Buddhist economics

An old wall at the International Convention Centre in Durban, covered with wild fig treesI have recently done a couple of public talks on ‘Buddhism and economics’, explaining how the absence of values from contemporary discussions of economics undermines human life and dignity. While people tend to think of religions as being either Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, etc, I argue that religions are the things we put faith in — and that in the Western milieu, even those of us offering allegiance to formal traditions in fact put all too much faith in consumerism, economic growth and the high priests and oracles we call economists.

So, ‘economics’ — understood here not so much as a science but as a cultural phenomenon — has become a destructive contemporary cult that elevates discussions of costs and disregards ethics, engages in empty and mindblowingly expensive rituals such as investment banking, peddles unscientific myths about resource limits, reduces living beings to statistics and turns a blind eye to growing global inequality, and accelerating ecocide.

Remedies include rebuilding democracy, establishing economies based on employee ownership, reducing income inequality, shifting from GDP measurement to different metrics for social and economic success — learning to feel more for others, ‘consume less, share better’ and slow down. Here’s the presentation that goes with the talk, constantly evolving on the rather wonderful Prezi.com.


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I am an environmental writer, journalist and speaker living in Cape Town, South Africa.

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