NOTE: in the coming weeks, we will be posting short thought pieces written by our founder from 2000-2015. These posts were, at the time, speaking about a world that was still in the process of emerging - and that is now here.
What comes after 20th century, consumption-based Capitalism? This isn’t THE answer, but the people at the New Economics Institute are actively engaged in the inquiry.
Their work is based on – or at least inspired by – the work of economist E.F. Schumacher. Here’s a brief excerpt from an article of his in Resurgence magazine from 1968 entitled Buddhist Economics:
“The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness 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, boring, stultifying, or nerveracking for the 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 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. How to tell one from the other? “The craftsman himself”, says Ananda Coomaraswamy, a man equally competent to talk about the Modern West as the Ancient East, “the craftsman himself 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 craftsman’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”. It is clear, therefore, that Buddhist economics must be very different from the economics of modern materialism, since the Buddhist sees the essence of civilization not in the 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 philospher and economist J.C.Kumarappa sums up the matter 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 freewill 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.”
Our common understanding of "work" has become so twisted that Schumacher's observations seem idealistic and naive. Yet, this vision of work is not only possible, but necessary.
Necessary if we are to find the meaning that seems to be so absent from life in the 21st century.
Necessary if we are to address the question of what human beings will do when machines can do much of what we now do.
Necessary if we are to reclaim and maintain our humanity as so many aspects of our day-to-day lives are reshaped by the forces of the digital era.
this post was originally published on Jan 26, 2011