Exploring The Peaceful Face of Economics: Learning from Buddhist Economy

19 02 2009

“Mumbai 26th November 2008, the landmarks of the India’s financial capital was seized by 10 men.  The 10 Men had sworn to kill and destroy and I wondered why? This could not be religion, nor pure vengeance or schizophrenia; it was monetary compensation and reward. Not long ago did I visit a place called Bundelkhand in central India where people were dying of hunger and were ready to take the gun and plunder to fill their own stomach.”

According to Todaro and Smith (2005) military expenditure by developing countries have been rising very rapidly despite a world recession, declining growth in export earnings, and skyrocketing foreign debts. One wonders has the world not got enough of the anguish and pain of war and why is that even in times of peace the world economy spends most of its resources on preparing for war by investing in arms and ammunition in trillions of dollars. Why is it that while majority of the people dying of hunger and many more   getting deprived of a basic education, the G8 (the worlds most economically advanced nations) and the BRIC (the four emerging economic powerhouses, Brazil, Russia, India, China) feel ashamed in putting 2-3% of their GDP’s on human resource development, and arrogantly invest in toys which destroy human lives. What is driving this madness? Is it profitability of the defence sector which is able to see profit in making warheads’ for destroying peoples lives, or is it fear and insecurity which exists even today after so many years of globalisation and claiming that planet earth is a homogenous and harmonious planet? What are the principals of economics guiding the world?

The enormous weapons industry, with companies like Halliburton, and several others around the world spending billions of dollars in the arms trade which is then used to induce civil dispute in poor countries rich with natural resources, is not a malady of recent times alone. Whether it is the Latin American countries, Sub Sahara Africa or the middle East, the economic hitmen of the West have either bought the government to take control over their natural resources and all contracts being warded to the American companies for the extraction of the natural resource, or achieving a military coup in the last instance going for the war. Earlier the state used to do this in the name of imperialism and colonize countries and today the market governed by large corporations replaces the state to do the same. Thus economics guided by Keynes philosophy needs to be re-examined as it states “We must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.” Such thinking has led to spending millions of dollars on advertising to sell a rich lifestyle idea to the common masses, increase in demand and increase in profits.  What has been the result after over a century of capitalistic influence on world economy; there is greater inequality in the world at present than in 2005 and we are facing the biggest environment challenge in the history of human civilization.

In the past Karl Marx spoke about capitalism as a system which sees value in scarcity, and due to certain inherent class structures these resources remain to be enjoyed by few.  (…on the other hand if there ownership in few hands, the resources would last longer as there is less wasteful competition). Today the world around us remains enormous, diverse and beautiful, yet very few are privileged to experience and appreciate the complexity of life and the universe. Most of us get caught in the dizzy urban lifestyle, striving to defeat our very own peers to make a living. Our lives have been ruled by Cokes mantra ‘Life mange more’, as more will lead us to greater happiness. Coke is the same company which has exploited our natural resources and polluted our water for it to enjoy more profits.

Most ancient philosophies and books like the Vedas, Kabbalah, Koran, Bible and many such profound scientist like Da Vinci, Aryabhatt, Pythagoras  have studied some of the physical laws of the universe and the beautiful creation around and tried to draw our attention to the fact the there is an entire  science to harmony and peace.  These laws of life in the context of economics have also been explained in one of the first political economy books written by Kautalya, where emphasis was placed on decentralization and development of local economy, these concepts have been revived by thinkers like Gandhi and Schumacher. Gandhi tries to explain the violent nature of Britain’s economy which needed to feed the growth of its industrialisation with the resources of most of the world.

“Thus the reign of quantity celebrates its greatest triumphs in ‘The Market’. Everything is equated with everything else. To equate things means to give them a price and thus to make them exchangeable. To the extent that economic thinking is based on the market, it takes the sacredness out of life, because there can be nothing sacred in something that has a price. Not surprisingly, therefore, if economic thinking pervades the whole of society. Even simple non-economic values like beauty, health, or cleanliness can survive only if they prove to be ‘economic’.”

E. Schumacher

Small is Beautiful

Some of us have accepted this as reality and life within this system as the only path, others might argue that this is immoral and corrupt and we need to have a tight leash on this, the third perspective would be of people who believe there are no fundamental truths or morals and therefore a free market should allow the people to make their own choices and decide their own reality.

A Buddhist vision for development could be of a dynamic reflective process to cultivate good thoughts and practice in social, cultural and political aspects of life. It should address the problem of greed associated with rising living standards and a consumer-oriented lifestyle, while addressing real poverty where it exists. In no way should we advocate (World Faith Development Dialogue, 2003) isolationism or a “return to the past”.  A number of parties and institutions would have to be involved, working on a variety of levels

Even Adam Smith while constructing his capitalist theory on people working for their own interest? Assumed they would follow the fundamental values of truth, honesty and respect for god’s creation before creating giant corporations. Capital in the complete sense of the word is to include social capital and ecological capital, and only now some firms have started to talk about triple bottom line, where along with profits they also want to add value to the society and the environment.

At the macro-level, a Buddhist approach to development would involve putting an end to the structural violence currently embedded in macro-economic structures, such as the international trade system.  A Buddhist approach would promote more “fair trade” and probably much less global trade in general.  The emphasis would be on producing and exchanging food locally. (World Faith Development Dialogue, 2003)

Need to look at alternative measures of development and growth, fundamentally looking at widening the concept of growth , will growth only be the growth in GDP, GNI, Perceptual income or other indicators like  education and employment as well. What are the subject and the verb of this sentence? Can you rephrase? Why do we need growth – (traditional economist would say it allows better utilsation and employment of resources, then GPD is sufficient). Is HDI, sufficient should be more mainstreamed, should the HDI be broadened to include other peace indicators as well. Your browser may not support display of this image.

There is injustice within the economic system which has resulted in violence.  The violence has a financial and monetary impact, along with societal trust and confidence. Thus the cause of terrorism can be seen as an economic externality. One of the reasons for this could be alienation of community due to lack of power to lobby for their rights in the given economic system. Sustaining peace is not just a political or idealist myth, but an economic goal with tangible benefits for the welfare of the people. Thus the policy makers need to view it in a more serious manner, the planning commission needs quantify funds for sustaining peace in the country; a peace fund should allocate funds for education, poverty, and health.  Measures must be taken to promote equality of religions and encourage spirituality to penetrate men’s everyday activities and decisions. There appear to be three most important things for sustaining peace :

  1. Peace Gainful employment:  high Unemployment in some countries like South Africa has led to big social unrest. People should be engaged in something creative and which is in harmony with their personality
  2. Peace Education: Needs to empower people to be open to diverse ideas and opinions and respect differences.
  3. Peace Finance: Close monitoring needs to be done of what the funds are being used for, there should be active lobbying against expenditure on weaponry and defense, more of the budget should be transferred to the peace fund.

    The time has come to give each of these measures due consideration and develop systems and frameworks which can translate these ideas into action

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