Buddhist economics

Cultural Insights — By on January 24, 2007 at 4:06 pm

With all the focus on economic growth and development in the world, it’s interesting to read about a country that may actually be trying to pull back the reins on growth in favor of a more balanced approach.  That, at least, is the story out of Thailand these days, according to this recent article in Newsweek International.

Surayud Chulanont, Thailand’s interim prime minister … has introduced measures to halt the Westernization of Thai society, downsize the role foreigners play in the economy and maximize “happiness,” not growth, as he put it. Surayud’s blueprint draws inspiration from the country’s highest authority: 79-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world’s longest-reigning monarch. His Highness has long advocated “sufficiency” in Thai life, meaning humility, simplicity and living within one’s means. Others have a different name for it: “Buddhist economics.” …

Since the late 1990s, a small group of retired officers, bureaucrats and economists have worked to codify the king’s ideas into a unified economic theory … They say it represents a “middle path” between excessive globalization and inwardness, between unbridled capitalism and the welfare state, and between “backwardness and impossible dreams,” as the UNDP report puts it.

One main aim is to mitigate “the inevitable boom-bust cycles” that haunt many developing economies, says Wisarn Pupphavesta, a senior economist at the Thailand Development Research Institute. “I accept that it goes against neoliberal consumer capitalism,” says an economist with close ties to the monarchy. “But we must choose a new way of life.”

Some businesspeople and foreign investors are not impressed and charge that the new policies are slowing the economy, derailing the stock market and guaranteeing a permanent rural underclass.  It’s all certainly food for thought. At the very least it has led to the coining of an interesting new term in “Buddhist economics.”

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