Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, Social Science, California State University / California Polytechnic State University

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2005
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Professor and Chair, Social Sciences, California State University / California Polytechnic State University
Policies and Programs for Poverty Reduction in Thailand and Vietnam: An Investigation of What Works and What Doesn’t and their Implications for other Developing Countries

During the late 1980s and 1990s Thailand gained praise from the World Bank as the most successful developing nation in reducing poverty. Between the late 1960s and 1990 Thailand cut its rate of poverty in half, and continues to reduce its rate of poverty since recovering from the "Asian economic crisis" of 1997. Vietnam remained in desperate poverty from the end of the American part of the Vietnam War until the end of the 1980s. By the end of the 1980s the situation was so critical that moderates began gaining power inside the communist government. The most important outcome was doi moi (restructuring) which began with a series of economic reform laws in 1988. By the early 1990s Vietnam began rapid economic development, and development which quickly reduced poverty instead of primarily making a small percentage of the population rich. While Thailand cut poverty in half between the 1960s and 1990, Vietnam did so just during the 1990s. Vietnam is now cited in the World Bank's latest World Development Report as one of the world leaders in reducing poverty. In previous research and writing I have examined the situation of Thailand in contrast other SE Asian countries. There are some macro conditions that give Thailand an advantage, such as a strong state with relatively high bureaucratic efficiency ratings, and low levels of land inequality. There have been specific policies to reduce poverty in Thailand on a more micro level, such as yearly development grants to villages and "people's banks" giving small "micro loans." But most importantly, in both countries, we need to know how development policies have been carried out on the specific village level. We need to examine actual development programs in both countries to judge how they have been implemented. This is especially so because government figures in Thailand and Vietnam show some village areas have been very successful in reducing poverty while others have not reduced poverty at all. In the first stage of my proposed research I will interview NGO leaders and gain government information from authorities in the poorest regions of Thailand and Vietnam to find out details about poverty levels and government projects. With support from universities in Thailand and Vietnam, my research will then allow me to conduct field research in selected villages with good and bad records of poverty reduction. I will interview village headmen and other villagers to gain their insights on what is happening, what they think has helped or not helped them reduce poverty. In Thailand I will be given access to a unique and unused data set. Since Thailand's new health care program in 2001, each tambon (group of about 10 villages) in Thailand has a government run clinic given the job of recording the economic situation of every family in each village to determine their eligibility for free medical services. I have been given permission by the governor of Nong Khai Provence in Thailand to use these records. Permission from other governors is expected to follow. These records will be invaluable in charting the economic history of families in villages selected for this field research.