Enlightened Economics sounds a bit oxymoronic. Enlightened is something we envision as a state that is transcendentally non-attached to worldly concerns. And Economics is obviously very earth-bound, tied to every material attachment we can possibly desire and some that extend beyond the imagination. On the surface, not quite the chummiest of relationships.
But what if Enlightened meant recognizing the inseparability and interdependence of all things and non-things and not having to struggle with that inseparable interdependence? Enlightened would be a recognition of our inexplicable linkage to the world as it shows-up, our relationship to, in the vernacular, the whole mishpucka – which is Yiddish for “the whole crazy family.” And within the context of that relationship we are free from the struggle often associated with our hierarchical jockeying within that construct.
If we were to translate this idea of enlightened to our relationship to the economy that arises out of those related interactions, perhaps those things by which we measure what is economic might be a bit different. Economics would move beyond the simple gauge of money and such things as Gross National Product and instead include in the calculation: our relationship to money, our relationship to value, our understanding of development versus growth, our relationship to our communities, each other, our concept of ecology, well-being and health.
An enlightened economy would therefore also be a healthy economy, not merely in its fiscal robustness, but in its underlying interconnection to the aforementioned mishpucka. Can you imagine the economic indicators of an enlightened economy? The diagnostic for Gross National Happiness could be one such index. But even that fails, for reasons of sheer complexity, to accommodate relationships.
Our relationship to money, alone, even on a surface level, is complex. On a physical level, our ability to generate income without having to sell our soul engenders all kinds of gyrations, prostrations, machinations, complexifications, and untold genuflextions just to pay the bills. Mentally, the worry, fear and trepidation alone would seem to exceed the earned income return for all the tsuris (indigestion) generated.
Then there’s our relationship to value. From a fiscal standpoint, this is often an elusive and intuitive reaction to things and how significant they are to us. Cost is one measure of value, but so is worth, desirability, usefulness, benefit, and profit. But our relationship to value also exists on a more personal level that might make us choose what we value based on things like importance, consequence, meaning and merit. Perhaps of equal importance is how we value our own sense of worthiness.
When we move this thinking from the range of personal experience to society and beyond, value, buying power, safety, security, comfort, and growth invariably gravitate toward accumulation, hording, greed and a whole host of nasty human traits. So how could we possibly imagine that we could reconstruct our beliefs and values toward a more enlightened perspective amid the overpowering seduction of these enduring forces?
Less we remain in this seemingly inescapable trap brought on by this failure of imagination, let us explore how a more enlightened economic worldview might show-up. How we might form a basis for personal worth that is not just based on accumulated currency but on self-worthiness, on purpose and meaning, and on being of benefit to others. Before you ask, how does that pay the rent or put food on the table? Perhaps we better figure out how we reconnect this notion of economy with the people who produce it.
As long as economy is viewed from the perspective of measurement, there is no possibility for emergent phenomena to arise. There is no room in that economic description for interaction and something new to emerge. An enlightened economics never strays from the interdependence of the life that generates it. What emerges are sharing economies, collaborative economies, interactive systems based on social solidarity. What in turn emerges from this approach is genuine economic support, interconnected security, inclusion, worthiness, greater purpose and meaning, and the willingness to be of benefit to others.
In the economic models of measurement, and more is better, we deliberately create exclusion, addiction, intolerance, distrust, unworthiness, degradation, poverty and its direct relative, poverty mentality, that feeling of never having enough; an addictive perception that having more is somehow a salve to ease pain and suffering. In solidifying these elements, we lock our economic development into increasing degeneration that perpetuates and accentuates the inequities and failings of our economic structures.
In contrast, building an enlightened economics is a dedication to our health and well-being. But talking about its benefits and actually building it are two very distinct activities.
First, we have to be willing to let go of the stories we tell ourselves about how the world shows-up. Not an easy task when you consider some of our current political discourse which seems dedicated to creating solid waste-dumps of fantasies about who and how we are in the world. As long as we solidify our separateness out of fear of the other, our economic development will always be arrested and our inability to build something together greatly limited.
Enlightened Economics is about building relationships, not infrastructure. Relationships with money, value, worth and each other. These interactive relationships are a continual process of giving back to the economic system. They are generative and truly developmental. Extractive activities, which are designed to pull as much from the system as possible, by their very nature deplete the health of the system.
But breaking through the over-riding addiction and greed of these extractive practitioners is not an easy task. What we are seeing emerge out of many of the Millennial communities is a willingness to free themselves from that degenerate portion of the economy, and simply start a parallel path. It is an interesting approach to building an economy based on the health and interdependence of its agents. Let the aging and traditional economy simply die out. Don’t try to fix the old system, but like a revolutionary operating system, pay no further attention to what isn’t working and simply move the system forward with something better.
In Buddhism, compassion is, of course, always at the forefront. But there is another aspect to compassion which must also be recognized, idiot compassion. When something is doing everything it
can to destroy the system, we can have compassion for the suffering that fuels that destruction, but not an idiot compassion that is willing to take down the whole system based on the suffering of the few.
Perhaps the most compassionate action we can take in bringing Enlightened Economics to the fore is to join the youth who have already had enough and move forward unfettered by the old economic values and measurement systems. Perhaps it’s finally time to build and unveil this new interactive structure based on relationship, emergence and interdependence, before the extraction leads to extinction.