Critics of Thaksin’s “populist” policies often condemned the wasteful expenditure of village credit on consumer goods such as mobile phones. I always found this a strange criticism, given that those making it probably couldn’t last a day without their own mobiles. But it does reflect the anachronistic view many commentators have about the nature of rural economy and society. Just how anachronistic was underlined in a recent brief article in The Economist:
The idea that mobile phones bring economic benefits is now widely accepted. In places with bad roads, few trains and parlous land lines, they substitute for travel, allow price data to be distributed more quickly and easily, enable traders to reach wider markets and generally ease the business of doing business. Leonard Waverman of the London Business School has estimated that an extra ten mobile phones per 100 people in a typical developing country leads to an extra half a percentage point of growth in GDP per person.
The fantasies of sufficiency economy notwithstanding, Thailand’s rural economy is no longer based on rice fields, fish ponds and orchards. Rural livelihoods are now linked in diverse ways with diverse markets. Mobile phones make very good sense.