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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

September 24, 2007

Written by C.N.

The New Upper Class in Viet Nam

Those who have been following the economic evolution of Viet Nam know that just like in China, the influx of capitalism has allowed many Vietnamese to improve their economic situation and to move into the middle class. But as the Associated Press/Salon.com reports, this economic growth has also led to an emerging upper class that is now demanding luxury items that were unimaginable years ago:

Since the late 1980s, a government that once micromanaged all economic affairs has been introducing free-market reforms and courting foreign investors, and with them have come new western styles and attitudes.

“Members of the new generation want to enjoy life and pamper themselves with luxurious things,” said Nguyen Thi Cam Van, 39, who has purchased five $1,000 handbags at Louis Vuitton. “If I can afford to buy something nice, it makes me feel proud,” said Van, who works at Siemens and also consults for a Vietnamese import company. “It lets you show people your taste and style.” . . .

Some of Vietnam’s shopaholics are young people who work for multinational corporations but still live rent-free with their parents. Others work for powerful state-owned companies and many have made fortunes in Vietnam’s small but booming private sector. . . .

In the two decades since Vietnam began implementing its economic reforms, the nation’s poverty rate has been cut in half, and per capita income has doubled in the last five years. Still, most workers in this nation of 84 million people still earn just a dollar or two a day toiling in the farm fields. Those working low-wage jobs find the new lust for luxury hard to stomach.

“The rich are getting richer, and the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet,” said Dao Quang Hung, a Hanoi taxi driver. “The money they spend on a Louis Vuitton bag could buy several cows for a farmer’s family and lift them out of poverty.”

This is a textbook example of capitalism at its best (or would that be its worst?) — the fortunes of many go up (in some cases, sky high) and raises national economic measures such as per capita income, but most citizens still toil near the poverty level.

The rise of wealth inequality has happened everywhere capitalism has gone and now it’s coming to Viet Nam. As I’ve said before, I don’t have any problems with citizens of whatever country working hard and earning their just rewards. The problem is when some citizens, perhaps through government connections, corruption, or other unfair mechanisms, enjoy certain advantages on their path toward affluence that many others do not.

The other question is, does this wealth inequality fit into the Vietnamese government’s vision communism and the ideology that all workers and citizens should be equal?


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Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "The New Upper Class in Viet Nam" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/09/the-new-upper-class-in-viet-nam/> ().

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