Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sufficiency Economics

As you stroll the city of Bangkok and look at the skyline you see the expected high rises, skyscrapers and apartment complexes. What you might notice when you look to these buildings is that there are usually trees sitting atop most of them, like little gardens 32 stories, 47 stories 50 stories above the ground. These "gardens" are generally not decorative, but an application of the idea of "Sufficiency Economics" or in Thai "เศรษฐกิจพอเพียง". This basic concept introduced to Thais by the King is a practice in moderation meant to help the people be more robust in case of international or domestic economic crisis, crisis that often only sting the well off but can destroy the lives of the poorer part of the population.

The philosophy of "เศรษฐกิจพอเพียง" explained only in part is done best by translating the individual parts of the Thai expression. The first part of the word translates to "economic issues" or "economy". The second part "enough" and the third part "up to the point" or "as much as".
Putting it all together you get "economy up to the point of enough" or a philosophy or way of living that stresses moderation. Example, why buy a $600 cell phone when you can survive with one that costs only $30. Or, why buy a designer handbag for $1,000 when the same functionality can be purchased for 1/100th of the cost. The concept is nothing new really as it is taken from basic Buddhist principles, but the King, during an economic crisis in the late 90's convinced the people that moderation was key, not only for individuals but for families, businesses, communities and the nation.

Sufficiency Economics is most noticeable when you look to the tops of the buildings here and see giant trees growing way up in the sky (also when you see every girl here carrying Louis Vuitton or Gucci...fakes of course, see below)! Also you see people growing fruit trees, herbs, spices and hot peppers in their yards rather than showy roses, orchids and more ornamental landscaping. This is just another facet of Sufficiency Economics.

Note that the King didn't say that people shouldn't buy an expensive luxury vehicle or cell phone with all of the latest technology and functions, but that people shouldn't strive to own these things to show status or to feel as though they have attained a certain status. It is also taught, as it should be, that a person shouldn't indulge in "the finer material things in life" if they don't have the means (extra) by which to attain them.

The people here in Thailand who do have the means are the minority, just like the sports superstars who have 17 Aston Martins in their 3 acre garages in the States, or the Hollywood stars who adorn their lapdogs with 80 carats of diamonds.

The majority of people here are those who live pay check to pay check. They are people who work very hard to eek out a simple living that doesn't support purchasing high-end non-essentials. I think this may be part of the reason why you can find pretty much anything here pirated or fake. People here aren't going to pay $80 of their salary to buy a real copy of "The Sopranos Season 6" when they can get it at the night market for $5. A 4000 Baht Lacrosse polo at the mall or one under the bridge for 200 Baht? A set of Samsonite luggage for your next trip or an identical set of Sampsonate luggage for 5% the cost? Get the idea, yeah?

So long story short, the trees on top of the buildings or the Thai chili pepper plants hanging off people's balconies are their personal participation in "เศรษฐกิจพอเพียง". I personally think it's pretty cool to see these tiny little forests, orchards or gardens floating above the city and coming out of people's apartment balconies! We did the same thing when we were kids, we had what, three or four tomato plants...Yeah, perhaps they only provided us with a couple pounds of tomatoes per season, but it was still something!

"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. If all nations hold to this concept, without being extreme or insatiable in one's desires, the world will be a happier place". ~King Bhumibol Adulyadej

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