Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Development Policy in Thailand: From Top-Down to Grass Roots

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Development Policy in Thailand: From Top-Down to Grass Roots

Article excerpt


Top-down industrial development strategies initially dominated the developing world after the second World War but were eventually found to produce inequitable economic growth. For a decade or more, governments and international development agencies have embraced the idea of participatory grass roots development as a potential solution. Here we review Thailand's experience with development strategies and we examine the current focus on participatory approaches. Thai government planning agencies have adopted "people centred development" and a "sufficiency economy", particularly emphasised since the disruptions caused by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. They aim to address the inequitable sharing of the benefits of decades of rapid growth that was particularly unfair for the rural poor. Thai policies aim to decentralise power to the local level, allowing civil society and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) more of a voice in national decision making and promoting sustainable farming practices aimed at enriching rural communities. An example of this change in Thai government policy is the Community Worker Accreditation Scheme which is aiming to develop human resources at the local level by training community based leaders and supporting networks of community organisations. This enables autonomous local development projects led by trained and accredited individuals and groups. The political tensions notable in Thailand at present are part of this modern transition driven by conflicting models of top-down (industrial) development and the bottom-up (participatory) development ideals described above. Once resolved, Thailand will have few obstacles to moving to a new economic level.

Keywords: development theory, development policy, Thailand, developing countries, participatory development

1. Background

Development theory and practice has evolved rapidly over the last century and the current emphasis places a high premium on participatory approaches. Here we review the evolution of development theory first with a global assessment followed by a focus on Thailand. This country has often been seen as a model because it has retained much of its traditions while adopting development practices that have succeeded economically and lifted the nation from its poor agrarian background to become a modern industrialised Southeast Asian state. In this paper we pay particular attention to the distinctive mixing of grassroots community development promoted by the Royal Thai Government with export driven industrial development now being supplemented by the rise of a service economy. We aim to understand Thailand's current situation and anticipate future challenges.

Since the end of World War Two, accompanied by decolonisation of Asia and Africa effort began to improve the economic and social quality of what came to be known as the "Third World" through the new field of "development economics". What exactly constitutes development is viewed differently by different actors as is the best course to take to get to developed country status. The earliest approaches to development were based on two related concepts; development leading to modernity and development as an economic process. Both of these concepts were based on the development experience of western nations especially Western Europe and the science of economics as developed in these western contexts (Willis, 2005).

This process of development generally proceeded under the assumptions of what is referred to as neoclassical economics, the economic paradigm of the last century. This economic system rests on the theory that the best path to development is to industrialise, accumulate capital and mobilise underemployed manpower. This is intended to lead to growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as evidence of economic progress (Stiglitz, 2002; Sen, 1992). The distribution of this economic growth and improvement in quality of life factors is not the concern of this concept of development; the assumption is that overall growth in the economy will eventually benefit everybody in it (Naqvi, 1993; Sen, 1992). …

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