Photographs by James Nachtwey
About 10 percent of Thailand's population of 67 million now lives in Bangkok, a figure that rises when the several million migrant workers from rural areas are counted. With paved roads, electricity, motorbikes, and television sets, Thailand's villagers have become some of the most affluent poor people in the world, acquiring the academic label "middle-income peasants."
This rise in well-being has also brought dissatisfaction with the glaring gulfs between rich and poor. As a result Thai society has been undergoing a historic realignment in which the poorer classes, encouraged by ambitious politicians, have been seeking their share of the prosperity and clout that have always been beyond their reach. An alliance of Thailand's old political institutions--with the palace, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the military at their core--has been pushing back, defending the privileges of a hierarchical system that governs both public and private life.
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