(The following is excerpted from material written in 1992.)
Many researchers regard Thailand's recent economic growth, as reflected by its gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates,as an example of the success of a modern technological development strategy based on the market economics of industrialized countries. Yet by focusing solely on aggregate economic growth data as the measure of Thailand's development, these researchers have overlooked the economic impact of rural development projects that improve people's daily lives at the village level — such as the cooperative raising of water buffalo, improved sanitation, and the development of food crops both for consumption and for sale at local markets; such projects are not adequately reflected in the country's GDP. These researchers, influenced by Robert Heilbroner's now outdated develop- ment theory, tend to view nontechnological development as an obstacle to progress. Heilbroner's theory has become doctrine in some economics textbooks: for example, Monte Palmer disparages nontechnological rural development projects as inhibiting constructive change. Yet as Ann Kelleher's two recent case studies of the Thai villages Non Muang and Dong Keng illustrate, the nontechnological-versus-technological dichotomy can lead researchers not only to overlook real advances achieved by rural development projects but also mistakenly to conclude that because such advances are initiated by rural leaders and are based on traditional values and practices, they retard "real" economic development.