How Would Buddha Organize Our Cutthroat Modern Economy? Clair Brown, a professor emeritus at UC Berkeley, taught economics for over 30 years. She often found that the students in her sprawling introductory classes had a hard time reconciling the dominant neoclassical model that she taught with the real world that they experienced from day to day. They wanted to know why there was so much emphasis on economic growth in the abstract, and so little discussion of issues like inequality and environmental degradation. Over the years, Brown herself had put a lot of thought into the same questions. coque iphone Brown is also a practicing Buddhist. And this year, she decided to offer a course in “Buddhist economics.” BillMoyers.com asked her to explain how Buddha would organize an economy. Below is a transcript of our discussion that’s been lightly edited for clarity. Joshua Holland: One of the materials you offer in your course is a book called “Buddhist Economics: A Middle Way for the Market Place”. It’s by Prayudh Payutto, a Thai practitioner, and he writes: “Economics is one science which most clearly integrates the concrete and the abstract. It is the realm in which abstract human values interact most palpably with the material world. If economists were to stop evading the issues of moral values, they would be in a better position to influence the world in a fundamental way. What would incorporating moral values into the realm of economics look like in practice? Clair Brown: I see Buddhist economics as having three legs. One is the capabilities and freedom approach of Amartya Sen, for which he won the Nobel Prize. And he’s a wonderfully deep thinker, in that he explains very carefully what’s wrong with the mainstream neoclassical model. He says that you absolutely have to be able to compare rich people and poor people and their wellbeing, and you absolutely have to care about inequality. He comes from India and his contribution is in development economics, so he says, “What do people get from the economy and from economic growth?” What they want is a better life. He developed an economic model that looks at how well people can live their lives, and that includes very basic things, like their health, their education, their integration into society. We care a lot about the distribution of income within a society. So he developed a model, for which he won the Nobel Prize, which has had an enormous impact. I see it as the cornerstone of how Buddha would teach economics to undergraduates, but we need to add two things. One is that Amartya Sen didn’t really spend a whole lot of time on sustainability, and there’s been a lot more work done on how we can incorporate sustainability into economics, and that’s called ecological economics. And that’s very important. Then we add one more thing — which is really important to Buddhists — that you relieve suffering. We make that the third leg. Holland: A big part of Sen’s philosophy of welfare economics was coming up with different ways to measure economic well-being. What measures would Buddhist economics employ? Brown: There have been a couple of approaches that have taken off from Sen’s work. Bhutan used one of them — it is a Buddhist country — creating the Bhutan Gross National Happiness Index. So they focused on how happy their people were. They went out and surveyed every single person in Bhutan and figured out what capabilities they had, what they didn’t have, and how good they felt about their lives. And then they came back and they said, “Okay, we now know that actually we have a lot of people who are suffering and need better lives.” Those were especially people in rural areas who were very, very poor. And they said, “So we’re going to now focus all of our economic growth on helping the people who are suffering the most and have the roughest lives. They need more education, they need more healthcare.” And in the cities, they found that people actually were getting education and healthcare. Some needed more, but the people in the cities that were unhappy were unhappy because they didn’t think their communities had enough infrastructure and support to function well. They wanted more balance in their lives between work and family and community. And so Bhutan said, “Okay, then we’re going to use our economic growth to work on that. We don’t think of economic growth as valuable, except to the extent that it can make people happier and relieve suffering.” And one of their criteria also was sustainability, and they said, “Actually, we need to work more on the sustainability part. We haven’t incorporated that part enough in our model.” Another way of thinking about measuring economic growth is ecological economics, which looks at the entire output of the economy in terms of its impact on the environment. But not just in one time period. This approach brings the potential negative impact on the environment for future generations back into your growth rate today, so that you have a total growth rate that incorporates what’s happening today — the positive and negative— and what’s happening over time. And that really does help us understand how much we are really benefiting right now from our economy’s