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What Asia learned from its financial crisis 20 years ago

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MUSEUM SIAM in Bangkok is dedicated to exploring all things Thai. Until July 2nd, that includes an exhibition on the Asian financial crisis, which began on that date 20 years ago, when the Thai baht lost its peg with the dollar. The exhibition features two seesaws, showing how many baht were required to balance one dollar, both before the crisis (25) and after (over 50 at one point). Visitors can also read the testimony of some of the victims, including a high-flying stockbroker who was reduced to selling sandwiches, and a businesswoman whose boss told her to “take care of the work for me” before hanging himself. (In Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, 10,400 people killed themselves as a result of the crisis, according to subsequent research.) In Thailand the financial calamity became known as the tom yum kung crisis, after the local hot-and-sour soup, presumably because it was such a bitter and searing experience.

The exhibition’s subtitle, “Lessons (Un)learned”, seems unfair. The victims of the crisis (Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong) took many lessons to heart. With the exception of Hong Kong, they no longer rely on a hard peg to the dollar to anchor inflation, giving their currencies more room to move. (The sandwich vendor’s chosen logo for his new business…Continue reading

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