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The King's Philosophy of Sufficiency Economy: An Alternative Welfare

Sufficiency economy is a philosophy that was invented by King Bhumipol during the Cold War and the communist insurgency in the northeastern part of Thailand. The king noted that part of the problem of Thailand's lack of unity was selfish capitalism, which lacked morality and was by nature divisive. Capitalism is dangerous since it tends to deny reward to the hardest workers or the decent people who perform their duty. It rather benefits those who take advantage of others, and this damaged the nation's unity.

The king remarked that greedy traders and land speculators who took advantage of peasants 'may be on [the] side of terrorists'. He further suggested that rural development should be carried out with a high degree of ability, wisdom, and intelligence coupled with honesty without any thought of financial gain (SEAS, 2013).

The king's remarks are reflected in the Tenth National Economic and Social Development Plan (2007–2011), which set the target of reducing poverty from 13 per cent in 2004 to 4 per cent by 2011. It also targets a ratio of the richest quintile to the poorest quintile of no more than 10 times.

Very much inspired by King Bhumipol's self-sufficiency approach, the development plan also emphasized implementation of the 'Good Living and Happiness Society Strategy', which consists of five development plans:

1. a sufficiency economy plan aimed at building up knowledge and creating

occupational skills;

2. a community development and opportunity creation plan focusing on reducing household expenditure (e.g., use of organic fertilizer and vegetable home gardening) and creating market opportunities for community products;

3. a rehabilitation plan for natural resources;

4. a vulnerable people and senior citizen assistance plan; and

5. a provision plan for basic services (e.g., health, education, and vocational training).

The plans will be implemented through projects jointly designed and implemented by community leaders, local governments, provincial governments, and the central government (SEAS, 2013).

The king's philosophy of sufficiency economy is an alternative welfare practice and has implications for change as it affects the well-being of all Thais. Its emergence and practice are also relevant to what Anthony Giddens, a proponent of the New Left model of the welfare state in Europe, called 'welfare pluralism' (Giddens, 2001).

The 2009–2010 Crisis: A Reduction of Inequalities or Even More Populist?

When the Thaksin administration was toppled by the bloodless military coup on 19 September 2006, the constitution was rewritten at the generals' behest, to give
Abhisit Vejjajiva and the Democrat Party a better chance of winning. To their dismay, Abhisit lost again in the general election on 23 December 2007. He finally came to power after the Constitutional Court of Thailand's removal of (1) PM Samak Sundaravej in 2008 for 'vested interests', that is, taking a salary from a cooking show while still PM, and (2) PM Somchai Wongsawat for his involvement in the scandal as one of PPP's executive board members. Time Online made a comment that Abhisit Vejjajiva might be a decent man but his disreputable route to government power does not inspire confidence (TO, 2013).

Abhisit and his Democrat Party attacked the former government for its populist policies but he also promised many populist policies including free education, textbooks, milk, and supplemental foods for nursery school students, and increasing the minimum wage.

Abhisit and his government launched most of the policies in response to the crisis but they are directed towards short-term needs and shoring up the economy. Without hesitation, Abhisit injected monetary aid into the system in order to generate domestic consumption that would relieve the pain of domestic producers and consumers. Certainly, there is a degree of copycatting of the economic and social policies initiated by Thaksin and then continued by the Democrat government. However, there is no measurement nor any mechanism to sustain the fiscal injections. There is also less concern about redistribution for strengthening the well-being of the Thai people or new economic growth.

A researcher director from TDRI (Thailand Development Research Institute) who pointed out that Thai social security is used as a political gain produced evidence to back her analysis by referring to the way that some better-off people have also benefited from the elderly allowance program. During the TRT period, the number of eligible elderly rose from 400,000 to 1 million but before the TRT could extend the program to cover all elderly people nationwide, the party faced its demise. In 2009 the Democrats, took the opportunity to extend the benefits to all (TDRI, 2013).

Professor Johannes Dragsbæk Schmidt commented that in response to the 2009–2010 crisis, Abhisit came up with an economic stimulation package meant to protect its economy and stimulate the consumption rate of low-income groups but it is hardly sufficient. It appears that there are many structural problems in the Thai economy which need to be addressed. These problems are of a more longterm nature related to improved quality of education, upgrading skills, increasing taxation (particularly of the rich), and the implementation of pro-poor policies – the last could be in the form of redistribution of wealth and the establishment of social welfare entitlements (SEAS, 2013).

With scholars being sceptical of the copycat populist policy, Abhisit has expressed the need to give all Thais basic social security. He has announced universal social welfare as a national agenda and Welfare For All in 2017 is planned to cover four pillars: social security, public welfare, social assistance, and social partnership strengthening and promotion.


The Mixing Systems within Thai Social Welfare

From the Thaksin Shinawatra administration (2001–2006) to the present, the populist policies have been the significant strategies of government, from Abhisit Vejjajiva's Democrat Party (2009–2011) to Yingluck Shinawatra (Thaksin's youngest sister – 2011 to present). The populist trend might be a political gain by its nature. However, it helped to lessen residual feature of social work in Thailand. In the meantime, many scholars propose the idea of a social democratic approach; a number of NGOs and social activists have recommended alternative welfare approaches and a number of local communities now practice microfinance, selfhelp, and self-reliance approaches.

Thailand increasingly embraces the significance of 'social welfare for all'. The mainstream welfare services are provided by government while the alternative streams support local administrations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), business sectors, volunteers, and the general public's participation in social welfare arrangements. The trend is to call for 'welfare pluralism', with social work practices incorporated into all three systems of Thai social security:

1. The welfare service systems as are valued as citizens' rights, which are clearly mentioned in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand B.E. 2550 (2007). These systems are, for example, Health Insurance for All, Compulsory Education for All, and so on.

2. The Social Security system which provides full social insurance, and is extending to informal workers. In addition, private insurance is also increasing its activities and there is a trend towards grass-root savings groups in many communities, many of which have moved into welfare provision for community members.

3. Social Assistance, which provides a series of services to many groups of people. These have been arranged by GOs and NGOs or even some business firms in the light of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

These three main systems are expected to integrate or link to each other. Social work practices within these systems also put greater effort into increasing the use of case management. Besides, political parties express their enthusiasm about social welfare and social work practice. During the last general election in December 2007, all of the political parties paid much more attention to social welfare and social work. Some parties even announced clearly in public, 'Thai people! We need a welfare state!' A number of university scholars and former senators propose adopting a classical welfare state. Others debate 'welfare society' versus 'welfare pluralism'.

 
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