A W Eoften hear the words “raja berjiwa rakyat” being used to describe how a king is loved by his subjects. Applying the same to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand would bring new meaning to the phrase. Not only was he a revered figure who helped unify the nation during his 70-year reign as the world’s longest-reigning monarch he also initiated something that the Thai people could identify with. They have benefited from it, and it is poised to continue for a long time. A quote from one of the mourners said it all, “We lost our father today,” she said. “He is a father ... that wanted to do everything, the best thing, for his kids.”
One of the best things was his profound thoughts on “sufficiency economy” that has put Thailand and its citizens into a mindset that binds them as his beloved subjects. It was founded on the idea of sustainability long before it became fashionable.
The king has been quoted as saying, “Being a tiger (Asian economic tiger) is not important. The important thing is for us to have a sufficient economy. A sufficient economy means to have enough to support ourselves … we have to take a careful step backward … each village or district must have relative self-sufficiency.”
As a concept its application is broad-based and covers all levels and sectors of the economy. Even finance, real estate, and international trade and investment have benefited by using the principles which emphasise the middle-path, reasonableness, and creating immunity for oneself and society.
This could be traced to the 1950s where he advocated self-reliance or sustainable farming, which later gained general acceptance in the 1970s when he promoted the philosophy in his speeches. One statement on Dec 4, 1974 spelt out the goal of the philosophy: “I ask all of you to aim for moderation and peace, and work to achieve this goal. We do not have to be extremely prosperous … If we can maintain this moderation, then we can be excellent …”
More significantly it is said to be based on the fundamental principle of Thai culture and values embracing prudence, and social immunity, one that uses knowledge and virtue to shape a living style towards “real” happiness as an integral part to the quality of life. Reading this today, it puts him way ahead before the world came to realise the significance of the “sufficiency economy” dubbed as “sustainable development”.
According to The King’s Sufficiency Economy Learning Centre the vision is to espouse the philosophy by practising step by step in learning how to be self-dependable in everyday life so as to ameliorate the quality of life and promote well-being. It builds on values like honesty, integrity, people’s exchange and cooperation imbued against risks by using local wisdom in managing local resources.
In the context of national development “sufficiency economy” is said to put emphasis on the producers or consumers to produce or consume “within the limit or limitation of existing income or resources first” to reduce dependency. At the same time increase instead the ability to control the production themselves without facing undue risk from not being able to efficiently control the market system.
While the concept “does not mean that one must constantly be frugal” provided that it is within one’s capacity, it does caution that most people often spend beyond their means. And this can threaten stability. The king said in his 1998 birthday speech: “Sufficiency means to lead a reasonably comfortable life, without excess, or overindulgence in luxury, but enough. Some things may seem to be extravagant, but if it brings happiness, it is permissible as long as it is within the means of the individual …”
Otherwise the consequences can be unpleasant and chaotic as indicated by the 2006 event that led to the civilian government being deposed. Allegedly this was due to the policies then that “were inconsistent with the king’s philosophy” in promoting self-sufficiency as one of the fundamental roles of the state. On his 80th birthday this was made clear again when the prime minister pledged “to allocate 10 billion baht (almost US$300 million) for projects to promote well-being in line with King Bhumibol’s sufficiency economy principle.”
The king was involved with the welfare and well-being of his subjects in a practical and consistent way beyond mere pronouncements. He took the trouble to follow through often going down to the