growth. Holland: If, for example, I overfish my fisheries, ecological economics factors in how that’s going to damage my children’s economic outcomes. coque iphone Is that right? Brown: That’s right. And if you increase global warming because of your carbon emissions, you put that into the equation. Holland: I can imagine readers thinking, “This sounds like central planning.” Is that misunderstanding the kind of organization that Buddha would recommend? Brown: Well, Bhutan certainly has a very strong government. But they actually need to be. soldes coque iphone 2019 They really need to help the rural poor. What would Buddha say about that? He would start out by saying, you know, we’re all one. So anything that happens to one of us happens to all of us. coque iphone pas cher That’s really central. Then the next thing Buddha would say is that everything is impermanent. No matter what’s going on at any given time, it’s not permanent, so basically we should think about everyone’s well-being. And in the Payutto book you mentioned, he’s very strong on government. He comes back time and time again—a little bit too much for my liking—to talk about the role of government in his vision of Buddhist economics. So I think Buddhist economics definitely has a role for government, but it also challenges the individual to understand how they can live their life in a more meaningful way and a way that creates value for them and the people around them. Holland: Social democracy differs from socialism in that it sees the market as the most efficient means of distribution, but then it also embraces a strong social safety net and publicly financed ladders of upward mobility. What about the efficiency part of that equation? Is that missing in the Buddhist economic philosophy? Brown: Well, I think if you take Amartya Sen as your basic model, he would agree with everything you said about the role of government and the role of markets. Sen has a wonderful chapter in his book, Development as Freedom, that talks about why we need markets and what markets do. And then he quickly adds, but of course, you have to have the government take care of those externalities that are causing environmental problems. You need governments to absolutely ensure a really strong safety net. coque iphone pas cher Not to mention, you need governments to provide healthcare, education and all the things that we need to provide jointly. Holland: But does it fit into a modern, industrialized economy like ours? What would Buddha say about workplace conditions and labor relations? Would a Buddhist economy require a corporate model that’s different from the hierarchical one in which most of us in the United States work? Brown: I think that the main thing that you need to embrace is “right livelihood,” which is one of the cornerstones of Buddhist economics. That’s basically how you make a living and how you produce goods and services. And the number one rule there is that you harm no one. Now, that’s a pretty big order. coque iphone 8 That means that you have really strong enforcement of labor standards, not only at home, but abroad because of imports, and you would not allow companies or workers to harm each other or to be harmed. And so right livelihood is a very powerful mandate in Buddhist economics. And as some of my students said, “Wow, it sounds like it’d be impossible to do this. We just do so much harm all the time in our economy.” And it is a challenge. It’s a really big challenge, but that’s one of the things we need to think about: When am I harming others, and what can I do differently? 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.” Joshua Holland is a senior digital producer for BillMoyers.com. He’s the author of The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything Else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) (Wiley: 2010), and host of Politics and Reality Radio. coque iphone soldes Follow him on Twitter or drop him an email at hollandj [at] moyersmedia [dot] com.
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(Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Recently, I posted an exclusive report about a new NASA-backed scientific research project at the US National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (Sesync) to model the risks of civilisational collapse, based on analysis of the key factors involved in the rise and fall of past civilisations. The story went viral and was quickly picked up by other news outlets around the world which, however, often offered rather misleading headlines. ‘Nasa-backed study says humanity is pretty much screwed’, said Gizmodo. ‘Nasa-funded study says modern society doomed, like the dodo’, said the Washington Times. Are we doomed? Doom is not the import of this study, nor of my own original research on these issues as encapsulated in my book, A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It. Rather what we are seeing, as I’ve argued in detail before, are escalating, interconnected symptoms of the unsustainability of the global system in its current form. While the available evidence suggests that business-as-usual is likely to guarantee worst-case scenarios, simultaneously