EF Shumacher’s article “Buddhist Economics” draws out some interesting comparisons and contrasts of the configuration of two very different economic systems: Modern (conventional) economics and Buddhist Economics. Schumacher is a supporter of Buddhist economics and claims that modern economic systems can and should take on this perspective. This short report will attempt to identify why Schumacher thinks modern economic systems are metaphysically blind as well as identify key points supporting this view.
But before we can identify the gap that causes it to be blind, we must determine the difference between the two economic systems is their worldviews. First, there is universal agreement that the fundamental source of wealth for both systems is human labour. But we need to ask ourselves three questions: 1. How is this labour used to generate wealth? 2. What is considered to be “wealth”? 3. What is the intended output of the labour source? Buddhist Economics supports sustainable development meaning take what you need, use what you take.
An example of this in motion is illustrated by the efforts of the government of Bhutan are often considered an expression of Buddhist economics. Along with traditional economic indicators, Bhutan uses ‘Gross national happiness’ to measure quality of life and non-economic well-being. (Wikipedia). Burma believes that there is no conflict between religious values and economic progress. Spiritual health and material wellbeing are not enemies but NATURAL allies. There is universal agreement that the fundamental source of wealth for both parties is human labour.
To define what wealth is, we must first decipher what the ultimate result desired is from the use of that labour. For Modern Economists it is “goods” whereas for the Buddhist Economist it is “liberation”. That being said, economist may suffer from metaphysical blindness because, as quoted in the Schumacher’s article, they: 1. Assume that theirs is a science of absolute and invariable truths without any presuppositions. 2. Economic laws are as free from metaphysics or values as the law of gravitation
To explain further, if economists assume that their field of work need not abide by metaphysical values, yet their main source of wealth is human labour, then there is a definitely disconnect in that thinking. When humans are a main component of the equation, then due care and attention must be paid to ensure they and their welfare are taken care of in a meaningful manner, especially to them. To investigate whether there is metaphysical blindness, we should compare and contrast values as it relates to the universal agreed component of human labour as illustrated in the following tables. |Modern Economist |Buddhist Economist | |View of Labour / Value of |Modern Economists view labour and work as a necessary |Buddhist Economists views work as serving the purpose of | |Work |evil. For the employer, labour is expenditure and |developing the man and developing his character. As | | |such expenditures need to be minimized but ideally |mentioned in the article, Buddhist Economists believe that | | |zeroed out. work will bring the following benefits | | | |Enable a man to overcome his egocenteredness and join others| | | |in a common task (build character) | | | |To bring forth goods and services needed for a becoming | | | existence (tied to wealth) | |Organization of work |Modern Economists will organize work based on the goal|Buddhist Economists believe in organizing work in a manner | | |of minimization of costs. The most likely methods |that is meaningful and motivating for the worker; there is | | |have been by automation or division of labour.
If a |greater concern for the worker than the goods produced. | | |worker is replaced as a result of automation, that is |(compassion) | | |viewed as just a natural course of events. There is | | | |greater concern for the goods than the worker. Buddhism point of view of mechanization is to be | | | |distinguished by the craftsman himself and not based on a | | | |monetary bottom line.
Mechanization must | | | |Enhances a man’s skill and power (the carpet loom) | | | |Turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving | | | |man in a position of having to serve the slave (the power | | | |loom) | |Economists view of “the |In this way, Modern Economists view of the worker |To strive for leisure as an alternative to work is | |worker” |expendable.
If a worker is not interested in doing |considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic | | |the job, then they can be replaced. Yes, work |truths of human existence; work and leisure are | | |requires the worker to make a sacrifice of their |complementary parts – the joy of work and the bliss of | | |leisure and comfort, but they are adequately |leisure. | | |compensated through the wages they receive. Workers| | | |are a balance sheet item.
In the minds of modern | | | |economists, workers have been adequately compensated, | | | |therefore the employer owes them nothing | | Above illustrate two very differing views of labour and work. That modern economists are metaphysically blind can be seen just by their view of labour and work is a necessary evil and just a sum in the equation as are the people who perform that work. Employees (people) are therefore just a means to an end and the organization of the work these people do is based on the goal of minimizing costs. Looking at Modern Economists and using the BASEBALL DIAMOND model, and starting at first base, when options were being explore, the emphasis was put on the maximization of resources and minimizing per unit costs.
Human capital was never part of the equation, other than in reference to minimizing the costs. Second Base – Are the decisions based on ethical theories. Definitely not in the case of modern economists. Decisions, as mentioned, were based on maximizing profits. Human life, was never part of the equation. Third Base – The worker, in effect, is just a means to an end. In modern economic planning full utilization is the concern. Putting the right people in the right places in order to maximize their use. The right people eludes to the right skills, the right strengths. So as per the article, skilled workers would never be soldiers. These workers serve much better use serving commerce.
Buddhist Economists are not prone to this blindness as their decision making was quite different and not based on selfish needs. Starting at first base, decisions were made according to what was best for the entire society and not the corporate good. For them work serves a purpose and is not merely a necessary evil. Second base decisions were indeed based on ethical theories and were in keeping with the basis of Buddhist economics 1. The essence of civilization is not on the concentration or multiplication of wants but in purification of human character. 2. Character is formed by work 3. Work when conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products. Third Base – The worker, in is not just a means to an end.
Work is an exercise to teach employees and provide them with tools they will need to go forward in life as listed in the benefits above. These tools are lessons in life that benefit the whole person and cannot be amassed any other way, except by work. For Buddhist Economists the benefits lay in developing the man and developing his character. By focussing on something other than him (overcoming egocentredness) man learns to become part of a team and learns to work together in harmony. A by-product of this collaboration is understanding and appreciation developed within that person and throughout the team and then permeating throughout society. In conclusion, modern economists’ goal is “goods”.
That is their one and only focus and all is sacrificed in order to maximize the production of goods, while minimizing their production costs. This essence of civilization is gauged by the Standard of Living which based on the production and consumption of goods. The more produced and consumed, the better. The Essence of Civilization of Buddhist Economists goal is liberation. Essentially the worker is not a slave to the company, human beings are not slaves to the consumption machine. Buddhist Economists views wealth and consumption are such that wealth does NOT stand in the way of Liberation but the ATTACHMENT to wealth does. Prepared by: AN Location: University of Lethbridge, Lethbridge Alberta Canada Works Cited Wikipedia. 22 November 2009. 8 February 2010 .