This week, our Travel pics series is H for Ho Chi Minh City.
And for Wednesday, it is a couple of market stalls in the Ben Thanh markets in District 1, or central Ho Chi Minh City.
I’ll talk about the history of the markets later this week but its interesting that these particular markets have been a central part of Vietnamese life for centuries – even during the ‘command economy’ phase of modern Vietnamese history.
Now, I have a confession to make here. I failed Economics in high school because I couldn’t be bothered handing in assignments, etc so the following observations should be taken with a proverbial grain of salt – but from what I can gather, this is the situation…
Under the rule of the Vietnamese Communist Party, North Vietnam had a “command economy” (where governments set targets, control distribution of goods and services, and control all commercial activity).
Then, when the communists won the civil war and united the whole country under single rule, they tried to introduce a command economy in the south, too.
But that really only lasted about ten years. By 1986, the ‘Doi Moi’ reforms had been introduced to create what’s now known as Vietnam’s “Socialist Oriented Market Economy” – a mixed economy where the government directs economic development, and still owns a significant number of factories and other means of production. However, it’s not a socialist economy per se; it is merely meant to point Vietnam to a socialist economy once the country is ready.
Returning production to private hands, or encouraging government-owned industries to act as though they were privately-owned operations, had an immediate effect.
There was a significant growth in the standard of living for many Vietnamese immediately through the 1990s (although there was a commensurate loss of government-subsidised services – which impacted most severely on the poor.)
In any case, Vietnam is now a classic ‘mixed economy’ – and nowhere is that more obvious than at markets like the Ben Thahn.
The products are from a variety of government and private manufacturers – but the retailers are unashamedly capitalistic.
The markets look, and sound, similar to markets in Bangkok, and Phuket, in Singapore and Hong Kong – indeed, to markets in San Francisco’s Chinatown and Inala in Brisbane.
For Vietnam, it seems to work .. but whether the Doi Moi reforms will ever lead Vietnam to its ‘glorious socialist future’ is much more open to question.