humanity faces an unprecedented opportunity to create a civilisational form that is in harmony with our environment, and ourselves. Of course, there are those who go so far as to argue that humanity is heading for extinction by 2030, and that it’s too late to do anything about it. But as other scientists have pointed out, while the number of positive-feedbacks that could go into ‘runaway’ on a business-as-usual scenario appears overwhelming, whether they have yet is at best unclear from the numbers – and at worst, we find that proponents of fatalism are actually systematically misrepresenting and obfuscating the science to justify hopelessness. Neoliberal-ostrichism Then there are those on the opposite end of the spectrum who have taken up the personal crusade of spreading joy and happiness by pretending that everything’s going to be just fine – all the while ignoring the fact that our leading lights of science such as the US National Academy of Sciences, Nature and the Royal Society are pointing to the convergence of environmental, agricultural and energy challenges in coming decades without some sort of major change. What the cross-disciplinary study I wrote about last week suggests – like previous research – is that our current trajectory is unsustainable because our demand for ecological resources and services is increasingly going beyond what the planet is able to provide. This ‘overshoot’ is already responsible for a range of overlapping crises – the financial crash, the food crisis, intensifying civil unrest to name just a few – and is likely to worsen without meaningful action. Overshoot and inequality are part of the same failing system Why is this happening? The Sesync study lends credence to an argument I’ve also made frequently – that at the core of our current civilisational model is a dramatic inequality in access to the Earth’s resources, coupled with an ideology which sees those resources as nothing more than a playing field for a minority of members of the human species to accumulate material wealth without limits. The vast majority of the world’s resources – not just monetary wealth, but land, resources and raw materials – is owned and controlled by a tiny minority of states, monarchs, aristocratic families, banks and corporations. It is no accident that the Queen of Great Britain – arguably the harbinger of contemporary global capitalism before its supercession by the United States – is the world’s largest landlord, owning about 6.6 billion acres of land. That is one-sixth of the Earth’s land surface. It gets worse. 1,318 corporations own 80 per cent of the world’s wealth, and out of that, a tiny interlocking nexus of 147 ‘super corporations’ own half of that. But across the board, as an extensive Chatham House report showed presciently two years ago, resources are depleting, scarcity is increasing, and prices are rising according to the best data available. This is happening, Chatham House argued, due to a combination of stagnating economic growth, continued demographic expansion, intensifying demand, and increasing costs of resource extraction. The party’s over… welcome to the after-party Since 2005, the world food price index has doubled, remaining at record levels. Simultaneously, dramatic oil price rises have not helped the energy industry sustain profits. Instead, even as investment in oil field development and extraction has increased by 200-300% since 2000, this has translated into a tepid oil supply increase of just 12%. All the best evidence indicates that the dawn of fracking represents not a new revolution for fossil fuels, but rather a “retirement party“, to quote US energy analyst Chris Nelder. Faced with the overwhelming scale of the multiplicity of global challenges we now face, a sense of disempowerment is understandable. However, as I’ve argued before, it is unnecessary and self-defeating. Indeed, what we are facing is something far more complex than an ‘end-is-nigh’ scenario: not the end of the world, but the end of the old industrial paradigm of endless growth premised on practically endless oil, that is increasingly breaching its own biophysical limits; and the emergence of an emerging paradigm of civilisation based on a vision of a global commons for all. Death throes of fossil fuels As Nelder writes in his latest column, we find ourselves at a potentially exciting crossroads: the literal death throes of the fossil fuel industry, amidst the inexorable, sporadic rise of a new renewable energy system. Renewable sceptics are simply wrong, obsessed with the slow, centralised economic dynamics of fossil fuels rather than understanding the unique, distributed dynamics of the new. In Nelder’s words: “Underlying the abundance hype over tight oil, tar sands and other ‘unconventional’ sources of liquid fuel has been a dirty little secret: They’re expensive. The soaring cost of producing oil has far outpaced the rise in oil prices as the world has relied on these marginal sources to keep production growing since conventional oil production peaked in 2005… The toxic combination of rising production costs, the rapid decline rates of the wells, diminishing prospects for drilling new wells, and a drilling