Shar­ing the Suf­fi­ciency Econ­omy Phi­los­o­phy

Thai-American Business (T-AB) Magazine - - Front Page - Writ­ten by: Paulius Kunci­nas

For decades, the An­glo- Saxon eco­nomic model has in­creas­ingly dis­en­chanted the de­vel­op­ing world. It has found the overem­pha­sis on fi­nan­cial in­di­ca­tors and the lack of re­gard for peo­ple, the land and wa­ter, and health and cul­ture run counter to the long- term in­ter­ests of so­ci­ety.

A shift to­wards rec­og­niz­ing the in­ter­de­pen­dence of an econ­omy’s var­i­ous ac­tors has been on­go­ing. In many ways, Thai­land has been ahead of this curve and has taken up a lead­er­ship role glob­ally, as it rec­og­nized early the pos­si­bil­ity that other, su­pe­rior ways of or­ga­ni­za­tion may ex­ist.

So how has Thai­land be­come a van­guard of this model, and what can other economies learn from it?


Thai­land has been a pi­o­neer in de­vel­op­ment the­ory for some time, with His Late Majesty King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej hav­ing started his con­tem­pla­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man, the en­vi­ron­ment, and the econ­omy more than half a cen­tury ago. His work, which even­tu­ally be­came for­mal­ized as the Suf­fi­ciency Econ­omy Phi­los­o­phy ( SEP), broke sig­nif­i­cant ground and brought into ques­tion some as­pects of con­ven­tional think­ing on the progress of na­tions. It ad­vo­cates rea­son­able­ness, mod­er­a­tion, and prudence and calls for a holis­tic, bal­anced ap­proach to growth, con­trast­ing the more main­stream em­pha­sis on profit and sim­ple per­for­mance met­rics.

As Thai­land re­fined its prac­tices and prin­ci­ples at home, it in­creas­ingly part­nered with other coun­tries to share its ideas abroad. Through South- South and tri­an­gu­lar co­op­er­a­tion, it trans­ferred its expe- ri­ences and knowl­edge. The SEP is now shared glob­ally, from the South Pa­cific to South Amer­ica, with var­i­ous govern­ment agen­cies and min­istries, led by the Thai­land In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion Agency ( TICA), pro­vid­ing mon­e­tary sup­port, ex­per­tise and sup­port in kind. The com­mit­ment is broad, deep and per­sis­tent, with Thai­land ded­i­cated to ex­pand­ing its en­gage­ment and be­com­ing a cen­ter for de­vel­op­ment the­ory and prac­tice.

Its ef­forts have dove­tailed nicely with grow­ing skep­ti­cism in the de­vel­op­ing world about the aid it has been re­ceiv­ing from West­ern na­tions. The coun­tries have found that as­sis­tance, though gen­er­ous on pa­per, is not al­ways as ef­fec­tive as it should be. Donors have of­ten failed to take into ac­count lo­cal con­di­tions and have tended to gear their com­mit­ments more to­wards their in­ter­ests than those of the tar­get economies. In re­sponse to these re­al­i­ties, the de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nity started to for­mu­late a new ap­proach, mov­ing from straight­for­ward North- South flows to an ar­chi­tec­ture that pro­motes the shar­ing of knowl­edge, skills and ideas in an equal and mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial man­ner.


The world is now just catch­ing up. Since the Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 1997- 98 and the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis in 2008, de­vel­oped coun­tries have started to see the wis­dom of the King’s words and ideas and have be­gun to uti­lize some of the prac­tices ad­vo­cated in in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion. So- called Al­ter­na­tive De­vel­op­ment is now ac­cepted through­out the world and has be­come a cen­tral theme in rel­e­vant dis­cus­sions. Thai­land is of­ten rec­og­nized as be­ing at the van­guard. When it led the G77 in 2016, its pro­mo­tion of the SEP and re­lated con­cepts was met by re­cep­tive au­di­ences seek­ing guid­ance about how to ad­just mod­els and re­con­fig­ure re­la­tion­ships to achieve more eq­ui­table and sus­tain­able so­lu­tions.

Thai­land is in a par­tic­u­larly good po­si­tion to lead. It not only comes ready with a well-

es­tab­lished and highly- re­spected phi­los­o­phy, the SEP, but it also has a track record that sug­gests suc­cess in im­ple­men­ta­tion. Its eco­nomic per­for­mance in mod­ern times has been ex­em­plary, with ma­jor in­di­ca­tors mea­sur­ing the hu­man con­di­tion ris­ing nicely over time. The coun­try has avoided ex­treme poverty and star­va­tion, and its poli­cies have al­lowed for a clear im­prove­ment in qual­ity of life through­out so­ci­ety. Even the 1997- 98 cri­sis strength­ened the na­tion’s rep­u­ta­tion, as the econ­omy turned out to be re­mark­ably re­silient de­spite the dev­as­tat­ing crash.


