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What Is Buddhist Economics and How Does it Compare to Milton Friedman S PhilosophyEssay

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Buddhist Economics

What I perceive to be the beauty of Buddhist Economics is its insistence on work as a three-fold endeavor that actually benefits man and society as a whole, as opposed to the more materialistic view of a work as a "necessary evil" as Schumacher (1966) describes it -- the view of the modern globalist capitalist society as interpreted by the modern economist (p. 2). In other words, modern society and modern economists take a profoundly de-spiritualized view of the world, of the nature of work, and of themselves. They reduce the system of nature to a mechanical formula and re-interpret this in economic fashion, distilling (so they believe) in the process the perfect "proof" for economic theory. It is, in the end, an empty and unworkable theory -- and today's global economic state, which is at the mercy of the central banks of the world, is the actual living proof that the modern economist is wrong in his worldview. The beauty of Buddhist Economics is that it spiritualizes the worldview, harmonizes man with his surroundings/society and gives his work meaning. It is not empty, mechanical, and performed solely for the sake of monetary profit -- it is something that builds the character of the work, strengthens the whole of society, and elevates man in a spiritual way by allowing him to fulfill a transcendent purpose.

This is, of course, not the way that someone like Milton Friedman would view work or economics. Friedman (1970) is notorious for asserting that corporate "social responsibility" is a political maneuver -- specifically a "socialist" (in the derogatory sense of the word) maneuver, which has no place in a capitalistic system. What he asserts is grossly inaccurate. Capitalists have a fundamental human responsibility to care for the society in which they are involved. It is for this reason that the trade deals of recent decades, such as NAFTA, GATT and the forthcoming TPP, have been and are bad for society (even if they have been good for the corporations who profit from the cheap labor they afford and the monopolies they produce). As Sir James Goldsmith noted, "If the masses understood the truth about GATT, there would be blood in the streets of many capitals" (Gladwyn, 2010, p. 186) -- and the reason for this assessment was that because of the trade deals such as this one, communities (the home states of the corporations backing the trade deals) were being robbed of their avenues to labor, to gainful employment. The trade deals were ruinous for society -- and today's current political outsiders are saying as much (which is one reason for someone like Trump's popular appeal). Yet, the Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand take on capital would be such that these trade deals would be seen as good things to them. For a Buddhist Economist, however, they were bad because they undermined the spiritual principles and foundations of society and man's place in that society as a working individual.

The principle of human endeavor that supports the Buddhist Economic theory is that work is work a means of giving "man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence" (Schumacher, 1966, p. 2). Each of these points is important and imperative in informing the appropriate worldview from which an effective theory of economics can be devised. Contrasted with the Adam Smith viewpoint put forward in Wealth of Nations, namely that a "division of labor" is the best way for a productive society to produce and by producing inevitably eliminate the need for labor (and, therefore, make a necessary evil an unnecessary one). Such a viewpoint is completely antithetical to the Buddhist Economics viewpoint -- that labor is not an evil in any sense of the word but rather a good, and that it should be cultivated as a good for the sake of both man and society. People should be placed before profits and corporate social responsibility should be a real thing -- not just an airy concept that multinationals talk about and pay lip service homage to now and again in order to keep the populace from embarking on head hunting missions and fulfilling the prophecy dictated by Goldsmith in response to the passing of GATT.

As Wilhelm (2013) notes "we have built our capitalistic market structure on two principles: an abundance of cheap fossil fuel energy and a focus on maximizing shareholder value in our business activity" (p. 3) and this is problematic because it puts not only societies at risk but also the planet as a whole. The exploitation of labor in the global economy is matched only by the exploitation of fossil fuels at the expense of innovation and ingenuity (is there any real reason better sources of energy have not hit the marketplace in the past century?). The issue at hand is the current marketplace is monopolized and in the hands of a powerful few: those few dictate prices, dictate costs, dictate demand, and dictate what shall be consumed. The curious thing about the Ayn Rand "objectivist" perspective is that while she purports to affirm the will of the individual, it is this precise will to power that is at the heart and soul of the current global economic paradigm -- it is not an other-oriented system but a self-oriented system, for Rand put the self above all else: as she tells Mike Wallace in her 1959 interview, man has to hold "reason as an absolute, by which I mean he has to hold reason as his only guide to action" -- a particularly Enlightenment-oriented approach -- "and that he must lead by the independent judgment of his own mind; that his highest moral purpose is the achievement of his own happiness" (Rand, 1959). Clearly, the philosophy underpinning Rand's "breakthrough" and "revolutionary" "new" philosophy is nothing other than the self-centeredness that the Buddhist Economics theorist identifies as the source of unhappiness in man and in society as a whole. Rand puts a moral and ethical veneer on the philosophy of egocentrism and calls it new and good -- but a tree can be judged by its fruits and it is plain to see after more than half a century of Randian economics (Greenspan was part of her circle after all) that the miserable failure of central banking egocentrism is evident all over the planet: the fear index is at an all-time high, yet market complacency continues to show just how nonchalant everyone has gotten about it. Recession has all but announced itself, yet no one is screaming fire except the same old tired voices (Peter Schiff and Ron Paul, to name a few). The inevitable snap seems closer than ever, but who is listening? The fact is, the market today has been propped up by QE (quantitative easing) and that is the only thing holding it up. Market complacency exists because the market knows that the Fed and the ECB are backstopping everything -- but at the same time the smart money smells blood in the water and is selling into the rallies as we speak (Chang, 2016).

Quantity does not equal quality. Quantity was the key to the division of labor. However, quality of life actually suffered as a result. Society became too immersed in consumerism, in the law of supply and demand, in the need for ever greater profit margins, in the need for an ever greater return on investment, in the need for more attention paid to shareholder interest, dividends, etc. Instead of considering the good of work in and of itself and the good of doing something for the sake of the other -- for the sake of the quality and enjoyment and craftsmanship that it provided, society went along with the capitalist dream of Smith: it bought into the materialist trap -- the idea that all one needed was more stuff -- more pins from the pin factory, and everything would be okay. The fact that Milton Friedman had the gall to ask Donahue, "Tell me, is there some society you know of that doesn't run on greed?" just shows how corrupt the entire global economic system has become. Friedman is its poster-boy -- the whitewasher of the elitist system of greed that he calls good.

The Buddhist Economist, however, puts the lie to this principle: it is "standing the truth on its head by considering goods as more important than people and consumption as more important than creative activity" (Schumacher, 1966, p. 4). Materialists like Friedman are "mainly interested in goods, the Buddhist is mainly interested in liberation" (Schumacher, 1966, p. 4). Wealth is not the problem -- it is the "attachment to wealth" that is the problem. People want more and more for themselves -- the foundation of all societies, says Friedman. He may be right for the modern era -- but any society… [END OF PREVIEW]

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