program so out of control that it caused a glut and destroyed profitability, have finally taken their toll.” And it’s not just the oil companies enduring “major write-downs against reserves” (Nelder points to… Chesapeake Energy, Encana, Apache, Anadarko Petroleum, BP, and BHP Billiton). Coal-fired power capacity will be slashed by 60 gigawatts (GW) by 2016, “more than double” 2012 predictions, while last year nuclear plants were being retired at an “unprecedented rate” with “more on the way” – largely due to issues with “profitability.” The core driver behind this fossil fuel death-spiral is: “… competition from lower-cost wind, solar, and natural gas generators, and by rising operational and maintenance costs. As more renewable power is added to the grid, the economics continue to worsen for utilities clinging to old fossil-fuel generating assets.” In Germany, for instance, where 25% of the grid is powered by decentralised renewables (over 50% of which is owned by citizens), the three largest utilities, E.ON, RWE, and EnBW “are struggling with what the CEO of RWE called ‘the worst structural crisis in the history of energy supply.'” As Nelder explains, the one-way shift to solar and storage systems constitutes a “real, near and present” threat to centralised utilities: “Falling consumption and growing renewable power have cut the wholesale price of electricity by 60 percent since 2008, making it unprofitable to continue operating coal, gas and oil-fired plants. Renewable energy now supplies 23 percent of global electricity generation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, with capacity having doubled from 2000 to 2012. coque iphone 2019 If that growth rate continues, it could become the dominant source of electricity by the next decade.” A new report by Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Institute suggests that if renewables continue to be adopted this aggressively, “off-grid systems” will prove “cheaper than all utility-sold electricity in the region just a decade out from today.” A Deutsch Bank report late last year confirmed much the same, predicting that solar and renewables are “just at the beginning of the grid parity era.” The rise of the new clean, decentralised energy system is happening faster than anyone anticipated, and in spite of huge government subsidies for the old fossil fuel industry. But it is merely one step on the ladder to a new post-carbon paradigm. As energy is the underpinning of a society, the unravelling of the fossil fuel system signifies the demise of the old paradigm. By the end of this century, one way or another, this paradigm will be obsolete. It’s up to us what will take its place – and as the death-spiral of the old paradigm accelerates, so do the opportunities to explore viable alternatives. The rise of the new paradigm The new emerging paradigm is premised on a fundamentally different ethos, in which we see ourselves not as disconnected, competing units fixated on maximising consumerist conquest over one another; but as interdependent members of a single human family. Our economies, rather than being assumed to exist in a vacuum of unlimited material expansion, are seen as embedded in wider society, such that economic activity for its own sake is recognised as the pathology that it is. Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human – values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things. And in turn, our societies are seen not as autonomous entities to which the whole of the planet must be ruthlessly subjugated, but rather as inherently embedded in the natural environment. In this model, households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy – and the same could apply to food. On the one hand, we need to put an end to the wasteful practices of the existing industrial food system, by which one third of global food production is lost or wasted every year. On the other, we must shift away from resource-intensive forms of traditional corporate-dominated agriculture. In some cases, given that at least 70% of global food production comes from small-farmers, we will find that shifting to agro-ecological farming could dramatically increase sustainability and yields. coque iphone Communal organic farming offers immense potential not only for employment, but also for households to become local owners and producers in the existing food supply chain, particularly in poorer countries – and an increasing shift to agro-ecology could meet the challenges faced by the existing global food system. This verdict is not being promoted by organic zealots, but by the world’s leading food scientists convened by the UN Commission on Trade & Development (UNCTAD) and the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD). This new paradigm of distributed clean energy production, decentralised farming, and participatory economic cooperation, offers a model of development free from the imperative of endless growth for its own sake; and it leads us directly to a new model of democracy, based not on large-scale, hierarchical-control, but on the wholesale decentralisation of power, towards smaller, local ownership and decision-making. In the new