Steve Schertzer

The making of a good true Thai

Towards a new patriarchy and an inclusive nationalism


With the recent change in government, now would be a good time for Thais to take their country back. Any time would be a good time for Thais to take their country back. Previous governments were not up to the task. With COVID receding into history the sexpats are back, and with the sexpats back so are the scams. Nobody learns anything. The show must go on.

I have thought long and hard about this. I have allowed the ideas to germinate before putting pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard. Social, cultural, and financial issues are just a few of the problems Thailand faces. It doesn't matter who the Prime Minister is. Problems remain, and the solutions to these long lingering problems must be carefully thought, rationally debated, and logically implemented if Thailand is to take her rightful place in the league of advanced nations.

Before I begin, I will make something very clear. I am not, and will not in any way, say how the Thais should live their lives. There is enough of that rubbish in countless comment sections on websites and YouTube channels catering to racist, ethnocentric neo-colonialists from the west. As a retired Canadian expat living here since July 2017, Thailand feels like home. I cherish my time and life here and I would not do anything to jeopardize that. Any advice, suggestions, and opinions I have is based on facts, universal values, and principles. Judging by the comment sections on YouTube channels about Thailand, the average 'farang' is too simple-minded, myopic, and manichean to partake in any intellectual endeavor which deigns to ameliorate the lives of Thai people.

Ask any Thai about the myriad of problems they face and, if they are honest and trust you, they will sit you down and list them in no particular order. The top three on my list are a higher tax base by substantially raising the minimum wage, affordable education for every Thai child and young adult, and the complete destruction and disintegration of the sex-tourism industry.

Minimum wage should immediately be raised to at least one thousand baht a day. Yes, you read that right. It will have a myriad of benefits; some immediate, some ancillary. A minimum of thirty thousand baht for a month's labour is not too much to ask. It makes no difference if you are Thai, Burmese, Cambodian, from Lao or from Mars, people are people, and people deserve the dignity of a livable wage.

According to the Revenue Department of Thailand, there were 38.8 million employed persons in Thailand in Q4 of 2022. Of that, 10.8 million people pay income tax or a mere 27.7 percent. To put it another way, 72.3 percent of employees in Thailand pay no income tax, mostly because their salary is too low. Anyone earning less than 150,000 baht a year pays no income tax. Raise the minimum wage to one thousand baht a day and that instantly puts millions of workers into the 10 percent tax bracket. Currently the tax base in Thailand is just over 14.3 percent of GDP, well below the OECD average of 34 percent. According to the World Bank, tax revenues above 15 percent of a country’s GDP are a key ingredient for economic growth and poverty reduction. Thailand must increase its tax base in relation to GDP if it is to be more competitive internationally. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra understood this when, in an interview with the BBC, he outlined his vision of a Thailand where all employees participate in a system where everyone benefits from fair taxation and inclusive nationalism.

According to the Bank of Thailand, as of Q4 2022, the average monthly salary for Thais was 15,416 baht, while 40 percent of Thais earn less than 17,000 baht a month and have average monthly expenses of 18,145 baht, according to the National Statistics Office. For those foreigners challenged by basic economics who think that a minimum monthly salary of 30,000 baht won't help millions of working class Thais achieve upward mobility, Thai families by keeping their children in school longer, the Thai economy through the constant flow of capital, and Thai society by increasing living standards along with personal dignity, think again... or go home. Or go somewhere else. Prices for goods and services along with salaries have been kept artificially low for decades in an attempt to encourage low quality tourism. This must change.

Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari has an interesting take on what it means to be a nationalist. Nationalism, according to Harari, is not about hating others who do not look like you and speak like you. It is not about building walls to keep people out. Nationalism is about loving your compatriots. It is about building schools and bridges. Nationalism is about people you don't know and have never met paying their taxes so that you can take your children to school on clean and safe roads. Nationalism is about paying your taxes so that when your child falls off the monkey bars and breaks a bone, you don't have to worry about selling your kidney to receive topnotch medical care. You want to be a nationalist? It's simple. Pay your taxes. Pay your taxes on time and in full so that other people's children can enjoy the same social benefits as yours.

As for education, there must be a sharp and radical paradigm shift in regards to educating children and young adults in Thailand. Public K-12 education should be inspiring, awesome, and totally taxpayer funded. Private K-12 education should also be inspiring, awesome, but affordable. So should tertiary education. Affordability is the key. A proper education, that is, preparing children for future employment and life, must be seen and treated as a right for every Thai child and young adult, not a privilege bestowed upon the wealthy. A considerably larger tax base will go a long way in ensuring that every Thai receive an education leading to a better future for them and their country.

