Wikileaks: sufficiency economy

19 02 2012

Somewhat bizarrely, just prior to the 2006 military coup, the U.S. Embassy was sending a cable about on “sufficiency economy” (SE), an idea attributed to the king, and promoted by him and a flock of royalists and academics following the 1997 economic crisis. As PPT recently commented on yet another event meant to promote this notion to an audience that simply isn’t interested, we felt that the 15 September 2006 cable may be of some interest.

The Embassy claims that there had been a spike in interest in  Much has been written about SE since the king again championed what is claimed to be his  idea in his birthday speech at the end of 2005. It is noted that this action by the king was “perceived” as an attack on the Thaksin Shinawatra government. The Embassy claims that SE’s “Buddhist-like principles … are considered by many [sic.] as antidotes to crony capitalism, corruption, consumerism and indebtedness.”

The commentary says that the “general idea” goes back to 1974 when it was floated “to justify royal development projects…”. PPT thinks this is wrong, except in the broadest of terms. Even the new book on the king, as big as a large brick, doesn’t claim this, referring to the 1997 economic crisis as the genesis.

The Embassy then notes that “economists” have noted that SE has “principles” that have “been expressed in vague terms that limit their practicality, and while RTG institutions pay lip service to them (as with any ideas supported by the King), they have so far been applied only to small-scale farming projects.” They might have added that there were precious few of those.

It is with some irony that the Embassy quotes the richest person in Thailand as preaching “self-sufficiency and moderation as cures for the perceived excesses plaguing Thailand’s economy.”

While PPT knows that the king had an earlier interest in a “Small is Beautiful” movement inspired by economist E.F. Schumacher, and liberally borrowed from Schumacher while disingenuously calling it a “new theory,” we aren’t convinced by the cable’s claim that the king translated “SIB” into Thai. We can find no evidence of that. Readers who know more can email us.

We do agree that SE’s “tenets are vague and malleable … and subject to interpretation” and that the reason it gets attention is because of “public reluctance to criticize anything associated with the revered King.” The cable says no one knows how to implement SE except for tiny farms and considers it inadequate as policy.

Of course, criticism of SE is likely to get you jailed for many years. And, even using the king’s ideas can get you into trouble. As the cable points out, when NGO activists used his ideas to oppose dam construction, the “King, who has long advocated dam construction … sharply criticized those groups…”.

The problem Thaksin faced was that SE was put up as a “vague and malleable” idea that was considered an “alternative” to policies that were seen by an elite as pandering to provincials. Even though that pandering was a basis for rescuing many local businesses as the economic crisis lingered on, by this time, the palace and several of the countries biggest conglomerates – the Bangkok Bank is mentioned in the cable – were using SE for their anti-Thaksinism.


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