Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy:A Buddhist Approach to Economic Development

Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy

  Association for Heterodox Economics 9th Annual Conference Pluralism in Action 13-15 July, 2007   UK

Thailand ’s Sufficiency Economy: A Buddhist Approach to Economic Development  


Colin Ash (University of Reading, England)  

Suthep Nimsai (University of Reading, England and

Mae Fah Luang University, Thailand)    


Over the last 50 years, Thailand has enjoyed solid, sometimes spectacular economic growth.  This was due in no small part to an orthodox development strategy, led by advice from international organisations such as the World Bank.


Despite this background of considerable success in reducing aggregate unemployment and poverty, an investment policy focusing on urban development encouraged considerable migration to the cities, with consequent social problems.The economic crisis of 1997 served to highlight persistent twin problems of regional poverty and socioeconomic vulnerability.  In response, Thailand is exploring an alternative paradigm for development, the Sufficiency Economy.


This approach has been incorporated in Thailand ’s National Economic and Social Development Board’s (NESDB) Ninth Plan (2002-2006). In summary, the aim is to build a more resilient and sustainable economy by emphasising self-reliance at all levels.  At its core is an approach to development which is gradual, step-by-step, balanced, “bottom up” and participatory. A major concern is providing “self-immunity” from adverse shocks. The social, institutional and ethical dimensions of this approach are emphasised, for example the need for good corporate governance. NESDB is charged with promoting the principles and practice of the Sufficiency Economy among all economic sectors - agriculture having priority - and within public administration and government.


Although the agenda of Thailand ’s Sufficiency Economy is unambiguously secular and pragmatic, its rhetoric and philosophy undoubtedly emanate from a culture in which the population is overwhelmingly (90 + percent) Buddhist.


Our paper explains this strategy in some detail.  We demonstrate the Buddhist pedigree of its underlying philosophy.  It’s practical application in agriculture is described along with concrete proposals for its future extension to the industrial and service sectors and to financial and capital markets.


We ‘compare and contrast’ the Sufficiency Economy with more familiar development paradigms, and explore similarities with research findings from the currently burgeoning literature on the economics of subjective well-being (happiness).

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