Economic Folly: Thai Rice Subsidies Never Die

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 11/19/2016 05:13:00 PM
The importance of rice production to the Thai economy cannot be overstated. In the past, I have discussed [1, 2] the current ruling junta's efforts to punish the overthrown Yingluck Shinawatra for her abuses in overpaying for rice to buy the favor of those in rural communities. Appallingly, however, the same junta is now planning to implement another rice subsidy program. This while it is busy pursuing the prosecution of Yingluck Sinawatra.

The junta's calculations are aimed at regime survival. With rice prices at multi-year lows and the recent death of longtime figurehead King Bhumipol, it needs to prop up its domestic popularity lest it be forced out of power:
Just weeks after Thailand’s military government imposed an unprecedented $1 billion fine against an ousted prime minister for her handling of an ill-fated rice subsidy program that racked up huge losses, the junta did something else extraordinary: It announced a major assistance plan of its own. The $1.5 billion effort, which helps struggling rice farmers in part by guaranteeing prices well above market rates, is ironic given its similarities to the larger subsidy program for which the junta has castigated ex-premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

But the current government may have had little choice but to act. Global prices for the grain have plummeted to their lowest in nearly a decade, severely weakening an industry crucial to Thailand’s economic well-being. Some analysts say the about-face is also intended to stave off potential unrest during the sensitive, year-long mourning period following the death last month of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and to win over some of the politically powerful farmers who make up 40 percent of the population. The rice-growing north is a traditional stronghold of Yingluck and her allies.

The junta has begun to realize “they simply cannot ignore the plight of the farmers anymore, especially (if) they wish to be in power for the long term,” said Puangthong R. Pawakapan, an associate professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
That said, the junta's program is said to be less costly and therefore more economically viable:
The junta’s plan is similar to Yingluck’s in that it is offering artificially high prices for rice, dispersing large sums to farmers and encouraging them to keep the grain off market in hopes of stimulating prices. But Jitti Mongkolnchaiarunya, dean of Thammasat University’s School of Development Studies, said the latest plan is less risky because its scope is smaller, its price ceilings lower, and rice farmers — not the government — will be responsible for storage.
What can I say? It's a tragicomedy that never seems to end.