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The Middle Path

Gorbhachev had advised man destroying nature will lead to man fighting man. I learnt a lot about the king of Thailand on my recent trip to Bangkok. On the flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok read the article below written by a former PM. If only politicians had even half the commitment the King showed in his actions. The results seem evident when you visit the country.

(via IHT by Anand Panyarachun) At a simple ceremony taking place at the royal palace in Thailand: the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, is presenting His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand with a Human Development Lifetime Achievement Award.

The meaning behind the event has profound relevance to a world grappling with the threat of global warming and the negative side effects of rapid globalization. The award from the UN Development Program is in recognition of the king’s visionary thinking and extraordinary contributions in helping the poor and conserving the environment in Thailand.

The thinking that won this prize deserves international attention. While globalization has clearly brought huge benefits to many people around the world, these benefits are unevenly spread. More than one billion human beings are still living in abject poverty and communities around the world are precariously exposed to financial instability, unfair trade, soaring fuel prices, and environmental impacts.

Something has to give. We are in desperate need of technological solutions to our energy problems, a more equitable distribution of wealth, a level playing field for international trade and more generous development aid to poor countries. But this will not be enough. A more profound transformation of our societies, our values and the way we consume is needed.

The king’s philosophy of “sufficiency economy” offers just that – a more balanced, holistic and sustainable path of development and an alternative to the clearly unsustainable road the world is currently traveling down.

Inspired by Buddhism, this philosophy stresses the “middle path” as an overriding principle for appropriate conduct and way of life of all people, at individual, community, business and government levels. Sufficiency means moderation, reasonableness and resilience to rapid changes.

For poor people in rural areas, this means that they first and foremost must become self-reliant in the production of food; then they can strive for a more advanced stage of development. This way they are better able to weather the storms of economic downturns and fluctuations in global markets.

The king’s thinking advocates the need for sustainable consumption, step-by-step development and the recognition of diversity in geo-social conditions when implementing development projects and policies.

Gaining credence in Thailand after the 1997 financial crisis, the king’s philosophy advocates economic stability over unbridled growth.

It also highlights the need to strengthen the moral fiber of Thai society so that everyone – especially public officials and business people – respects the rule of law, upholds democratic principles and adheres to moral values.

On the ground, the king’s development concept has been applied to more than 3,000 projects across Thailand. One example is a project to promote the use of alternative energy in remote rural areas for irrigation, clean drinking water and environmental conservation. The project has generated knowledge and innovation that is recognized the world over.

Other examples are projects across rural Thailand that promote the diversification of household production to guarantee that basic subsistence needs are met in times of hardship and to reduce the risks involved when depending on a single crop.

It is noteworthy that many poor villages hit by the recent tsunami in southern Thailand, which had applied this approach by not solely depending on fishing, managed to bounce back with surprising speed.

The people of Thailand are proud of this award, which offers a unique opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the “sufficiency economy philosophy,” a development approach of great relevance in today’s rapidly globalizing world.

The world is barreling down a dead-end road of untenable inequalities and unsustainable consumption patterns. We have no choice but to change course and take that “middle path.” In my mind progress in Thailand is built on compassion.

Anand Panyarachun is a former prime minister of Thailand.

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