Sunday, October 22, 2006

Buddhist Economics

Friday night, while driving home from karate class, I found myself thinking about various ideas regarding existance and consumption and what constitutes an ideal lifestyle in the modern world. I try to be generous in helping others with donations and volunteer work and things like that, yet I often debate whether it is enough. Thinking of money as a tool that could be applied to the betterment of others, I wonder whether I should be making more sacrifices.

For example, suppose I go out to eat for dinner. Maybe I spend $20. I didn't really need to go out to eat. I could have easily survived on putting together a meal at home about $2 and instead applied the $18 towards doing something benefitial for others. So, by going out to eat am I actually hurting others?

One could argue that by going to a restaurant I am supporting the local economy. I've helped "spread the wealth" to the people who work at the restaurant, and indirectly helped the employees' families and restaurant suppliers and down the chain to the people who grew the food. The whole free market system is based on this chain of people paying for goods and services. Ideally, everyone in the system has a job in which they are paid money so they in turn can give the money to someone else and as such it forms a cycle. But is this the most efficient use of the money and resources? And is this a sustainable system?

The same idea applies to an even larger extent with consumer goods (such as my computer, digital camera, etc.). Does the buying of these goods actually do more harm than good? Does mass consumerism of today encourage and accelerate the inevitable depletion of non-renewable resources? And does living at a level beyond basic comfort (which one could argue most middle-class and higher people in the US do) contribute to evil?

That is, in part, what this article on Buddhist economics attempts to address. I don't claim to agree with all the material the author presents, but it is a thought provoking article.

What got me reading this article was an article in Japan+ magazine. I had never heard of the magazine - my mom happened to give me two copies that she got from the library where she works. It's a magazine about Japanese culture and society. Anyhow, back to the subject at hand, there was an article in the July 2006 issue with an interview with a Buddhist scholar Toshimaro Ama, and he mentioned Buddhist economics. This particular quote caught my attention and got me to Google for more information on the subject:

According to Schumacher, Buddhist economics is founded upon two main principles. The first states that an economy has steps that climb from poverty, through sufficiency, to satiation. The progress of the economy up to the level of sufficiency is a good thing, but above that level it becomes destructive. The second principle is that it is important to differentiate between resources that are recyclable, and those that are not. A civilization that practices the former is one that can live in harmony with nature, while the latter is bound to be a declining civilization as it can only deplete nature's resources.

You can read the whole article here.