This paradigm shift, where education is seen by all sectors and members of Thai society as essential to economic prosperity and crucial to social and psychological well-being, is currently being led by Thai women. According to UNESCO, the ratio of women to men in tertiary education in Thailand in 2022 was 1.27. In 1976 it was 0.66. The global ratio is 1.19 in favour of female graduates. So Thailand is leading the way in ensuring that women receive a post-secondary education. Of course there is still a long way to go. Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Pattaya are littered with Thai women and men without fathers and without an education. Thai mothers and fathers must take the education of their children seriously. I will go so far as to say that they must adopt a fierce tiger mother stance reminiscent of the tiger mothers of China, Korea, and Vietnam. YouTube is full of videos of Chinese and Korean four year olds who play the violin like Itzhak Perlman. These videos may be cute and entertaining, but there is a serious underlying message here. The parents of these children are passionate about the education of their children, and committed to seeing it through.

In Vietnam, 40 percent of university students are in STEM, four times the global average, while university students in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have no idea which bathroom to use and report their professors for referring to them in the wrong pronoun. The last thing Thai parents should be doing is emulating any of the five-eye countries when it comes to education. Pound STEM into your children and let farangs major in Gender Studies and Finger Painting. According to Thailand's Education Department the share of the education budget to GDP in 2022 was 2.6 percent. It has steadily declined from a high in 2014 of 4.2 percent. It must double to at least five percent of GDP. More importantly, the vast majority of the money earmarked for education must be spent on student and teacher's needs. The raising of minimum wage to one thousand baht a day will help to ensure the doubling of the education budget.

Before I continue, a confession. I love bulldozers. I love to watch them destroy things. Maybe it's the neanderthal in me. Evolutionary psychology is a fascinating area of study. There are some really good bulldozer companies in the world. They make wonderful crawlers and wheeled dozers all of whom are great for smashing, excavating, and moving giant heaps of metal and concrete. I would love to see these dozers put to good use in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket. I would love to see them run over all the beer bars, go-go bars, and so-called gentlemen's clubs and turn them to rubble. Nothing would make me happier. No country can call itself civilized and compassionate when tens of thousands of girls and women, maybe more, sell their bodies to foreign men on a daily basis. The problem here is not that Thailand is a patriarchal society. The problem here is that she is not. Yes, you read that correctly.

Patriarchy is not about keeping women down. In this regard, the feminists had it wrong. True patriarchy is an appropriate response to an existential crisis; an evolutionary adaptation to extreme and harsh conditions. This is the message of David Graeber's 2011 book 'Debt: The First 5,000 Years.' In families and societies that have accrued a lot of debt, women were often sold into prostitution and men into slavery. The debt was paid through indentured servitude. Thailand is certainly no stranger to this historical and horrific connection between debt, slavery, prostitution, and indentured servitude. In troubled and uncertain times, a patriarch is someone with enough wisdom to see through the bullshit, think his way through it by setting up an effective strategy, then stepping into the fray to transform evil into good. In that sense, a patriarch is a Jungian archetype, a towering Campbellian hero with a thousand faces. A true patriarchal society takes responsibility for its citizens and cares for them appropriately. In legal terms it has a fiduciary duty to do just that. A true patriarchy would never have allowed a misogynistic circus like Pattaya to exist in the first place, let alone continue unabated.

This is how a patriarchal society transforms evil into good: bars are bulldozed. Former bar girls are put into schools to learn skills that their society currently needs and will need in the near future. Their society pays for their education and retraining through taxpayer money. That's what nationalists do. After education and retraining, these former bar girls will repay taxpayer generosity and responsibility by participating in mentorship programs while in retraining and apprenticeship programs sponsored by both the private and public sectors once they graduate. They will work off their loan before properly participating in the workforce. They will not be abandoned and thrown to the foreign wolves in Pattaya. This economic strategy is based on a social contract of reciprocity, cooperation, and a pay it forward attitude that sees everyone win.

I suppose we could wait a decade or so while the population rapidly ages and few young people roam Thai society, or any society outside of Sub-Saharan Africa. Fun fact: Starting in the early 2020s, Thailand became home to more people over the age of 65 than children under 15. Let that sink in. With the current fertility rate of 1.4 children per Thai woman and decreasing as more of them move to large cities to attend college and attain better employment, replacement levels of 2.1 children per woman has not been seen since the early 1990s. So waiting until 2035 to point and gawk at the mongers prancing down Soi Grandma in gleeful anticipation of which 45 year old to purchase may sound like an evening of mirth and merriment for onlookers, bulldozing the whole place now will save Thailand this indignity. Another fun fact: By 2045, Thailand will have more 80 year olds than 10 year olds.

