On Saturday morning, after having risen around 7:00 am, I set to doing laundry. I was squatting on this wooden stool /// and: grind, scrape and scrub the two sides of my slightly turquoise uniform shirts together (tinted after a mishap with my tye dye t-shirt). Wash once, rinse three times. Sit in fabric softener, wring, shake, and repeat (once for shirts, pants and underwear – not to be mixed). My thoughts kept drifting back to a reoccurring theme: economic sufficiency.

Recently, after having spent a couple of days learning about Thailand’s economic history, the ISDSI class recently visited King’s Royal Development Project site. It’s really a fascinating place of research, initiated some twenty-five years ago, after an economic scare/downturn.

As demonstrated by the project, the King is promoting a future for Thailand (particularly in rural areas) that incorporates this idea economic sufficiency. This comes in stark contrast to a recent history that has been patterned after a model from the World Bank, for Less Developed Countries (LDCs): growth, industrialized agriculture, and exports. Of course, under this plan Thailand has boomed (its GDP expanding at incredible rates, something like 10% annually during certain points). It’s economy is based mostly on exports (cars, specifically trucks) and tourism.

However, the King is offering a refreshingly simple model in response: security for farmers in agroforestry and diverse practices. These ideas as a whole are aimed to work towards a complete a system, where their livelihood in ensured, regardless of the global economy. After visiting the Royal Development Project, we were able to visit a farmer who was putting these ideas into practice (he was educated at the project, classes are offered for free). On his acre (or so) of land he was raising carp, pigs (producing biogas for cooking), rice, various vegetables, and a couple of cows (other classes offered include mushroom cultivation and frog raising). It was quite impressive. He was able to sustain himself completely off of this piece of land, and then also sell what extra he had in order to provide some surplus income (and send three daughters to college!).

Here is the place where I’ve been thinking. Such visits seemed particularly applicable after just having finished two books: “Stolen Harvest” by Vandana Shiva (about the negative impacts of industrialized monocropping on biodiversity and food security) and “Deep Economy” by Bill McKibben (looking at how our assumption that economic growth is inherently good is both unfounded and perpetuating inequality on a global scale).

So I’ve been wondering quite a bit lately, what can the United States learn from this idea of economic sufficiency? Not that I’m suggesting we all adopt this idea of a small scale farm, but really, given the limited resources in our world – shouldn’t we all (at least partly) be moving in that direction? Hmm, I sound a bit strong. Maybe I’m mostly wondering where the middle ground lay. How should we live (particularly in the “developed” nations)? Is there a way in which we can each have enough room to ensure both our own livelihood and the humanity of others? How are these aims reflected in my own life?

I hear it’s more beautiful in Thai, but the phrase our guide offered I found to be quite wise: “All I have I use, all I use I have.”

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