Buddhism and Economic Development

Buddhism is not some religion of quietism, although it is that as well. But rather, Buddhism as a lived practice (specifically situated, as I am, in mainland Southeast Asia) could potentially inform economic development in the same locale. Let's find out...

The Language of Business

As an aside, it is important to criticize those works which remain either hermetical in nature, or deeply embedded in religious discourse, as opposed to economic discourse. When titles such as Buddhist Virtues in Socio-Economic Development are promulgated, it is clear the focus is how one sphere of influence and discourse is supposed to impact another. The unitary nature of the good, the useful, and the beautiful (articulated by Buddha as well as the greeks) is firmly lost (along with the Kantian project).

The voice of Buddhism must learn to speak in the language of economics and business. Not to transform Buddhism, but to inform entrepreneurial activity and development.

The Language of Development

Another critical problem is the language of development

Buddhist Clarifications of Entrepreneurial Activity

And so, how can Buddhism inform economic and entrepreneurial activity? First of all, Buddhism must provide insights for the entrepreneur, not merely the Buddhist or the government or NGO development agency. Why is this important? If Buddhism can't act as a important resource from an entrepreneurial perspective, then it is already severed from the realm of economic activity. This is a key point that many will disagree with. But for an Entrepreneur, Buddhism should be valuable to the business enterprise. From a Buddhist perspective, of course, Buddhism is not exhausted by the domain of economics and the economy. But it must be at the least applicable in some interesting and important way (and hopefully critically so).

There are several helpful sources to base this analysis:

  • Buddhist Economics for Business by Laszlo Zsolnai
  • Buddhist Economics: Evolution, Theories and Its Application to Various Economic Subjects by Apichai Puntasen
  • Gross National Happiness Explained in Detail by the Centre for Bhutan Studies
  • Small is Beautiful by E.F. Schumacher

Insight into Reality

Buddhists talk about insight into nature as the objective of Buddha Dhamma. But it is better approached through philosophical language in terms of the structure of reality, or the Heideggerian being of beings. Insight is taken to mean a moment (or more) of realization. In this case, economics and entrepreneurship could surely benefit from insight into reality, and thereby avoiding building an economy or society on unstable foundations.

As Schumacher puts it:

Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it.

This instrumental view as well as the focus on production (rather than consumption or distribution) misses a variety of points which can be considered:

  • Growth as the principle mechanism does not focus on consumption but only on production
  • Emphasis on increasing use and pleasure does not focus on the avoidance of pain and reduction of risk
  • The lack of scope as the planetary body and care for its inhabitants as a primary objective

Big Picture Issues

Buddhism is meant, among other things, to align the small with the global and the deep structures of reality. In this case, alignment can provide fundamental economic and entrepreneurial insight.

Incomplete - More to follow