Bulldozers, where arrrre youuuuuu?

Ask someone what it means to be poor and the answer you receive will probably go something like this. "Well, I would say being poor is not only about a lack of financial resources, it’s also a lack of hope of achieving any future financial success. It’s the lack of hope that more clearly defines the conditions of the poor.”

An adequate response. When you are poor you can't afford a big house, a nice car, fancy shoes and clothes. You know what else the poor can't afford? Saying no. They cannot afford to say no. So if you are a poor village girl in Thailand, circa 1990, 2010, or 2023, the only option may be to go to Pattaya to seek your fame and fortune.

The American pastor and writer Garret Keizer takes the definition of poor one step further, perhaps several steps. In his book "Help: The Original Human Dilemma", Keizer, says that being poor ‘is the inability to renounce anything: To live in poverty is to exist in a permanent yes relationship to the world. When you have nothing, you must say yes to everything.'

Including prostitution. Including debasing yourself. Degrading yourself. On cam and in person. You cannot say no.

This is what the new patriarchy must do. Give girls and women the right and opportunity to say no. Raise the minimum wage. Raise ethical and moral standards. Pay for their education so that the only reason they have to visit Pattaya is to enjoy delicious seafood from the Gulf of Thailand. If the new patriarchy in Thailand had a voice, this is what it would say.

"Welcome to Thailand, Bryan, Trevor, Nick, Dean, Hans, Manfred, Francois, Jean-Pierre, Jimmy, Luigi, Tony, Satinder, Parvinder, Olaf, Igor, Moshe, Mohammed, Mustafa, and all the rest of you from God only knows where. We hope you enjoy the sun, the sea, the temples, and the food. But remember: Thai girls and women cannot be bought. We are not for sale. We have pride. We have dignity. We have self-respect. And my country has traditions that will not be changed by a bunch of low-life classless foreigners who can't find a suitable partner in their own country. Outside of a loving, serious, and committed relationship, keep your hands off our women. If you are incapable of doing so, then there will be trouble. Have a nice holiday."

There was a time not very long ago when this was the reality. There was a time not very long ago, before the age of unbridled westernization and mass tourism, when Thais took care of each other and watched out for one another. Vestigial remnants of this bygone era were seen during the COVID pandemic when, during the lockdowns, many Thais returned to their hometowns and farms. Without complaint they fished and grew food as they did for centuries, while many westerners complained bitterly on social media that they couldn't get a haircut, have their toenails painted, or were stuck in mommy's basement dreaming about their Soi Cowboy cowgirls. There was a time not very long ago when Thai women had dignity and self-respect. They used to wear the 'Chut Thai' along with the 'Sabai' and 'Sinh'. As late as the early 2000s I would frequent traditional Thai restaurants and see the waitresses wearing Chut Thai. I was enthralled by the beauty and splendor of the outfit and those adorning them. Sadly, I don't see Thai women wearing them any longer. The new patriarchy takes Thailand back to that time, while at the same time, moves Thailand forward into a more peaceful and prosperous era where her citizens are educated, motivated, and dedicated to building and maintaining a society and a country so that everyone can thrive and live with dignity.

I titled this blog "The Making of a Good True Thai." There is a reason for that. Good people aren't born. Babies are born. People are made. People can be made good or they can be made bad. I am fully aware that the argument I am making can be refuted by using the "No True Scotsman Fallacy." It is more of a stance than a fallacy, but just as no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge, no good true Thai would stand to see one of their own standing under a coconut tree on Beach Road in Pattaya waiting for customers.

A good true Thai is imbued with timeless values and principles handed down from generation to generation. Justice, temperance, discipline, compassion, empathy, confidence, cooperation, humility, wisdom, and self-respect to name just a few. Family, nuclear and extended, teachers, and the religious community all working together, ensure that good true Thais are inculcated with proper virtues. Thai parents must also take a much more proactive approach when helping their children choose lifelong partners. Far too many young Thai women are, shall we say, less than wise in their choice of longterm partners. Their lack of intelligent decision making often leaves many of them living lives of poverty and desperation. Neurologists contend that the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain responsible for rational thought and wise decision making, is not fully developed until around 25 years of age. That Thai women are now completing tertiary education in large numbers will also help them make important decisions that will affect their lives in a positive manner. In the end, to become a good true Thai is to cultivate virtue; in yourself and in others. This call to goodness and moral excellence must be carefully taught so as to see others in yourself and yourself in others.

