The question: What economic system would really benefit humanity?
Every year the World Economic Forum in Davos seems to take a materialistic view of the economy. I hope this year it will be different.
After the inauguration of Barack Obama, the new president of the United States, new and moral thoughts are in the air. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, have also talked about moral capitalism. The current economic crisis is a "crisis of desires" and unless we are able to explore and consider the moral, spiritual and ethical dimensions of the economy, true economic recovery will be a distant dream.
I come from a Jain business family, my father traded in jute, cotton and grain. He used to say he had to make some profit to keep the business going but that his main motivation was to provide a service to the community. Profit is like oiling the wheels, it is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
For my father, and many other traditional business communities, money was not wealth. People, land, animals, forests, rivers and all other natural gifts were considered as true wealth. Money was only a measure, a means of exchange, our business was steady and sustainable. For us, all trade was a public service. The purpose of business was to provide "goods" and "services" not "bads" or "exploits". Imagine Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Walmart as "public service" businesses! Unfortunately, in the past few decades, this spiritual outlook and moral compass has changed; now greed is considered good and economic activities are driven to maximise financial profit. It is a new kind of religion; a religion of materialism and consumerism. We worship the god of money, and we sacrifice everything at the altar of the economy. We indulge in consumerism as if there was no tomorrow. As a result, in the short term, banks are running out of money, consumers are short of cash, house prices are tumbling and unemployment is rising. In the longer term, we face global warming, global terrorism, global poverty and population explosion.
It amazes me to see that the great economists, industrialists, business leaders and politicians have even forgotten the true meaning of economy. They only think in terms of profit maximisation, whereas the true economy means good housekeeping; proper management of all aspects of the home. The criterion of good house management is to ensure that all the members of the household are living in harmony with each other and the place. Money is only a means to a good economy, not the economy itself.
Banks and business leaders, politicians and economists are looking for economic recovery, hoping to go back to business as usual: the good old days of growth without limit, consumption without restraint and profit without principles. From a spiritual perspective economy is good economy only when it is in harmony with ecology, ethics and equity. Day and night we chant the mantra of economy while our ecology is in ruins, our ethics shelved and our principles of justice are put on the back-burner.
There are two roads to economic recovery: the first option is to bail out the banks and fuel consumerism, put more money in mortgages and hope to get back to business as usual. But the second option is to think holistically, to invest in land and agriculture, in renewable energy and practical skills. The earth is our true bank. We are at a crossroads, which path are we going to choose? The answer is obvious.
But how do we choose the right answer without some guiding values? Such values can be none other than moral, ethical and spiritual. If we build our economy on spirituality then our quality of life will improve, we will see human wellbeing at the heart of economic policy; finance in balance with family and commerce in balance with community. As in Bhutan, economic growth will be in balance with the growth in human happiness and consumerism will be in balance with creativity and the human spirit.
Let us have the "audacity of hope" as Barack Obama, who is a deeply religious man, has said.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016