No Burmese Returning: Economics Across Myanmar-Thailand Border

Abstract

As Myanmar’s national politics change from a military authoritarian regime toward civilian rule, this paper seeks to understand whether Burmese emigrants abroad are starting to return home. By placing the specific case study of net migration flows across the Myanmar-Thailand land border into a larger study of all of net migration flows across all other land borders around the globe, a comparison can be made as to the direction and the amount of these net migration flows. We argue that, regardless of the political situation, when surveying the top large-scale net migration flows of over 350,000 people, fairly simple economic indicators help us to predict that, ceteris paribus, the direction of any net migration flow will move from poorer to wealthier country. Material differences in wealth, however, do not help to predict the amount of that net migration flow. We conclude that because of prevailing magnitudes of material difference between Myanmar and Thailand, we see nothing that suggests that Burmese migrants have started to return home in any large numbers.

Keywords: Myanmar-Thailand border, Burmese migration, Myanmar, land border, migration, Burmese economy, Thai economy.

Introduction & Background

For the Myanmar-Thailand border, the direction of net migration flows has been going one way since at least the 1980s; whether these migrants have been economic immigrants or political refugees, year after year, more Burmese have been living in Thailand then Thais living in Myanmar. Yet, if we follow the news in Southeast Asia today, a new trend appears to be surfacing whereby everyone these days seems to be going to Myanmar. Over the past year, current and former heads of government such as Barak Obama, Tony Blair, Manmohan Singh, Shinzo Abe, and David Cameron, as well as European Commission President José Barroso have visited. In 2013, Myanmar had its first high-profile tech company visit by Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt of Google Inc. The nonprofit Institute of International Education facilitated nine American universities recently in sending representatives to Myanmar to inquire upon exchange opportunities for faculty and students in the future. Multilateral organizations and foreign government officials reestablishing diplomatic relations, also have been streaming into Myanmar. Accordingly, international weekly seat capacity for all airlines flying into Myanmar has doubled from around 40,000 a week in August 2012 to over 80,000 a week by January 2013 to meet the new demand. All this activity represents a dramatic reversal from years past.

For decades, the Burmese government made it fairly difficult for foreigners to travel to, or do business in, Myanmar. And after the military regime failed to respect the outcome of elections in 1991, many foreigners eschewed Myanmar altogether. Traveling there risked the wrath of critics of the country’s ruling generals, particularly by those activists working for a regime change. These critics urged maximum isolation of the regime as a means of putting pressure on the generals to release political prisoners, negotiate with ethnic minorities, and hold free and fair elections. However, the regime launched radical changes in 2003 with its “road map to democracy”. In consequence, as the regime has delivered on allowing national elections in the last few years, outsiders are scrambling to get into Myanmar. If foreigners are now flocking to get into Myanmar, what about the Burmese? Until very recently, Myanmar was not only a country many outsiders avoided, but one in which insiders were spilling out in great numbers and in particular into Thailand. Now that so many foreigners want to get into Burma, will this mean that the Burmese will feel less of an urgent need to get out? Could the direction of net migration across the Myanmar-Thailand border have reversed, or at the very least slowed down?

Myanmar remains an extremely poor country with few economic opportunities for local employment. For political reasons, but economic ones as well, the Burmese… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in International Journal of East Asian Students of Thammasat University, Thailand, by T. F. Rhoden and D. Unger; photo credit goes to Rohan Radheya via The Diplomat. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Oligarchy in Thailand?

Abstract

A modern conception of oligarchy, which can be housed under an authoritarian regime as easily as it can under a liberal democratic one, can affect our understanding of the potential national political repercussions of extreme inequalities of wealth. This article has two goals: (1) to conceptually analyse the meaning of oligarchy; and (2) to make a
descriptive case for its use in the Thai context. The test case of contemporary Thailand shows what exactly an oligarch or oligarchy means under a military regime and the potential effects for national politics of an oligarchy based on material wealth. Utilizing Jeffrey A. Winters’ Aristotelian-grounded conception of oligarchy for the contemporary world, this article argues that some political outcomes in Thailand are inexplicable without recourse to a modern variant of oligarchic theory and analysis.

Keywords: Thailand, oligarchy, monarchy, military regime, Thai oligarchy.

Introduction

This article argues that Winters’ concept of oligarchy can be extended to politics at the national level in Thailand. The coup d’état on 22 May 2014 by military forces led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Commander of the Thai Royal Army, may offer evidence against the argument that Thailand has an oligarchy. A year earlier, the representative democracy in Thailand – despite it being “low” on liberalism – may have also opposed such a classification. Thailand with its unique form of constitutional monarchy, sometimes termed a “network monarchy”, also appears to argue against oligarchy. Additionally, a review of Riggs’ now-classic concept of “bureaucratic polity” or Chai-anan’s concept of “three-dimensional Thai state” also seems to chal-lenge any notion of national-level oligarchy.

