailand, an embrace of western style conservatism.
Hear me out, conservatism here should be defined not in the Thai context of student-lynching and communism-hating but rather western-style conservatism.
This is the idea that governments should be limited, that the free market should be desired and that personal liberty is paramount in the pursuit of happiness.
Ideal for Thailand
There are many reasons why the Westminster or Reagan style conservatism is well suited for Thailand but the most important reason is our widespread corruption.
In 2019, Transparency International ranked Thailand 101 out of 180 countries on its corruption index. Out of a score of 100, Thailand scored only 36 in corruption perception.
Corruption in Thailand happens at every level from bidding for large-scale projects to siphoning off the national budget at various ministries.
What better way to combat this than to shrink the national budget and get rid of government-run initiatives that have become a feeding frenzy for corrupt politicians.
Western conservatism argues that the government is the root of most evils and the less government interference there is in the daily affairs of its citizens, the better off the country will be.
While the privatization of industry and infrastructure is never ideal and problems have arisen in the United Kingdom and the United States from such attempts, it is a much better bet than giving the keys of major projects to the government.
We have seen where that road leads. The politicians will have no qualms selling our projects and giving our tax money to the bidder willing to give them the biggest cut or kickback.
At least with private companies, they are beholden to competition and the bottom line.
Arguing for smaller governments and conservatism also means arguing for less income taxes – a bonus for those who worry that our hard-earned money is being spent to line the pockets of some general or politician.
If we get rid of, or severely lower, income tax then we will no longer have to worry about overinflated military budgets and frivolous undersea expenses.
Competition and Free Market is a GOOD thing
One of the biggest hindrances to economic development in Thailand is the presence of oligarchies and monopolies controlling multiple sectors of the economy. Much has been written and said about the so-called ’20 families’ that control everything business-related.
It is no secret who grants the concessions that allow these monopolies to occur and take place.
Ask any would-be duty free competitor how embedded the current business in charge of the duty free monopoly is with the ruling government and the conservative institutions.
The free market that is embraced and loved by Western Conservatism is not only ideal in Thailand, it is necessary for the country to progress.
A free market means getting rid of concessions and special allowances and opening up the market to competition.
It would also mean, once and for all, getting rid of state-owned enterprises that are poorly run and letting them live or die by the market. Companies like SCG, Thai Airways and PTT will be beholden to only their shareholders and not subject to government interference.
Perhaps the value embraced and cherished most by conservatism is that of free speech, personal liberty, and equality of opportunity.
No longer would Thailand have a government that feels it necessary to instill 12 core values into the education system because it would not be their job to do so. The government would not dictate how a student dresses, what they must salute, who they must respect.
Laws that dictate speech, pornography, whom one can marry, religion, will be a thing of the past.
An argument about neoliberalism
All these arguments previously laid out make for a compelling case for the embrace of western conservatism in Thailand.
But if one more argument needs to be made then it is the shape that modern neoliberalism has taken in the west.
The safe-space, fragile discourse that has come to dominate the political space in the west has no place for a country trying to embrace the enlightenment values of free-thought, reason, and criticism.
We cannot have the government mandating values and telling us how to run everything from concert orchestra auditions to college admissions offices.
We must not let the same echoes of inequality masking itself as equality reverberate in our own country. Neoliberalists will have governments interfering and intervening in everything from what values schools should teach to regulation of all industries and businesses.
In Thailand, we have already seen what happens when the government interferes. An embrace of small governments and free markets offer us an escape from that cycle.