Thailand’s Standard Of LivingBy
“Foreigners who’ve never been to Thailand before have this mistaken idea that Thais are slumming it. Compared to many of their Southeast Asian neighbors, the Thais are actually living like kings many tiers down from their own king.” Doug Knell, Doug’s Republic
The Thais aren’t what you’d call the Thai-coons of Southeast Asia. Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei have that distinction. But Thailand does glower over Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Indonesia.
Discussing Thailand’s standard of living is tricky issue. The uneducated who have jobs as maids, waitresses, cleaners can earn only 4,000B-8,000B. Then there are Thais who earn 10x-20x that wage, and even some who earn a helluva lot more than well paid professionals in richer countries.
When we recently came home with a new 50″ plasma television set, our maid remarked that the television cost three times her monthly salary. In the United States, an American version of our set would’ve been 20% cheaper and any maid in our employ would’ve been able to afford one. A person would not need to be considered well off to own such a set — or an iPod or a car. Or any other beyond-the-basics gizmo.
Thailand differs from a Western country in that the lower end of the scale is set a lot lower. Thailand doesn’t have to import cheap labor from abroad. It’s already here and living at a standard the foreigner would recoil at. The 2010 minimum daily wage rate in Bangkok is set at 206 baht, less than USD 6. The rate sinks to as low as 151 baht a day in some Thai provinces. Raising the minimum daily rate isn’t the answer to better standards of living. Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei have no minimum wage, and Singapore and Brunei are among the richest countries in the world.
The Thai silver lining is that these lower-earning Thais still aren’t what one thinks of as poor. They can afford to put food on the table, buy basic clothes, make monthly payments on a motorbike (the main form of independent transport in Thailand), and possibly get a basic cellular phone model. Anything outside these day-to-day basics, like the plasma TV, a kiteboard and kite, or a fancy night at an Italian bistro, is out.
Judging from the number of swank shopping malls in Bangkok and beyond, there are plenty of Thais who can afford the better things in life. Air conditioners, refrigerators, coffee makers, and laptop computers cost the same or more in Thailand than they do in the United States, yet shops continue to sell them. Automobiles cost QUITE a bit more. A car valued at USD 30,000 in the US can cost more than triple in Thailand. Despite this, there are no shortage of Thai-driven vehicles on the road. No doubt helping the Thai consumer society along are credit card deals offering no-money down and 0% interest for a year on many high costs purchases. Payment plans, open only to Thai citizens, are quite common. A motorbike priced at about USD 1,500 can be paid off in 36, 48, 60, or 72 months, making such items attainable to the many.
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