(1) Specialization

1 May 2535

(1) Specialization

At the present time economists consider economic activity in isolation, without reference to other forms of human activity or to other academic disciplines. This specialization is one of the characteristics of development in the Industrial Age. Consequently, when looking at human activity, economists try to eliminate all non-economic aspects or standpoints from their considerations and concentrate on a single perspective: that of their own discipline. The isolation of economic questions from their wider context may be taken to be the primary cause of many of the problems that currently beset us.

In Buddhism, economics is not separated from other branches of knowledge and experience. In efforts to remedy the problems of the human race, economic activities are not abstracted from activities in other fields. Economics is not seen as an independent, self-contained science but as one of a number of interdependent disciplines working within the whole social/existential matrix. Ostensible economic activities are looked at from a number of different perspectives. Advertising may be taken as an example; speaking in purely economic terms, advertising consists of methods used to persuade people to buy things. It leads to a rise in sales but as costs are increased makes goods become more expensive. But advertising is also bound up with popular values: advertisers must draw on common aspirations, prejudice and desires in order to produce advertisements that are appealing. Social psychology is employed to utilize popular values for economic ends. Advertising also has an ethical significance because of its repercussions on the popular mind. The volume of advertising may cause an increase in materialism, and inappropriate images or messages may harm public morality. On the political plane, decisions have to be made regarding policy on advertising—should there be any control, and if so, of what kind? How is one to achieve the proper balance between moral and economic concerns? Education is also involved. Ways may have to be found to teach people to be aware of how advertising works, to reflect on it, and to consider how much of it is to be believed. Good education should seek to make people more intelligent in making decisions about buying goods. So the subject of advertising demonstrates how activities prevalent in society may have to be considered from many perspectives, all of which are interrelated.

Specialization can be a great benefit so long as we don’t lose sight of our basic goal. The various disciplines are intended to be different constituents of a complete response to human problems. If the extent of each discipline’s responsibility is fully determined, then that responsibility can be fulfilled and the point of contact between disciplines be more clearly defined. Then a more concerted effort to relieve human suffering will be possible, one which will have better results than are being achieved at present. The error lies in our pride, taking our own discipline to be capable of solving all difficulties by itself. Not only is it a mistaken notion but it prevents a successful solution of the problems at hand. If this point is accepted then we must find exactly where economics connects with other sciences, disciplines, and human activities. Where does economics connect with education, and ethics, in dealing with human problems? If these points of contact can be clarified then it would be possible to find the true value of specialization.

Mr. Schumacher’s point that the existence of Right Livelihood as one of the factors of the Eightfold Path necessitates a Buddhist economics has further implications. Firstly, it indicates that Right Livelihood (or economics) must be considered of great importance in Buddhism for it to be included as one of the path factors. It shows that Buddhism accepts the significance of economics. Secondly, and conversely, it means that economics is taken to be merely one amongst a number of factors (traditionally eight) that comprise a right way of life, i.e. one capable of solving the problems facing humanity.

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