While Thai­land’s tra­di­tional strengths are in agri­cul­ture, the SEP cov­ers the en­tire econ­omy. It is cer­tainly a sig­nif­i­cant source of wis­dom for farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties, as the King fo­cused on im­prov­ing out­put from the land thor­ough bet­ter use and on the long- term pro­duc­tiv­ity of the soil. But the SEP has been ap­plied in ar­eas to­tally un­re­lated to agri­cul­ture. It has been uti­lized in fi­nance, tourism, ed­u­ca­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and gen­eral cor­po­rate man­age­ment.

Un­der the United Na­tions Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals ( MDGS), the world came to­gether to lift na­tions from poverty. Un­der the Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals ( SDGS), start­ing from 2015, more em­pha­sis was placed on the work­ings of so­ci­ety and on cre­at­ing sys­tems and struc­tures that pro­mote con­sis­tent and healthy growth over the long term. The em­pha­sis moved from fixes to so­lu­tions. In some ways, the shift in think­ing brought the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity closer to the Thai way of ap­proach­ing de­vel­op­ment, with the econ­omy and so­ci­ety be­ing con­sid­ered end- to- end with the aim of achiev­ing ad­just­ments that last over time and build on them­selves. All the 17 SDGS are at least some­what re­lated to the SEP; the two work to­gether nicely, with the lat­ter help­ing in the achieve­ment of the for­mer.

Thai­land em­pha­sizes that its pro­grams are not anti- cap­i­tal­ist and are not antiglob­al­ist. The coun­try is not seek­ing self- suf­fi­ciency. Rather, it is work­ing to de­velop an econ­omy that is strong and sta­ble enough to op­er­ate ef­fec­tively in the world econ­omy, one that not only sup­ports the peo­ple but also al­lows them to be ef­fec­tive par­tic­i­pants in the in­ter­na­tional mar­kets. Above all, the SEP is a bal­anced pro­gram that charts a mid­dle course. It does not call for rad­i­cal so­lu­tions but for in­cre­men­tal but mean­ing­ful changes in struc­tures and hu­man re­la­tion­ships.


The coun­try also notes that while it is a keen sup­porter of South- South ar­range­ments, it has high re­gard for the work be­ing done by the de­vel­oped part­ners. It un­der­stands that the North has played an im­por­tant role in the ad­vance­ment of the rest of the world and that it will con­tinue to do so. The coun­try’s recog­ni­tion of the con­tri­bu­tions made by all play­ers, and its will­ing­ness to work with all par­ties on an open ba­sis, has re­sulted in it achiev­ing the sta­tus as a ma­jor hub for in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion. Coun­tries like Ger­many uti­lize Thai­land when seek­ing to form North- South- South part­ner­ships, with Thai­land act­ing as both a bridge and as a con­trib­u­tor adding value. Thai­land’s en­gage­ment with the world is on­go­ing and grow­ing. The coun­try con­tin­ues to be ac­tive glob­ally and is com­mit­ted to shar­ing the SEP and work­ing with part­ners to im­prove sus­tain­abil­ity. Its ef­forts take the form of di­rect aid in sup­port of key projects in health, ed­u­ca­tion, in­fra­struc­ture, en­vi­ron­ment, agri­cul­ture and tourism. It also comes in the form of train­ing, schol­ar­ship pro­grams, study vis­its and round­tables, which are held an­nu­ally to help in the shar­ing of ideas with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

Thai­land re­mains com­mit­ted to projects in the re­gion, es­pe­cially those in­volv­ing CLMV ( Cam­bo­dia, Laos, Myan­mar, Viet­nam) neigh­bors. It con­tin­ues to work closely with its part­ners across the bor­der and is achiev­ing pro­duc­tive co­op­er­a­tion with them. It also re­mains fo­cused on a few spe­cific coun­tries out­side the im­me­di­ate re­gion with which it has par­tic­u­larly strong ties, such as Bhutan. But it con­tin­ues to broaden the ge­o­graph­i­cal scope of its co­op­er­a­tion. Its ef­forts in­clude a Model Vil­lage and Tech­nol­ogy Trans­fer Cen­tre in Ti­morLeste and a de­mon­stra­tion project us­ing the SEP for sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture in Tonga.

TICA wel­comes sug­ges­tions from par­ties wish­ing to en­gage Thai­land in co­op­er­a­tion, ei­ther in one of the ex­ist­ing pro­grams or un­der a new model. It op­er­ates as an open plat­form in the pur­suit of sus­tain­abil­ity and hopes that other coun­tries will chose to work with it in innovative ways to achieve global goals.

Thai­land has been a pi­o­neer in de­vel­op­ment the­ory for some time, with His Late Majesty King Bhu­mi­bol Adulyadej hav­ing started his con­tem­pla­tion of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween man, the en­vi­ron­ment, and the econ­omy more than half a cen­tury ago.

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