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We measure capital flight from Thailand from 1980 to 2000 and analyze the relationships between capital flight and capital inflows, economic growth, crisis, and financial liberalization. We define capital flight as net private unrecorded capital outflows from a capital-scarce developing country, measured as the difference between the recorded sources and uses of funds. This definition is commonly referred to as the ‘residual’ definition of capital flight (see, for example, Erbe 1985; Morgan Guaranty 1986; World Bank 1985). As discussed in Chapter 3, there are several definitions of capital flight: capital flight as the undeclared stock of external assets of domestic residents (Dooley 1986); capital flight as only ‘hot’ money (Cuddington 1986); capital flight as illegal activities like trade faking (see, for example, Bhagwati 1964; Gulati 1987); and capital flight as a ‘mirror’ statistic of domestic residents’ deposits abroad (BIS 1984). In this particular case study, we choose to use the residual definition and measure of capital flight because net unrecorded capital outflows suggest the extent of lost funds that could have been invested in the domestic economy to generate additional output and employment. Many studies investigate capital flight because of its link with external debt (see, for example, Lessard and Williamson 1987; Boyce 1992). Highly indebted countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, or the Philippines have experienced significant capital flight. Thailand, however, is not a highly indebted country, so presumably capital flight would not be an important concern for the country. Yet our research shows that Thailand experienced a sizeable amount of capital flight in real terms for most of the period covered in the study. To the best of our knowledge, there are no studies specifically on capital flight from Thailand. Studies like Morgan Guaranty (1986) and Schneider (2003), for example, contain estimates of capital flight, including from Thailand, but they do not discuss capital flight specifically from this country. We illustrate in this chapter why capital flight is an important concern for Thailand; to this end, we explore five issues linked to capital flight. The first issue we explore is the link between capital inflows and capital flight. While capital inflows can directly influence capital flight, it is possible that these inflows will be accumulated, especially when the economy is expanding, but will exit in the future when economic conditions are no longer favorable to capital (such as an economic crisis). In this latter scenario, we would expect capital flight to be substantial. In the case of Thailand, our study confirms this contention: when there was an economic expansion, capital inflows were larger than capital flight; when there was an economic crisis, capital flight exceeded capital inflows. The second issue is the relationship between economic growth and capital flight. Conventional analysis suggests that economic growth implies high returns to capital, both domestic and foreign, and an attractive investment environment in general. As such, we expect capital not to flee in a high growth environment. In the case of Thailand, our research confirms this argument: economic growth and capital flight are inversely related. Furthermore, we explore the relationship between economic crises or shocks, in particular the 1983–87 banking crisis and 1997–98 Asian financial crisis,1 and capital flight. In both cases, our research supports the notion that economic crisis induces capital flight. In the case of Thailand, capital flight was especially high during these economic crises. We then go on to explore the relationship between financial liberalization and capital flight. Conventional analysis suggests that favorable policy changes (like opening the capital account and financial market integration) will discourage capital from fleeing. The alternative view is that financial liberalization produces an environment that is relatively volatile for capital flows, creating uncertainty, and making the economy vulnerable to economic crises and thus capital flight. Our research supports the latter argument: in the case of Thailand, financial liberalization resulted in high and volatile levels of capital flight. Finally, we explore the potential contribution of capital flight if it were instead invested in the domestic economy. Put another way, how much additional output and employment could have been generated in Thailand if the capital that fled had been repatriated, or if capital had not fled but had been invested in the country? Our research demonstrates that there would have been substantial potential gains for the Thai economy if capital flight had been repatriated or invested in the country. This chapter has five sections. Following this introduction, Section 2 presents a description of the methodology, and Section 3 presents the data and results. Section 4 presents our analysis, particularly presenting relationships between capital flight and capital inflows, economic growth, economic shocks or crises, and financial liberalization policies. Section 5 draws conclusions.

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