Posts on how to get rich and succeed in business or in life are popular on social media. These have already occupied bestseller lists in local bookstores for years and is often presented in the form of a CEO biography, or perhaps musings by a “life-inspiration coach”. Much of it deals with changing one’s habits.
There are also techniques to win big at stock-market and cryptocurrency trading. Often included are ways to imitate wealthy people, in the understanding that if we act like them we will become one of them, a ‘fake it till you make it’-type of thing.
The Thai translation of 1997’s mega-hit book Rich Dad Poor Dad has been a bestseller at online bookshops for more than a decade. The “how to get rich and be successful at everything” ethos has long influenced media narratives as well as entertainment storylines in Thai society.
When presented with the message that all it takes is hard work and determination, audiences and netizens alike, especially younger people, tend to scoff at this kind of work ethic. They say it’s not applicable to Thai society, where undeniably a combination of family pedigree and connections plays a larger role in outcomes.
In that light, I found a recent video clip pertinent to this apparent contradiction. Last week, netizens’ attention turned to a satire featuring a mock interview with a fictitious 26-year-old Thai billionaire Van Thitipong (played by Thai actor Nat Kitcharit). Asked about the key to his success, Van earnestly divulges: “I was born to a rich family.”
The youthful billionaire goes on to say, “I have resources that allow me to experiment with life and business. If I fail, I can just go back home and take over my parents’ business, or maybe they could put me in touch with a big company that would give me a job.” The video clip is directed by Thanachart Siripatrachai, a co-founder and director of well-known Thai production company Salmon House. It is part of his project called the “Good Human”.
The character went on to praise his luck in being born into an entitled family in Thailand which makes life easier for him because the country’s social and political structure guarantees connections and advantages for the rich. Meanwhile, people living hand to mouth lack the resources and access to move up to the upper social stratosphere.
The video was a hit for interesting reasons. The content is resonant for netizens who have experienced struggles climbing up the economic ladder in real life.This is not the first time content linking to the first-hand experiences of people striving for success have drawn attention among netizens. Similar personal stories of “I try my best but still fail” have been shared through many channels — at street protests, in Club House groups, or on Facebook feeds.
I think we need more of this narrative to discuss wealth creation in society. Make no mistake, I don’t mean to decry those mainstream narratives — either time-honoured, work-hard-and-get-rich storylines or recent popular tips on how-to-become-a-billionaire overnight in bitcoin trading. Indeed, there are real-life aspiring stories of self-made billionaires emerging from poor backgrounds.
However, these self-made moneybags represent only a few exceptional cases who can defy gravity; they are not the typical outcome of the social structure in Thailand, which has a glaring rate of social and income disparity. What we need even more is wealth creation narratives concerning the opportunity gap.
We need content that addresses basic structures that can help people get rich — affordable education, fair trade law, better consumer protection legislation and anti-corruption practices or even a democracy that ensures freedom of expression, a recipe for a creative and entertainment industry to flourish and access to the global market.
Then we can optimistically look forward to the future by finding ways to make people from different backgrounds get rich together. Many successful business people in Thailand work hard, are fearless and optimistic about the future. They constantly upgrade their knowledge and expand their horizons.
The problem is we have too few of them; we need the government to breed more entrepreneurs and talent, not just workers and not simply businessmen. But developing these traits requires prerequisites such as nutrition, a good and affordable education, and healthy family environment which is often commensurate with a household’s income.
Having an open society and political system can foster these traits. Adequate social welfare and effective legislation are the main ingredients for better competition, creativity and innovation. Without having a level playing field and innovation, Thailand will get stuck in the middle-income trap.
At this point, you may ask why I bother with media content that portrays the story of rich and successful people. It is because the media has the power to shape people’s perspectives and sends many ideas into the mainstream which are picked up by the masses.
If we don’t address the opportunity gap in the success story of wealthy people, society will be distracted from addressing the opportunity gap. The narratives mentioned above are useful and well-intended. Yet both project wealth creation in terms of individual effort, leaving public policy, social structure and the government’s duty out of the equation.
It strengthens the social stigma that people are poor or ill-educated because they are lazy. As a result, policymakers do not do enough to address the opportunity gap, if society believes that only individual effort matters.
Many young people may feel depressed and cynical about their lives when seeing the wealthy rise while they fall, no matter how hard they try. Worse, those who “do not make it” can be blamed, or even blame themselves, for not working hard, not being smart enough.
So, why do they have to work hard when it is easier to get rich from betting on easy money? This mindset is desperate, and a country with collective desperation is no longer in a place to nourish hard-working, hopeful and creative entrepreneurial spirits that will be an essential resource for long-term economic growth.
So, shifting the storytelling narrative on how to get rich has the power to renew hope and create wealth. Of course, we still need to work hard and open our ears to new tips and constantly change our habits for the better, but we also need to demand equal opportunity distribution in Thailand so that people from different economic groups, not just the entitled, can get rich too.