Sufficiency Economy: An Approach to Life and Conduct

Sufficiency Economy is a philosophy that stresses the “middle path,” or moderation. It is not necessarily limited to agricultural or rural sector.

Inspired by the vision of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the Sufficiency Economy philosophy, in fact, serves as a guideline how to live and behave for people at all levels. It can be applied to an individual, household, community, project, business, nation, or the whole world.

As such, His Majesty’s thinking is not really an “economy” or an “economic theory,” but a guide to conducting life. This approach is closely related to Buddhist ways of thinking. However, it is not exclusive to any religion or culture as the logic is built around simple concepts of man and the world.

According to an excerpt from the Thailand Development Report 2007: Sufficiency Economy and Human Development, in Buddhism, the world is a place of suffering. By being born in this world, humans encounter suffering. But the message of Buddha is that each person has the ability to overcome this suffering by developing the mental ability to understand it, and eventually to rise above it. People have to do this themselves. There is no outside help that offers a short cut.

Conventional economics is built around the idea of people’s self-interest; that people try to maximize their own benefits, including consumption; and that the market sorts out the resulting conflicts in an even-handed way.

From a Buddhist perspective, this makes no sense. There is no evidence that maximizing consumption beyond a certain point results in an increase in happiness. Indeed wealth tends to bring anxiety. The competition to acquire even more leads to conflict, as well as wasting finite resources. There is also no evidence that the market is even-handed in setting competition, so the result tends to include inequality, exploitation and unhappiness.

In the Buddhist view, attempts to achieve selfishly motivated ends only cultivate selfishness, and efforts to fulfill desire only foster desire. But selfishness is not inevitable or incurable because every person has the capacity to change. Human may indeed start out as self-interested, but they have the ability to overcome that. Rather than imaging economics as a competition, it makes more sense to find ways to overcome the selfishness which leads to competition – such as by teaching people that there are other people in the world, and that it is better to treat them with empathy, compassion, fairness, and generosity. With this approach, people care about other people, and the economy works more harmoniously too.

Although this line of thinking is explicit in Buddhism, it is closely paralleled in other religions’ ideas of morality, charity, love, giving and sharing. Understanding this background in Buddhist thought gives another layer of depth to the key concepts of the Sufficiency Economy – moderation, reasonableness, and self immunity.

His Majesty said, “Sufficiency is moderation. If one is moderate in one’s desires, one will have less craving. If one has less craving, one will take less advantage of others.”

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