E.F. Schumacher on Buddhist Economics…

Let us take some fundamentals and see what they look like when viewed by a modern economist and a Buddhist Economist.

There is universal agreement that a fundamental source of wealth is human labour. Now, the modern economist has been brought up to consider “labour” or work as little more than a necessary evil. From the point of view of the employer, it is in any case simply an item of cost, to be reduced to a minimum if it cannot be eliminated altogether, say, by automation. From the point of view of the workman, it is a “disutility”; to work is to make a sacrifice of one’s leisure and comfort, and wages are a kind of compensation for the sacrifice. Hence the ideal from the point of view of the employer is to have output without employees, and the ideal from the point of view of the employee is to have income without employment.

The consequences of these attitudes both in theory and in practice, are of course, far-reaching. If the ideal with regard to work is to get rid of it, every method that “reduces the workload” is a good thing. The most potent method, short of automation, is the so-called “division of labour” and the classical example is the pin factory eulogised in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Here it is not a matter of ordinary specialisation which mankind has practised from time immemorial, but of dividing up every complete process of production into minute parts, so that the final product can be produced with great speed without anyone having had to contribute more than a totally insignificant, and, in most cases, unskilled movement of his limbs.

The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties, to enable him to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, stultifying, or nerve-racking for a worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.

From the Buddhist’s point of view, there are therefore two types of mechanisation 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. How to tell the one from the other?

To be continued…

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Posted on September 10, 2004, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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