11 July 2024

Five decades have passed but a much-cited article on well-being penned by prominent figure Dr Puey Ungphakorn is still relevant, serving as an inspiration for Thailand’s development. But despite visible improvements having been achieved, there is still a long way to go for the country to achieve such an ambitious goal.

The Bank of Thailand (BoT) recently organised a seminar entitled “People: The Economics of Well-Being” to mark the 50th anniversary of the acclaimed article written by the former BoT chief and economic reformist.

Inspired by Dr Puey’s article, the title of which can be loosely translated as “Quality of Life, The Calendar of Hope: From Pregnancy to the Graveyard”, the BoT’s seminar aimed to elevate the “quality of life and well-being of people in the country”. Despite having been written 50 years ago, the article has been widely transmitted and disseminated in Thai society and much of its content is relevant to the current era.

At the seminar, BoT Governor Sethaput Suthiwartnarueput addressed various issues mentioned by Dr. Puey in his article and highlighted positive developments. These include the nutritional status of Thai children, education, seniors in the workforce, and gender equality in opportunities.

Many areas such as nutrition and education have been improved. However, elevating the quality of life for the Thai people to achieve the goals envisioned by Dr. Puey still faces many challenges. “For example, the universal health coverage might be seen as achieving that goal when it was introduced 20 years ago, but implementation shows that equal and fair coverage is another story,” said Yot Teerawattananon, a founder and the leader of the Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Programme (HITAP).

Education is another concern if judged by Dr. Puey’s article. Thai education has improved compared to the past, with the average number of years of education for Thai people increasing to five times what it was half a century ago.  However, challenges remain in improving its quality.

“For instance, Thailand’s performance in international assessments like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has been consistently below the global average for over two decades in subjects such as mathematics, science, and reading. Moreover, Thailand is not only trailing behind developed countries but also behind several neighbouring ASEAN countries, including Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei in all three areas,” said Dilaka Lathapipat from the World Bank.

Dilaka added that wages are not in accordance with higher skills.

Additionally, access to educational services in Thailand is unequal. Among students from the highest-income group, two out of three go on to attend university, while among those from the lowest-income group, only 4-5% have the opportunity to pursue tertiary education.

“If we want to improve the quality of life for the Thai people, hope is essential. It requires cooperation from all sectors to create and make that hope a reality,” said BoT chief Sethaput.

There are also other challenges that Thailand has been and still is facing. These include a lack of skilled labour and of good governance as well as other obstacles that decrease Thailand’s competitiveness. Happiness is also taken into account in measuring well-being especially as Thailand is now entering an ageing society without proper preparation.

In this regard, BOT plays a role by implementing financial policies, as well as financial institution and payment system policies. These include developing financial systems to comprehensively provide financial services to the Thai population. Moreover, the central bank supports the integration of financial sector issues into business operations to ensure that Thais live in a good society and environment.

Crucially, BOT’s mission is to promote stable and sustainable economic growth, generating income as a result of investments in education and professions. However, economic growth must go hand in hand with stability because an unstable economic system such as one with high inflation or uncontrollable debt, poses a risk to economic health and often results in crises. This adversely affects the quality of life and well-being, ultimately undermining people’s hope, which is something that must be avoided.

By ThaiPBS Feature Desk