23 May 2024

Some 16 years ago, an elderly man who spent most of his life living in a boat and under a bridge died. It was supposed to be a non-event, but his simplicity fascinated Thailand at a time of world economic turmoil and brewing ideological divide nationally.

“Grandpa Yen” became the talk of the town because he had been basically happy, and a lot of people, chasing wealth in the orthodox capitalistic system, wondered why. In addition to that, they found his simplest life the hardest to duplicate.

After a week or so of romanticising what he did during his time on earth, most Thais went back to hatching wicked plans on the stock market to take advantage of its slump, upgrade home theatres and change their cars. Soon enough, people started worrying again about what others got that they did not have.

Here was his motto: “Oysters have no legs, and that will put us to shame if we can’t live by ourselves”. It went against the conventional capitalistic wisdom of “Be careful. If anything happens to oyster exporters in France, our mutual fund we could be screwed.”

Here’s how the capitalistic world works: A lot of people in Village A put their bets on how many catfish Village B will catch three years from now. In many cases, money is borrowed from Village C to place the bets.

Village D insure the debts. Village E buy some of the “bad” debts. If the “bad” debts get worse, they are sold to Village F, which is somehow convinced it could turn them into profits.

When an unexpected drought hit Village B, all hell can break loose.

“Sufficiency economy” keeps you away from all those. Let’s ignore the current controversy involving well-known performers, YouTubers or keyboard warriors debating whether someone should face legal action. Let’s focus on the core idea.

The unorthodox concept requires so little but probably demands a lot. The idea must have originated from the belief that human beings could comfortably live off the ground in the very old days if they wanted to.

Now we know why it is demanding. In today’s world, paying less attention to money and more on simplicity is much easier said than done. With social media showcasing what others are having or will have, it’s almost impossible to spurn bitcoins or resist the urge to buy stuffs ones actually do not like or even need.

Even watching television footages promoting “sufficiency economy” demands serious concentration, without which it could get boring. The footages generally contain four things _ the green of veggies and crops, the dark brown of soil, the translucence of water, and the noises of a limited number of farm animals.

The idea is that if you can strike a good balance with those four, you will need little else. You will be able to rely on yourself. You will have just enough left to sell or trade and have just enough money to keep it going.

But, most of all, you will have happiness, pride and dignity, and all these three will be aplenty.

Basically, you live off what you sow and feed, not relying on how much profit businesses half the world away make. How bankers or fund managers whom you don’t know spend deposits of people none of them know will never affect you.

Even if stock markets crash and banks fall, you will still have enough to eat.

Now we can see why capitalism does not like sufficiency economy that much. The latter can’t prevail or the former will hit big, disastrous bumps.

It’s the same as casinos being unable to thrive where it is illegal or immoral to gamble.

Self sufficiency is associated with farming largely because of the fact that Thailand is an agricultural nation, or, simply put, a “food country”. According to this doctrine, well management of natural resources growing from the face of the earth will help the country achieve true sustainability and keep famine at bay come what may.

But the truth is that the idea can be adapted and applied to all other things. Not everyone is born to be a farmer, to begin with.

Some may ask what the “self sufficiency” concept will do to human ambitions, the foundation of human progress. What will happen if everyone is just content with having enough food on the table and raising children who are made to be happy about the same thing?

The answer is that, first of all, self sufficiency is not just about farming, and, second of all, “human ambitions” are too tied to money nowadays. Under the current status quo, inventions of railroads, airplanes, smartphones or space travels mostly served the concept of money as much as real human advance.

Self sufficiency promotes money-less happiness and does not prohibit money-less ambitions. Advocates say it’s a concept that encourages utilisation of your true strengths and pure collaboration with other human beings for the greater good.

An unspoken rule is that you shall not turn the concept into some kind of a crusade, because a campaign would one day “cross the line” and then “simplicity” could morph into something else.

In other words, if others like the idea of sufficiency economy, fine. If they don’t, it must be the same deal.

Tulsathit Taptim