Buddhist economics

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Slogan in Bhutan about gross national happiness in Thimphu's School of Traditional Arts. Bhutan Gross National Happiness.jpg
Slogan in Bhutan about gross national happiness in Thimphu's School of Traditional Arts.

Buddhist economics is a spiritual and philosophical approach to the study of economics. [1] It examines the psychology of the human mind and the emotions that direct economic activity, in particular concepts such as anxiety, aspirations and self-actualization principles. In the view of its proponents, Buddhist economics aims to clear the confusion about what is harmful and what is beneficial in the range of human activities involving the production and consumption of goods and services, ultimately trying to make human beings ethically mature. [2] The ideology's stated purpose is to "find a middle way between a purely mundane society and an immobile, conventional society." [3]


The most fundamental feature of Buddhist Economics is seeing "people interdependent with one another and with Nature...". [4]

Sri Lankan economist Neville Karunatilake wrote that: "A Buddhist economic system has its foundations in the development of a co-operative and harmonious effort in group living. Selfishness and acquisitive pursuits have to be eliminated by developing man himself." [5] Karunatilake sees Buddhist economic principles as exemplified in the rule of the Buddhist king Ashoka.

Bhutan's King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and its government have promoted the concept of "gross national happiness" (GNH) since 1972, based on Buddhist spiritual values, as a counter to gauging a nation's development by gross domestic product (GDP). This represents a commitment to building an economy that would serve Bhutan's culture based on Buddhist spiritual values instead of material development, such as being gauged by only GDP. [6]

U.S. economics professor Clair Brown sets up a Buddhist economics framework that integrates Amartya Sen's capability approach with shared prosperity and sustainability. In her Buddhist economics model, valuation of economic performance is based on how well the economy delivers a high quality of life to everyone while it protects the environment. [7] In addition to domestic output (or consumption), measuring economic performance includes equity, sustainability, and activities that create a meaningful life. A person's well-being depends on cultivation of inner (spiritual) wealth even more than outer (material) wealth. [8]

Buddhist economics holds that truly rational decisions can only be made when we understand what creates irrationality. When people understand what constitutes desire, they realize that all the wealth in the world cannot satisfy it. When people understand the universality of fear, they become more compassionate to all beings. Thus, this spiritual approach to economics doesn't rely on theories and models, but on the essential forces of acumen, empathy, and restraint. [2] From the perspective of a Buddhist, economics and other streams of knowledge cannot be separated. Economics is a single component of a combined effort to fix the problems of humanity and Buddhist economics works with it to reach a common goal of societal, individual, and environmental sufficiency. [2]


Buddhist ethics was first applied to the running of a state's economy during the rule of the Indian Buddhist emperor Ashoka (c. 268 to 232 BCE). The reign of Ashoka is famous for an extensive philanthropic and public works program, which built hospitals, hostels, parks, and nature preserves.

The term "Buddhist economics" was coined by E. F. Schumacher in 1955, when he travelled to Burma as an economic consultant for Prime Minister U Nu. [9] The term was used in his essay named "Buddhist Economics", which was first published in 1966 in Asia: A Handbook, and republished in his influential collection Small Is Beautiful (1973). The term is currently used by followers of Schumacher and by Theravada Buddhist writers, such as Prayudh Payutto, Padmasiri De Silva, and Luang Por Dattajivo.

The 1st Conference of the Buddhist Economics Research Platform was held in Budapest, Hungary from 23–24 August 2007. [10] The second conference was held at Ubon Ratchathani University, Thailand from 9–11 April 2009. [11]

General views on economics

Unlike traditional economics, Buddhist economics considers stages after the consumption of a product, investigating how trends affect the three intertwined aspects of human existence: the individual, society, and the environment. For example, if there were an increase in the consumption of cigarettes, Buddhist economists try to decipher how this increase affects the pollution levels in the environment, its impact on passive smokers and active smokers, and the various health hazards that come along with smoking, thus taking into consideration the ethical side of economics. The ethical aspect of it is partly judged by the outcomes it brings and partly by the qualities that lead to it. [2]

The Buddhist point of view ascribes to work three functions: to give man a chance to utilize and develop his aptitude; to enable him to overcome his self-aggrandizement by engaging with other people in common tasks; and to bring forward the goods and services needed for a better existence. [12]

Differences between traditional and Buddhist economics

There are a number of differences between traditional economics and Buddhist economics.

Other beliefs

Buddhist economists believe that as long as work is considered a disutility for laborers and laborers a necessary evil for employers, the true potential of the laborers and employers cannot be achieved. In such a situation, employees will always prefer income without employment and employers will always prefer output without employees.

