Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Buddhist Economics - Part II

We will continue with our discussion on Buddhist Economics based on E. F. Schumacher’s book, ‘Small is Beautiful’. Part I discussed about the concept of Labor. This post will discuss about mechanization of labor.

On Mechanization
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?



Using work to purify one's thoughts - I think it's a noble idea. At work you can learn the value of patience (when things aren't happing fast enough), compassion (when someone makes a mistake) and generosity (lending a helping hand).

In a capitalist society though, if you are seen to practice too much patience, compassion and generosity in the office, you're marked as a weakling and probably bullied to kingdom come. Usually the guy who bangs the table and terrifies everyone is the one to get promoted. And you'd be called stupid if you typed your own letter (and learned patience with it) when you have a secretary. There's a lot of emotional violence happening in today's offices.

I like the concept of Buddhist values at work. I'm just wondering how to apply it in our day and age.


Dear Damien,

IMHO, this really depends on the company culture and the tone set at the top. I believe that we can be kind, yet firm. Obviously, it's a tough balancing act - something we should constantly strive for.

Indeed, some companies go beyond all ethical and moral boundaries. A prime example is the contaminated milk case in China. I wonder how the top management would feel if the Government asks them to feed their own children with such milk for over a period of one year. Then, perhaps they would feel the anguish they've caused to their customers.



as long they 'add' value to the shareholders, who's really care wor?

pls let me know if you found any such corporations to work for.


Dear Ah Keong,

You want to work for unethical companies? Later get jailed-lar...


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