The solutions that I propose to some of the problems in Thai society are certainly not new, but they will go a long way in ensuring that no Thai is left behind in his or her quest to become the person they were meant to be.




Comments

Hey Steve,

If I had 3 wishes for Thailand, they would be:

1; First and foremost, to stop all forms of corruption at every level all over the country, then I believe there would be enough money for everything that was needed.

2; Next, for all government school classes to be brought up to the same level of education as the 16,000 (approx) baht a month government programmes.

3; For Thailand to have a hi-tech, known, respected, and sought after, worldwide brand, of their own, something not dissimiliar to Apple. Or some other form of new sector, like be a hub for AI, because they depend too much on tourism.

What's more, I asked five Thais; a banker, a uni student, a typical rice farmer, a business person, and a school programme manager - what they thought of your ideas.

All five didn't believe that the idea of a 1,000 baht minimum wage had any real financial viability and mentioned the relatively recent pay hikes for low paid workers - by the last government. Which the say came back on them, as everything then went up. By the same token, nor did any of them want to pay more tax to create a higher tax base.

None of the five could get a grip on what you mean by the destruction of the sex-tourism industry, as they said that it was already illegal. Further comments were, was he happy with the existing native (Thai) sex trade, and didn't he have any sex workers in his own country (Canada), whereas weren't there sex workers in every country.

(My own comment to them was that as far as I was aware, there are as many sex workers in the USA as there are per capita in Thailand.)

However, all five basically agreed with your idea of affordable education for all children and young adults - to give better opportunities to each and every one. Though, some agreed that the government programmes were affordable for the most, but that they weren't available across the country, so they weren't an existing solution.

Ultimately, as I strongly suspected after I'd finished reading your blog, and then having written my comment , each of the five felt that corruption was Thailand's biggest problem, as it is everywhere. The banker gave an example of how often the pavements get fixed, as in again and again. By unskilled workers with inferior materials, organised by the big guys who bought the contracts, who need to get the money they gave out in back-handers, as well as making profits.

PS To answer your impertinent questions, I can not find anything positive in a non-sensical foreigner hating, belittling, and blaming.

Besides, I'm here in Thailand for my children first and my students second.

Though, on second thoughts, you're a fine wordsmith with a genuine flair for writing, still, in my opinion, your abilities could be put to better use than here.

By Richard, Bangkok (25th October 2023)

This is a magnificent look at the overall picture of Thailand and what it needs to improve.

By Michael Schwartz, Temporarily in Tuscon, AZ but coming to Thailand. (22nd October 2023)

Richard, you failed to mention conceited, arrogant, and sanctimonious. It's okay, I forgive you. Is there anything in particular that you disagree with so that a rational and intelligent discussion can ensue? Let's start with minimum wage. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you are from the UK. One thousand baht is around 22 pounds. Is 22 pounds for a day's labour too much to ask? There are plenty of employees in the UK that receive 22 pounds every hour.

As I write, there are still almost 30,000 Thais working in Israel, including several thousand near Gaza. They are not there to study the Torah. Most are there working under horrific conditions in the agricultural sector because they cannot find suitable employment in Thailand. Don't you think that they deserve better from their own country?

Richard, you are, or were, a teacher in Thailand. Receiving an education is a net good, right? Funding the education system is positive for any society, right? Is there anything about that that you are against?

You are from the west; a fortunate part of the world for the last two centuries. Many of those on the left talk about white privilege. I don't buy that. But there is such a thing as geographic privilege. I bet your background is different from the average Thai. Your geographic privilege has given you, and many other westerners, a better education, better employment opportunities, plenty of food, great infrastructure, taxpayer subsidized healthcare, the opportunity to travel and work overseas because you want to; not because you have to. And other benefits as well. Most Thais can only dream of the opportunities and privileges you have.

Call me whatever you want, but let's stick to the facts. If you do not see anything positive for Thais and Thai society in what I wrote, then I have two questions for you: What are you doing here? And what are your solutions to the problems I wrote about?

By Steve Schertzer, Thailand (19th October 2023)

What a bunch of self-opinionated, pompous, patronising, intellectually insulting, generalisations and platitudes, with simplistic, intangible ideas, escorted by a sprinkling of highly abused facts. Alongside, unrealistic, previously flogged to death ideals - which have areadly failed in any number of other countries, and never came close to creating utopias anywhere.

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (17th October 2023)

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