The concept of ‘Sufficiency Economy’ appears to have re-emerged in the international agenda with Thailand taking over as Chair of the G77 of the United Nations. The recently organized ‘G-77 Bangkok Roundtable on Sufficiency Economy: An approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals’ was a testimony to that. A deeper inquiry of the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) may give our governments greater conviction to implement the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The SEP was proposed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand and evolved through his statements over the past three decades. “Sufficiency” means moderation and due consideration in all modes of conduct, as well as the need for sufficient protection from internal and external shocks. SEP is introduced as a decision making framework that can guide action in public and personal life, using both knowledge and virtues and is based on three principles; moderation, reasonableness and prudence.
The sufficiency economy philosophy of the Thai king is deeply rooted in Buddhism that expounds the middle path as a way of moderation between the extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification. The question is: can other cultures, particularly in the West, comprehend and accept such moderation in development? Further, can a world order engulfed in globalization embrace such moderation?
The challenges to promoting sufficiency economy for sustainability are deeply rooted in the dominant development model. Success in implementing the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the SDGs will be in choices made by governments across the world between materialism vs. moderation, corporations vs. people and globalization vs. localization. But even though Thailand is promoting the sufficiency economy, the nation’s growth and consumerism based development model does not in any way depict the philosophical aspiration of their king. This may not be because Thailand is not convinced of the SEP, but simply because it too is trapped in a globalised world-order that is mainly controlled by the Global North trade interests.
The challenge for the G77 in convincing their members to adopt a sufficiency economy is internal and external. Internally G77 will not have the commitment of the more powerful countries that are seeking high growth development pathways and partnerships. Externally it will have to continuously face the opposition of the market based development manoeuvring of the West.
Some key ideological foundations must be revisited if sufficiency economy is to be adopted. Firstly, moderation must be understood as a concept that demands adequacy and contentment. Reasonableness revolves around equity and inclusiveness. Prudence calls for values and wisdom. This will challenge the current status of greed based lifestyles, growth based development, and an un-holistic segmented approach to solutions. The challenge for governments in implementing the 2030 agenda for sustainable development will be in their strategies that result in wellbeing and happiness, mindfulness and peace, resilience and prosperity. For that moderation, reasonableness and prudence must be adopted.
First published on The Switch under the title ‘Can the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy help nations in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development?’