paradigm, households and communities become owners of capital, in their increasing appropriation of the means to produce energy, food and water at a local level. Economic democratisation drives political empowerment, by ensuring that critical decisions about production and distribution of wealth take place in communities, by communities. But participatory enterprise requires commensurate mechanisms of monetary exchange which are equitable and transparent, free from the fantasies and injustices of the conventional model. In the new paradigm, neither money nor credit will be tied to the generation of debt. Banks will be community-owned institutions fully accountable to their depositors; and whirlwind speculation on financial fictions will be replaced by equitable investment schemes in which banks share risks with their customers, and divide returns fairly. coque iphone The new currency will not be a form of debt-money, but, if anything, will be linked more closely to real-world assets. But equally, the very notions of growth, progress, and happiness will be redefined. We now know, thanks to research by the likes of psychologist Oliver James and epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, that material prosperity in the West has not only failed to make us happy, it has proliferated mental illnesses, and widened social inequalities, which are scientifically linked to a prevalence of crime, violence, drug abuse, teenage births, obesity, and other symptoms of social malaise. coque iphone 2019 This doesn’t mean that material progress is irrelevant – but that when it becomes the overriding force of society, it is dysfunctional. So arguably we must accept that the old paradigm of unlimited material acquisition is in its death throes – and that the new paradigm of community cooperation is far more in tune with both human nature, and the natural order. This new paradigm may well still be nascent, like small seeds, planted in disparate places. But as the Crisis of Civilization accelerates over the next decades, communities everywhere will become increasingly angry and disillusioned with what went before. soldes coque iphone And in that disillusionment with the old paradigm, the seeds we’re planting today will blossom and offer a vision of hope that will be irresistible tomorrow. The Crisis of Civilization – Documentary Film Click here to view this video on YouTube. As I wrote four years ago: “Any vision for ‘another world’, if it is to overcome the deep-rooted structural failures of our current business-as-usual model, will need to explore how we can develop new social, political and economic structures which encourage the following: 1. Widespread distribution of ownership of productive resources so that all members of society have a stake in agricultural, industrial and commercial productive enterprises, rather than a tiny minority monopolising resources for their own interests. 2. More decentralised politico-economic participation through self-managerial producer and consumer councils to facilitate participatory decision-making in economic enterprises. 3. coque iphone 6 Re-defining the meaning of economic growth to focus less on materially-focused GDP, and more on the capacity to deliver values such as health, education, well-being, longevity, political and cultural freedom. 4. Fostering a new, distributed renewable energy infrastructure based on successful models. 5. coque iphone 2019 Structural reform of the monetary, banking and financial system including abolition of interest, in particular the cessation of money-creation through government borrowing on compound interest. 6. Elimination of unrestricted lending system based on faulty quantitative risk-assessment models, with mechanisms to facilitate greater regulation of lending practices by bank depositors themselves. 7. Development of parallel grassroots participatory political structures that are both transnational and community-oriented, by which to facilitate community governance as well as greater popular involvement in mainstream political institutions. 8. Development of parallel grassroots participatory economic institutions that are both transnational and community-oriented, to facilitate emergence of alternative equitable media of exchange and loans between North and South. 9. Emergence of a ‘post-materialist’ scientific paradigm and worldview which recognizes that the cutting-edge insights of physics and biology undermine traditional, mechanistic conceptions of the natural order, pointing to a more holistic understanding of life and nature. 10. Emergence of a ‘post-materialist’ ethic recognising that progressive values and ideals such as justice, compassion, and generosity are more conducive to the survival of the human species, and thus more in harmony with the natural order, than the conventional ‘materialistic’ behaviours associated with neoliberal consumerism.” And as I wrote last year: “We do not have the option of pessimism and fatalism. There’s enough of that to go around. Our task is to work together to co-create viable visions for what could be, and to start building those visions now, from the ground up.” Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books.