Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Buddhist Economics"

When I was in high school, getting exposed to Catholic teachings on the environment and the economy that challenged the blue-collar upbringing I had and the more closed-off Catholicism with which I was raised, in the decade after Vatican II as the Church divided within itself, I was mildly surprised to see an economics book my dad bought. A devoted listener while he worked or drove to talk radio--which in the late '70s was not the conservative-wacko strain that survives here and there--he had heard on the eclectic KABC-AM station a discussion about Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. He purchased a copy. Not sure if he read it, but the cover (seen here) and the title stuck with me as later I became interested in the Greens as they in turn sought to transfer their movement here. 

The site Brain Pickings reminded me of this when I saw posted on FB an article about Buddhist Economics and E.F. Schumacher. This 1973 text on what BP (not the petrol firm) calls the "intelligent counterculture" had a chapter on what he coined in 1968 as "Buddhist economics." BP excerpts much of the brief section. It is a bit dated, sure, but readable for that "dismal science." As I've scoured the Web to find a simple explanation of surplus value and labor as to Marx's Capital's critique of alienation, I will also revisit this section of Schumacher, to see how his Buddhist perspective may or may not dovetail with a materialist Marxist. (More on this in an upcoming entry. "Surplus Labor and Me.")

Chris Brown, who teaches a course in Buddhist economics, clarifies its connection to the ideas Buddhists discuss of grasping and clinging. I talk to those who are from Ireland and they comment how other cultures work less, and even if they are taxed more, they say they enjoy a better quality of life. I contrast this lifestyle with the ever-increasing medical, educational, and housing costs many of us pay in urban and suburban America, even as residents insist on their refusal to pay higher taxes. We keep more of our income than my relatives in Ireland do, but my relatives ask if we Americans wear ourselves out earlier and endure a harder existence? Here is part of a timely interview to share.

~~Holland: Americans earn more, on average, than people in most European countries, but we also work about 30 percent more hours per year than they do. And we deal with more stress. What would Buddhist economists say about the balance between work and the rest of life?

Brown: One of the reasons I got interested in Buddhist economics and wanted to teach this course — and I also wrote a book, called American Standards of Living — is that I was just appalled by the materialism in our culture, and how, with economic growth and people getting better and better off, we didn’t cut back on work, as people had predicted. We didn’t make life more balanced, we didn’t take time to be creative and spend time with our friends and build our communities. Instead, we just kept working harder and harder. And today, the materialistic culture, which is reinforced by the mainstream economic model, says, “Hey, you want to feel better?

Make more money and go shopping”— it’s like you can never be satiated with this model. And it seems like that reflects American life. We want more and more, we consume more and more, and the other things in life that should be important to us—our families, our communities—are suffering from that. And of course, I think we’re suffering too from all the stress.

So Buddhist economics would definitely say, “Hey, let’s step back, let’s focus on our wellbeing, and how we care for the environment and each other.~~This is the conclusion to the entire interview found via Bill Moyers' website at "How Would Buddha Organize Our Cutthroat Modern Economy?" 

I cite Schumacher, as I am grappling with this in an increasingly top-down work environment, whereas I value autonomy.  "From the Buddhist point of view, there are therefore two types of mechanisation which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave. How to tell the one from the other?" (See also the Wikipedia entry on the concept)

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