According to them, people are unable to feel liberated not because of wealth but because of their attachment to wealth. In the same way, they say that it is the craving for pleasurable baubles and not the enjoyment from them that holds humans back. [3]

Buddhist economists do not believe in measuring standard of living by the amount of consumption because according to them, obtaining maximum well being as a result of minimum consumption is more important than obtaining maximum well being from maximum consumption. Thus, they feel that the concept of being "better off" because of greater levels of consumption is not a true measure of happiness. [3]

Buddhist economics also gives importance to natural, renewable, and non-renewable resources. They feel that non-renewable resources should only be used when most needed and then also with utmost care, meticulously planning out its use. They believe that using them extravagantly is violent and not in keeping with the Buddhist belief of nonviolence. According to them, if the entire population relies on non-renewable resources for their existence, they are behaving parasitically, preying on capital goods instead of income. Adding to this, they feel that this uneven distribution and ever increasing exploitation of natural resources will lead to violence between man. [3]

They also believe that satisfaction need not necessarily be felt only when something tangible is got back in return for giving something or something material is gained, as stated in modern economics. They say that the feeling of satisfaction can be achieved even when one parts with something without getting anything tangible in return. An example is when one gives presents to their loved ones simply because they want them to be happy. [2]

Buddhist economists believe that production is a very misleading term. According to them, to produce something new, the old form has to be destroyed. Therefore, production and consumption become complementary to each other. Taking this into consideration, they advocate non-production in certain cases because when one produces less materialistic things, they reduce exploitation of the world's resources and lead the life of a responsible and aware citizen. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

Gross domestic product Market value of goods and services produced within a country

Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period by countries. GDP (nominal) per capita does not, however, reflect differences in the cost of living and the inflation rates of the countries; therefore, using a basis of GDP per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) may be more useful when comparing living standards between nations, while nominal GDP is more useful comparing national economies on the international market. Total GDP can also be broken down into the contribution of each industry or sector of the economy. The ratio of GDP to the total population of the region is the per capita GDP and the same is called Mean Standard of Living.

Neoclassical economics is an approach to economics in which the production, consumption and valuation (pricing) of goods and services are observed as driven by the supply and demand model. According to this line of thought, the value of a good or service is determined through a hypothetical maximization of utility by income-constrained individuals and of profits by firms facing production costs and employing available information and factors of production. This approach has often been justified by appealing to rational choice theory, a theory that has come under considerable question in recent years.

A variety of measures of national income and output are used in economics to estimate total economic activity in a country or region, including gross domestic product (GDP), gross national product (GNP), net national income (NNI), and adjusted national income. All are specially concerned with counting the total amount of goods and services produced within the economy and by various sectors. The boundary is usually defined by geography or citizenship, and it is also defined as the total income of the nation and also restrict the goods and services that are counted. For instance, some measures count only goods & services that are exchanged for money, excluding bartered goods, while other measures may attempt to include bartered goods by imputing monetary values to them.

Productivism or growthism is the belief that measurable productivity and growth are the purpose of human organization, and that "more production is necessarily good". Critiques of productivism center primarily on the limits to growth posed by a finite planet and extend into discussions of human procreation, the work ethic, and even alternative energy production.

Wealth Abundance of valuable financial assets or physical possessions which can be converted into a form that can be used for transactions

Wealth is the abundance of valuable financial assets or physical possessions which can be converted into a form that can be used for transactions. This includes the core meaning as held in the originating Old English word weal, which is from an Indo-European word stem. The modern concept of wealth is of significance in all areas of economics, and clearly so for growth economics and development economics, yet the meaning of wealth is context-dependent. An individual possessing a substantial net worth is known as wealthy. Net worth is defined as the current value of one's assets less liabilities.

The invisible hand is an economic concept that describes the unintended greater social benefits and public good brought about by individuals acting in their own self-interests. The concept was first introduced by Adam Smith in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, written in 1759. According to Smith, it is literally divine providence, that is the hand of God, that works to make this happen.

<i>The Theory of the Leisure Class</i> Book by Thorstein Veblen

The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899) is a treatise of economics and sociology written by the Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen, and social critique of conspicuous consumption as a function of social class and of consumerism, which are social activities derived from the social stratification of people and the division of labor; the social institutions of the feudal period that have continued to the modern era.

Consumption (economics) Using money to obtain an item for use

Consumption is the act of using resources to satisfy current needs and wants. It is seen in contrast to investing, which is spending for acquisition of future income. Consumption is a major concept in economics and is also studied in many other social sciences.

Buddhist culture is exemplified through Buddhist art, Buddhist architecture, Buddhist music and Buddhist cuisine. As Buddhism expanded from the Indian subcontinent it adopted artistic and cultural elements of host countries in other parts of Asia.