The present paper argues that while Thailand is not an oligarchy, it does very much
have an oligarchy. This is not a play on words. To understand why the above claim is empirically true, one must revisit the concept of oligarchy and allow for misconceptions to change. Three specific elements need to change. Firstly, the theory of oligarchy, as originally understood by Aristotle, is not a regime, but a very powerful, hard-to-eradicate, and not always coherent element of almost every state and society since Aristotle posited his mixed regime, including contemporary Thailand. Secondly, the theory of oligarchy is a materialist theory of power. Thirdly, the theory of oligarchy can be applied to Thailand and, by doing so, researchers of social science gain a new perspective of recent turmoil in Thai national politics.

Every theory, method or approach provides insight. For some students of Thai politics and society, recognising that Thailand has an oligarchy may induce something of a modest epiphany. For others, this recognition will be more like an intellectual homecoming. There are many ways to describe Thailand’s national politics, including the concept of oligarchy, regardless if one likes or dislikes the word. This article is about theory and classification and how it applies to one national state in Southeast Asia. I agree that a causal argument may be more powerful than a descriptive  argument in the social sciences. However, because there is still so much confusion over the term oligarchy and its applicability outside of Hellenistic Greece, I make a simpler argument of reviewed classification and exampled application. Oligarchy as diction can be more than a facile epithet. Oligarchy is, in fact, a vital force in Thailand’s political society… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit goes to Reuters via International Business Times. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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The Liberal in Liberal Democracy

Abstract

This article argues that much of the work on democratization and democratic consolidation is obscured by a conceptual fog, when at the very least some of this confusion could be ameliorated by parsing out components that are obviously liberal in nature. An admission of the importance of liberalization and liberal consolidation as distinctly different in form and measurement from democratization and democratic consolidation are the first steps to better research on the varieties of causation that constitute and propel the dissolution of more authoritarian regimes towards more liberal democratic regimes. Acknowledging that the liberal in liberal democracy is unpopular for some, and that liberal democracy does not necessarily mean American liberal democracy, go a long way to freeing these terms from ethnocentric misconceptions, as well as cementing analytical clarification. Though all modern democracies have both liberal and democratic components, democratic consolidation does not guarantee liberal consolidation.

Keywords: liberalization; liberal consolidation; liberalism; democratization;democratic consolidation; democracy; liberal democracy.

Introduction

A causal argument, whether borne by a statistical inquiry or a qualitative articulation, is in the aggregate the most valued species of argument in contemporary political science. If we are to present an argument that veers away from causation and instead focuses our attention on the level of concept, we must justify ourselves to those who prefer the middle path. A linguistic trial by classification and typology creation can “have a useful role, however, as a way of categorizing causes and effects that cannot be measured using numbers”. In order to avoid a droll discussion of conceptual classification and clarification, some imperative must excite us away from a question of what causes what towards a more fundamental query of what are we even talking about. Something like a normative imperative surely exists amongst the community of scholars and practitioners of what is normally  referred to as “democratization” and its various offspring: “democratic transition”,“democratic consolidation”, and “quality of democracy.” If scholars get these concepts wrong, how should we expect those in the world of policy to get it right? This article has a singular argument: in the twenty-first century, any concept of democratization is wrong when liberalization is also assumed to be an inherent part of that process. If democracy and liberalism are not the same thing, then why do we expect (1) democratization to automatically include liberalization, and (2)democratic consolidation to include liberal consolidation?

To state the conclusion first: we should not. Liberal democracy, though more than a simple sum of its parts, can never be “consolidated” unless both of its parts are understood. Furthermore, the liberal must be accepted and embraced in the same way that the democratic has been if we are to ever make sense of the various paths of transition from more authoritarian regimes. This article begins by reviewing the current confusion caused by the concept of democratization that values rule by the people more than liberty. A review of what democracy and liberalism mean and how they do or do not fit together to create a liberal democracy is in order. An alternative classification o fcurrent regimes will be provided in order to ground future theories of causation in a plane of greater clarity. The remainder of the article will then ask why it is that researchers have been so reluctant to use the adjective liberal in their projects and what might be gained by shifting a focus towards ideas of liberal consolidation…[click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Democratization by T. F. Rhoden; photo credit to Biography.com. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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