Tuesday, November 28, 2017
With an upcoming focus on extreme poverty, discussion must be had on how economic decisions are made in the US. Buddhist economics looks for a "middle way" between profitability, full employment and sustainability. One false foundation of US economics doctrine is a belief in certainty. We see certainty, or perhaps it is inflexibility, playing out in the tax plan pending in Congress. Those claiming that trickle down economics theory is valid believe - or claim to believe- that the more money retained by the wealthiest business owners, the more jobs that will be created. While this theory has been disproved, the notion is hawked with certainty.
In the other extreme, living a life of prayer and mediation may be ideal for some, but few can afford the luxury of a contemplative life, absent a wealthy patron. For most, spirituality must be woven into a life that includes work so that the individual can survive, meet basic needs and sustainability. Finding balance between entitlement and necessity would be one middle way. In order to establish full employment for those who need resources to support self and family, that middle option must be developed. There is no one prescription except that in Buddhism, one would be a consumer only to the extent that one's needs are met and sustainability must be a factor is business decisions.
US corporate economic policy rests in large part upon obsolescence. Products are often not made for sustainability and require frequent replacement. In other instances consumer desire for the latest version or upgrade drives consumer purchasing, again without reflection on sustainability. Attachment to goods is countered by the Buddhist principle of non-detachment. Reductions in force with no work replacement for employees counters Buddhist belief that all are connected. In Buddhist economics, sustainability, fairness and compassion are equal parts with profitability.
How do we begin to find the "middle" economic way? Business must view the creation of a healthy workforce as a priority. Corporate responsibility needs to extend to the health and happiness of employees. Business must recognize that executive success is best measured by the connection to the people that comprise the workforce, not to the dollars earned. Supporting each individual to engage in "right livelihood" is essential to Buddhist economics but also to the sustainability of US ideals of opportunity. Demanding that shared prosperity benefit all does not require income leveling. Once the lowest of employees is paid an amount that permits workers to meet their needs and the needs of their dependents, CEO compensation may be irrelevant.