Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla is amazingly stupid or, in the unthinkable alternative, the Financial Times is biased

A modest post, including, as a special bonus, an enlightened understanding of the terms amazingly free and military-installed

Here we have a story about a developing country, realizing that it can’t afford some of the most expensive medicines, announcing that it will therefore begin producing generic versions of these very few very expensive medications. This is allowed, under the declaration of a health emergency, by WIPO rules. But if Thailand does declare such an emergency, it is almost certain that the pharmaceutical companies or their trade group would appeal this. It may just be posturing by the Thai government to get the best possible bargaining position, when they buy some pharmaceuticals, but this somehow seems a little more premeditated. The Financial Times covers this story:

Thais warn of switch to generic medicines

By Amy Kazmin in Bangkok

Published: February 18 2007 22:12 | Last updated: February 18 2007 22:12

Thailand is likely to widen its use of cheaper, generic versions of patented drugs, unless western drug companies cut the prices of their original medications, the country’s health minister has said.

Dr Mongkol Na Songkhla, health minister, told the Financial Times that the military-installed [emphaisis added by EF] government was considering whether to ignore the patents for drugs used to treat leading causes of death – such as cancer and heart disease – as it escalates its confrontation with big pharmaceuticals groups.

Hmmm…So did Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla really say something like “Today, our military-installed government has decided that it will begin producing generic pharmaceuticals?” Now, I have never worked for a “military-installed ” government, but it seems fairly obvious that reminding one’s superiors that they came into power undemocratically is not a career-enhancing move. So, perhaps, Dr. Mongkol Na Songkhla is really, really dense. Or did the Financial Times insert that adjective sideways, to indicate disapproval of that action. If so, isn’t this news piece really an editorial? And if it is an editorial, whose interests are being represented here?

Of course, one might postulate that since what the Thais want to do actually runs against the interests of big pharma, such an act of disobedience brings down the disapproval of the media. Is this a fair conclusion, that the Thai government is being characterized as “military-installed” because of what they are doing?

Let’s see. Perhaps the media always characterizes “military-installed” governments as such, even when what the government is doing runs according to the wishes of big corporations.

It would be fair to say that mainland China has a “military-installed” government, would it not?

So let’s look a some recent discussions about mainland China. This is from an interview with Tom Barnett, who has written for Esquire, Wired, and the Washington Post, and has been interviewed in Rolling Stone, Epoca (Brazil), and Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Japan’s Nikkei News). Tom has been described by U.S. News & World Report’s Michael Barone as “one of the most important strategic thinkers of our time.” So Tom Barnett does have a certain place in Western media when talking about China. So let’s see what Tom has to say in a recent interview about China’s “military-installed” government:

[T]here’s a tendency to assume that if they don’t look like us in terms of a democracy as rapidly as possible, then they’re not making the journey and they’re not becoming more like us. I talk about this in the book, that there are different routes….

With China, it’s a very different route, okay? They came out of the culture revolution in Mao and everything else, and Deng Xiaoping decided to start with economics first, okay? And he’s slowly letting the Chinese leadership over time the legality to seep into the system, while keeping a strong clamp on the political system, because they fear their country will come apart because of all the different changes being wrought about by rapid industrialization and urbanization, and opening up to the outside world….

And that process is occurring inside of China. It’s not well understood or covered, but the rise, for example, of civil court cases in China is exploding, and it’s a really wonderful and positive development….

[Y]ou’ve got to understand where China is in its history. Democracy advocates, a lot of whom I interact with in China, will tell you that anybody who advocates kind of a rapid transition to democracy and a wide open system inside of China at this point in its historical trajectory, really wants China to fail, because that would just be too much, too fast. A lot of the people I’ve worked with in the democracy movement, and in the government there, will tell you that before Tiananmen, they had an ideal that freedom was about 90% political, and about 10% economic. They like to do statistics like that, percentage breakdowns. After Tiananmen, they came to a far different conclusion. They said we decided that freedom was really about 90% economic, and only about 10% political.

And you can look at that and say well, they’ve got it all backwards. Freedom’s all about politics. But I say look at yourself, look at your own life, look at your daily life, and you tell me that freedom in this country isn’t about 90% economic. I go where I want, I buy what I want, I sell what I want, the job I want, I do. I don’t get told how to live my life in terms of all these economic choices. And yeah, I want a certain level of political freedom on top of that, to say what I want, and to vote as I choose, but the bulk of what we define as freedom in this country is really more economic than political. China is an amazingly free country in terms of economics right now.

Ok, let’s get our terms straight. If you are doing something to better the lives of your citizens which runs afoul of some big corporations business plan, your government is “military-installed.” But if you have an exploding civil court caseload, realize that “economics is 90% of freedom,” create a system in which Tom Barnett can say “I go where I want, I buy what I want, I sell what I want, the job I want, I do,” even if you abuse workers, make them nearly slaves working in factories, deny workers the right to organize and other basic, human rights, enforce a one couple, one child policy through mandatory abortions, then you are “amazingly free.”

Note: Minor edits to this post were made on 21 February 2007.


  1. tim

    Barnett is clueless on China. He gets, no pun intended “snowed” in the same way that the tourists always get snowed.

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