On 20 October The Hague Institute was honored to welcome Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Chairman of the Future Thailand Innovative Institute, for a discussion on The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy: Contribution to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Dr. Pitsuwan, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and former Secretary-General of the ASEAN Community, drew on his extensive experience in national, regional and global governance to illustrate how the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy promulgated by Thailand can contribute to new ways of addressing global challenges.
The Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP), developed by King Bhumibol of Thailand, posits a prudent and self-sufficient lifestyle. The SEP encourages its followers to live within their means and to pay attention to the environment in which they live. In Thailand, the SEP has allowed the government to develop a resiliency to economic downturn.
The SEP provides a timely resolution to questions that the global community is facing at present, argues Dr. Pitsuwan. From the Rio Agenda to financing for development and the Sustainable Development Goals recently agreed at the United Nations, SEP presents useful tools by encouraging awareness that the emphasis must be shifted to moderate consumption.
The Sufficiency Economy helps the underprivileged, marginalized and poor, groups that are often dependent on the land and natural resources, by protecting these finite resources and providing a sustainable source of income. Without addressing the question of poverty, argues Dr. Pitsuwan, there will be no sustainability.
Dr. Pitsuwan accentuated the connection between access to natural resources and justice. For the marginalized and the poor, limited availability of natural resources directly inhibits their chances of survival. A deficit in equal opportunities and fair distribution of the fruits of past development exacerbate the problem. SEP, by discouraging dependency and overconsumption, offers tools to address inequality and encourage fairness in society.
Dr. Richard Ponzio, Head of the Global Governance program at The Hague Institute, responded to Dr. Pitsuwan’s remarks. His response focused on three main questions: how SEP contributes to national and individual participation in the globalized economy; how SEP relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); and finally, what SEP can mean for regional approaches to governance and economic cooperation.
With regard to the first issue, Dr. Ponzio argued that the holistic development approach encompassed by SEP allows projects to progress from addressing basic needs, such as freedom from poverty and access to resources, to better education and good governance. Dr. Ponzio compared the philosophy to that of Amartya Sen and Mahbub ul Haq, chief architects of the Human Development Reports, who posited the need to “get basic essentials right”, such as education, healthcare and the participation of women and children in society – followed by longer-term economic growth and social development driven by both a vibrant business community and responsive government.
Dr. Ponzio inquired whether the SEP and best practices from Thailand could be used at the global level to pursue the SDGs. What can existing UN initiatives, like the Global Compact, learn from the SEP? Dr. Ponzio explained the focus of The Hague Institute on developing equitable and accountable institutions based on the rule of law as drivers of attaining the SDGs.
Finally, Dr. Ponzio examined whether the SEP can enhance governance and economic cooperation at the regional level. Based on his experience as Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr. Pitsuwan posited that adjusting regional attitudes in line with the Sufficiency Economy philosophy would put the region “on the way forward, not back on the destructive path of current development.” In his view, regional organizations are better suited to understanding shortcoming in countries and can more quickly and effectively address these issues. Regional organizations, particularly those that encourage a sustainable development path, will play an important role in the future of global governance.