Toward a Buddhist Economics,
One of a series of personal explorations
by Milo Clark

Note from Swans: Due to the rich contents of this essay, it will be published over three days; today, tomorrow and the day after.

I take refuge in the inspiration of the lives of the Buddhas, in the teachings of the Buddhas and in the community of those who accept those teachings to guide their living.

Perhaps Fritz Schumacher’s most influential chapter in Small is Beautiful is the fourth, Buddhist Economics. Citing the fifth of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Livelihood, Schumacher suggests that Buddhism, like Western materialism, may, could and perhaps should also result in a Buddhist economic system. To Schumacher, practices putting goods at higher value than humankind puts the matter backwards. J. C. Kumarappa in Economy and Permanence states:

"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."

Schumacher credits much of his own identification that small is beautiful to the little known philosopher-social economist Leopold Kohr. Kohr’s analyses led him to one conclusion: The problem is size. From The Breakdown of Nations:

"As the physicists of our time have tried to elaborate an integrated single theory, capable of explaining not only some but all phenomena of the physical universe, so I have tried on a different plane to develop a single theory through which not only some but all phenomena of the social universe can be reduced to a common denominator. The result is a new and unified political theory centering on the theory of size. It suggests that there seems only one cause behind all forms of social misery: bigness. Oversimplified as this may seem, we shall find the idea more easily acceptable if we consider that bigness, or oversize, is really more than just a social problem. It appears to be the one and only problem permeating all creation. Wherever there is something wrong, something is too big."
"Social problems have the unfortunate tendency to grow at a geometric ratio with the growth of the organism of which they are a part, while the ability of man to cope with them, if it can be extended at all, grows only at an arithmetic ratio. Which means that if a society grows beyond its optimum size, its problems must eventually outrun the growth of those human faculties which are necessary for dealing with them."

With apologies to Sir Isaac Newton, the effectiveness of size diminishes with the square of the distance within. "...the problem can be solved only by tackling the scale of it." Pythagoras identified man as the measure of all things. Leonardo DaVinci drew his classic circle created by the outreach of a man, the human scale! Kirkpatrick Sale titled his enthusiastic 1980 compendium of problems and solutions, Human Scale. Sale ends his book with Kohr, a prayer and an offering of choice.

Kohr: "The . . .small state world could be established without force or violence. . . . BUT WILL IT BE DONE? No!"

Prayer: "We can work to achieve. . . a world, of course, at the human scale."

Choice: "Pentagon. . . Pyramid. . . or Parthenon?"

A Small Beginning. . .

To contemplate a Buddhist Economics, what better place than small beginnings: Shakyamuni Buddha’s initial teachings about right living on this planet. What follows is an understanding of Buddhism, one of many possible, by one student.

(To be continued)

Published May 28, 1996
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