Steady-state economy Constant capital and population size

A steady-state economy is an economy made up of a constant stock of physical wealth (capital) and a constant population size. In effect, such an economy does not grow in the course of time. The term usually refers to the national economy of a particular country, but it is also applicable to the economic system of a city, a region, or the entire world. Early in the history of economic thought, classical economist Adam Smith of the 18th century developed the concept of a stationary state of an economy: Smith believed that any national economy in the world would sooner or later settle in a final state of stationarity.

<i>Small Is Beautiful</i> Book by Ernst Friedrich Schumacher

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The idea of want can be examined from many perspectives. In secular societies want might be considered similar to the emotion desire, which can be studied scientifically through the disciplines of psychology or sociology. Want might also be examined in economics as a necessary ingredient in sustaining and perpetuating capitalist societies that are organised around principles like consumerism. Alternatively want can be studied in a non-secular, spiritual, moralistic or religious way, particularly by Buddhism but also Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

Anti-consumerism is a sociopolitical ideology that is opposed to consumerism, the continual buying and consuming of material possessions. Anti-consumerism is concerned with the private actions of business corporations in pursuit of financial and economic goals at the expense of the public welfare, especially in matters of environmental protection, social stratification, and ethics in the governing of a society. In politics, anti-consumerism overlaps with environmental activism, anti-globalization, and animal-rights activism; moreover, a conceptual variation of anti-consumerism is post-consumerism, living in a material way that transcends consumerism.

Tibor Scitovsky

Tibor de Scitovsky, also known as Tibor Scitovsky, was a Hungarian born, American economist who was best known for his writing on the nature of people's happiness in relation to consumption. He was Associate Professor and Professor of Economics at Stanford University from 1946 through 1958 and Eberle Professor of Economics from 1970 until his retirement in 1976, when he became Professor Emeritus. In honor of his deep contributions to economic analysis, he was elected Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association, Fellow of the Royal Economic Society, member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy.

Buddhist ethics Ethics in Buddhism

Buddhist ethics are traditionally based on what Buddhists view as the enlightened perspective of the Buddha. The term for ethics or morality used in Buddhism is Śīla or sīla (Pāli). Śīla in Buddhism is one of three sections of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is a code of conduct that embraces a commitment to harmony and self-restraint with the principal motivation being nonviolence, or freedom from causing harm. It has been variously described as virtue, moral discipline and precept.

The economics of happiness or happiness economics is the theoretical, qualitative and quantitative study of happiness and quality of life, including positive and negative affects, well-being, life satisfaction and related concepts – typically tying economics more closely than usual with other social sciences, like sociology and psychology, as well as physical health. It typically treats subjective happiness-related measures, as well as more objective quality of life indices, rather than wealth, income or profit, as something to be maximized.

Sufficiency economy is the name of a Thai development approach attributed to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's "sufficiency economy philosophy" (SEP). It has been elaborated upon by Thai academics and agencies, promoted by the Government of Thailand, and applied by over 23,000 villages in Thailand that have SEP-based projects in operation.

Degrowth is a term used for both a political, economic, and social movement as well as a set of theories that critiques the paradigm of economic growth. It is based on ideas from a diverse range of lines of thought such as political ecology, ecological economics, feminist political ecology, and environmental justice, pointing out the social and ecological harm caused by the pursuit of infinite growth and Western "development" imperatives. Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with social and environmental well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity. Hence, although GDP is likely to shrink in a "Degrowth society", i.e. a society in which the objectives of the degrowth movement are achieved, this is not the primary objective of degrowth.

Precautionary saving is saving that occurs in response to uncertainty regarding future income. The precautionary motive to delay consumption and save in the current period rises due to the lack of completeness of insurance markets. Accordingly, individuals will not be able to insure against some bad state of the economy in the future. They anticipate that if this bad state is realized, they will earn lower income. To avoid adverse effects of future income fluctuations and retain a smooth path of consumption, they set aside a precautionary reserve, called precautionary savings, by consuming less in the current period, and resort to it in case the bad state is realized in the future.

Good and evil Philosophical dichotomy

In religion, ethics, philosophy, and psychology "good and evil" is a very common dichotomy. In cultures with Manichaean and Abrahamic religious influence, evil is usually perceived as the dualistic antagonistic opposite of good, in which good should prevail and evil should be defeated. In cultures with Buddhist spiritual influence, both good and evil are perceived as part of an antagonistic duality that itself must be overcome through achieving Śūnyatā meaning emptiness in the sense of recognition of good and evil being two opposing principles but not a reality, emptying the duality of them, and achieving a oneness.


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