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The Sufficiency Economy: a Thai Solution to Economic Sustainability

Presidio Economics | Thursday May 5th, 2011 | 2 Comments

This post is part of a blogging series by economics students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Somsak Boonkam

The economy is a major force driving our lives, from the purchasing decisions we make to the public and private institutions we support. It determines how wealthy nations and their people are, and consequently becomes a determining factor for assessing quality of life. On the other hand, when the economy collapses, it brings us enormous devastation and takes wealth and prosperity back from the people.  When an economy ceases to grow, it’s not easy –or maybe even impossible — to bring it back to the state where it used to be. Suppose that we are lucky enough to see economic growth and prosperity again, how can we know that a collapse is not going to happen in the future?  Maybe it’s time for us not to rely too heavily on conventional economic theories, but instead start to look for a more sustainable and effective economic strategy. The Sufficiency Economy might be a better solution for mankind to pursue and improve upon.

The Sufficiency Economy is a philosophy developed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand through his royal remarks over the past three decades. The Sufficiency Economy is a happiness development approach, which emphasizes the middle path as an overriding principle for appropriate conduct by people at all levels.  The middle path is a way of thinking in which no one lives tooextravagantly or too thriftily. It encourages people to live in a way where they consume only what they really need, choose products carefully, and consider their impact on others and the planet. The sufficiency economy enhances the nation’s ability to modernize without defying globalization – it provides a means to respond to negative outcomes caused by rapid economic transitions.  This philosophy is a guide to making decisions that will generate outcomes that are beneficial to the development of the country.

Thailand values this new economics philosophy as a practical tool to effectively manage capitalism in a way that aligns and engages it with social sustainable development. In doing so, Thailand hopes that this approach will foster  accountability and empower people and their communities. More importantly, the main goal of The Sufficiency Economy is to measure economic development not just using GDP, but also by taking the reduction of social inequality and poverty into account.  This philosophy is also expected to help prevent another economic collapse such as the one that occurred during the mid-90s, and to be a powerful tool for moving the nation overall economy upward.

In this globalized world, we too often expect economic decisions to happen quickly without realizing that these hasty choices could adversely affect our lives and the lives of generations that come after us. It could also be argued that many of the past economic recessions resulted from the greediness and shortsighted decision-making of a group of bankers and executives. I believe that integrating the concept of The Sufficiency Economy into our worldview will give us a different perspective that promotes gradual development based on self-reliance and the principle of having “enough.” We would all do well to keep the three main tenets of this philosophy (moderation, reasonableness, and self-immunity) in mind as we try to change peoplesattitudes, behaviors, and way of living at both the micro and macro level.


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  • paro

    It’s refreshing to hear a viewpoint from a country that isn’t usually on the global economic radar. I think we have a lot to learn from philosophies such as this one – a nation’s health cannot be measured solely by its economic growth. The general principles mentioned in the post reminded me of Bhutan and it’s gross happiness product – again another philosophy spawned by a predominantly buddhist nation.

  • Numo

    How can this “Sufficiency Economy” be preached to countries where materialism and capitalism underlie most individuals “mindset” of a successful life? I would be interested to hear the King’s approach on this? Thank you.