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Building Social Capital in Thailand: Fibers, Finance, and Infrastructure
Building Social Capital in Thailand: Fibers, Finance, and Infrastructure
By Danny Unger
Cambridge University Press, 1998, 248 pp
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This book examines one of the hottest ideas in political science today: "social capital," or the social prerequisites for building democracy. Unger gives the concept another dimension by suggesting that it also explains economic development: a high level of social capital facilitates the formation of social networks that advance banking and commerce. In seeking to explain Thailand's economic "miracle" in the 1980s, Unger finds his answer in the cultural differences between the Thais and Chinese. The relatively easy-going Thai culture produced officials who were untroubled about giving free reign to the compulsively driven Chinese. In turn, the Chinese, culturally predisposed toward building social networks, are able to cultivate business contacts and thereby find investment opportunities. Unger does not go further to explore how the same reliance on networking also led to crony capitalism and economic disaster, and his prose is dense. Nevertheless, his insights and analysis remain impressive. This is cultural analysis at its best, illuminating how two different sets of Asian values converged to produce economic prosperity.