- Buddhist Economics
- Limitations of Economic Theory in the Industrial Age
- (1) Specialization
- (2) Not free of ethics, but inattentive to them
- (3) Unable to be a science, but wanting to be one
- (4) Lack of clarity in its understanding of human nature
- — (a) Want
- — (b) Consumption
- — (c) Work and working
- — (d) Competition & Cooperation
- — (e) Contentment and Consumerism
- The Major Characteristics of Buddhist Economics
- (1) Middle-way economics: realization of true well-being
- (2) Not harming oneself or others
- Appendix: General Principles of Buddhist Economics (Middle-way Economics)
- 1. Wise Consumption
- 2. Freedom from Self-harm and from Oppression of Others
- 3. Economy as a Support
- 4. Harmony with Human Nature
- 5. Integration with the Unity of Nature
- Origin of this Book
- Translator’s Foreword
1. Wise Consumption
Consumption is the starting point of the entire economic process, because production, trade, and distribution all originally stem from consumption.
At the same time, consumption is also the goal and end-point of all economic activity, because production, t
rade, and distribution are accomplished and fulfilled by the act of consumption.
As the recipients of both good and bad effects of economic activity, consumers should realize that they have some freedom of choice about what they consume so that they can truly benefit from consumption. Such free or independent consumption hinges on wise consumption.
Wise consumption enables a consumer to discern the various factors at play in the economy, and leads to a moderation of consumption and an overall balance of economic activity, benefiting all members of society.
A simple example of wise consumption relates to the act of eating. Here, while eating, the consumer of food realizes that he or she is:
- A member of society: people’s needs and desires are induced and influenced by society, e.g. social values. One may simply be eating in order to show off one’s status, to appear trendy, or for amusement.
- A part of nature: people’s needs are determined by natural causes and conditions. People need to eat in order to sustain life, to maintain a strong and healthy body, to be free from illness, to live at ease, and to have the physical attributes to live a virtuous and productive life.
If people recognize that the true requirement in regard to consuming food comprises the natural needs in the second clause above, they will eat with the objective of maintaining a strong and healthy body and of living a good life, i.e. for a good quality of life.
Such people will, as a rule, meet the demands and requirements of the body in order to achieve a good quality of life. Satisfying the needs and desires of society will be secondary and will only be met after careful consideration.
This is called wise consumption, enabling the consumer to benefit from goods and commodities and to enjoy them appropriately.
Applying the language of economics, consumption is not merely the use of goods and commodities and the fulfilment of desires for a vague sense of satisfaction, but consumption is the use of goods and fulfilment of desires for deriving true contentment, recognizing that one obtains a good quality of life, i.e. one obtains the the genuine advantages and objectives of consuming, for instance in relation to eating described above.
Wise consumption is thus at the heart of a balanced or righteous economy, because it generates moderation and contentment in regard to the amount and kinds of objects consumed, satisfying people’s needs and enabling them to fulfil the true objectives of consuming and enjoying things.
Furthermore, wise consumption acts as the criterion for controlling production and for regulating other aspects of the economy. Moreover, it rectifies mistaken social values, e.g. a tendency towards extravagance and luxury, and it reduces social oppression and destruction of the natural environment, leading to wasteful use of natural resources and to generating levels of pollution beyond the capacity for society to cope with.
On the contrary, unwise consumption entails a lack of reflection and awareness about the true objectives of consuming goods and commodities. For instance, a person may consume things simply to gratify desires dictated by society, e.g. by trying to appear fashionable or by showing off his or her social status. Besides failing to achieve the true objectives of consumption, such behaviour leads to extravagance and waste, to oppression of other people, and to a destruction of the environment.
Unwise consumption leads to a great waste of resources and impairs the quality of people’s lives, which is the true purpose of consumption. For instance, one may eat an extravagant meal and spend $300, but the richness of the food may cause illness for the body, undermining one’s health and wellbeing. A wise consumer, on the other hand, may spend only $3, yet eat healthy food and thus fulfil the true objective of eating.
These days the business model of maximizing profit is widespread and has become part of globalization; as a result economic production has increased dramatically.
Normally, producers act to serve consumers or to satisfy the needs of consumers, and consumers determine the act of production.
But circumstances have changed. Producers now have power over the consumers, to the extent of regulating consumption. Consumption now acts to fulfil the commercial desires of the producers. Producers whip up desires in consumers and generate new popular trends, which are often not advantageous to the consumer and are detrimental to both society and the natural environment.
Producers with a sense of moral obligation will use their creativity to produce new merchandise that provide consumers with improved choices and that truly meet their needs. This is especially true in regard to those things that broaden people’s intellectual horizons or expand their degree of knowledge and support the development of human beings and the progress of society.
Such responsible action conforms to the principle of a ‘supportive economy,’ whereby the economy is supportive or conducive within a ‘mode of conditionality’ (paccayākāra): a wholesome system of interdependence and interrelation, encompassing individual people, the society, and the natural environment, and enhancing human civilization.
The problem lies with a form of production that views consumers as prey and only seeks to increase profit and personal gain, by inciting various kinds of indulgence and infatuation, generating a vortex of greedy consumption. Such activity destroys people’s quality of life and undermines their wellbeing.
These detrimental effects also occur because consumers lack a form of self-development, or they do not stay abreast of genuine progress within their society. At least, they are not shrewd consumers and they are unable to compete with the intelligence of the producers.
In developing countries, if the percentage of wise consumers does not significantly increase, the citizens of these countries will be led astray by the economic systems prevalent in developed countries controlling production, and they will fall into the trap of enslavement to personal craving. They won’t have the strength to recover from this state of weakness or resist the power of so-called progress.
Although such an economy may be in a state of bearish growth, it can only be considered ‘good’ from a deceptive numerical perspective. The numbers or statistics conceal any inherent corruption or degeneration in the economy, allowing weakness and decay to be sustained and making it increasingly difficult to rectify the situation.
For this reason it is imperative to foster a development of consumers, so that they stay abreast of producers and the flow of business. Here, producers simply submit new merchandise and adopt the appropriate role of serving the consumers. Consumers apply discriminative knowledge (vicāraṇa-ñāṇa) when choosing merchandise, enabling the true benefits of consumption to be achieved, and they maintain their freedom, acting to determine economic activity and fulfilling the true purpose of human life.
Wise consumption is equivalent to balanced and optimum consumption. It lies at the heart of what may be called an optimum economy, a sufficiency economy, or a middle-way economy. One can say that it is the economy of those who are spiritually developed and truly civilized.
Put in other words, wise consumption is the starting point and essence of a Buddhist economy, because it lies at the centre of economic activity and determines the entire economic process, including production and advertisement. Moreover, it sustains all that is good and constructive in the economy.
In sum, wise consumption is the essence of right livelihood (sammā-ājīva), one of the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, i.e. of a virtuous life.
Especially in regard to wise consumption, a middle-way economy must be related to human spiritual development and also be linked to other principles pertaining to Buddhist economics.