From the Buddhist point of view, there are therefore two types of mechanization which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.
When is a machine an Enhancer or Slave?
“The craftsman himself,” says Ananda Coomaraswamy, a man equally competent to talk about the modern West as the ancient East, “can always, if allowed to, draw the delicate distinction between the machine and the tool.
The carpet loom is a tool, a contrivance for holding warp threads at a stretch for the pile to be woven round them by the craftsmen’s fingers; but the power loom is a machine, and its significance as a destroyer of culture lies in the fact that it does the essentially human part of the work.”
Work Serves to Purify One’s Character
It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilisation not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character. Character, at the same time, is formed primarily by a man’s work. And work, properly conducted in conditions of human dignity and freedom, blesses those who do it and equally their products.
The Indian philosopher and economist J. C. Kumarappa sums the matter up as follows:
“If the nature of the work is properly appreciated and applied, it will stand in the same relation to the higher faculties as food is to the physical body. It nourishes and enlivens the higher man and urges him to produce the best he is capable of. It directs his free will along the proper course and disciplines the animal in him into progressive channels. It furnishes an excellent background for man to display his scale of values and develop his personality.
If a man has no chance of obtaining work he is in a desperate position, not simply because he lacks an income but because he lacks this nourishing and enlivening factor of disciplined work which nothing can replace.”
Conventional economic systems places primacy of producing goods at the lowest cost, without any regard of the people employed. With the advent of new technologies, thousands of workers find themselves being ruthlessly retrenched. Can you imagine the impact of retrenchment on these people’s respect, their families and communities? Surely, an economic system that places people first is more humane than one that places goods first. Any questions or comments?