Buddhist Financial Services »
Since Kim has written about Judo, I trust it’s not too far afield to speculate about Buddhist Financial Services.
I recently re-read, after a few decades, the article Buddhist Economics, by E.F. Schumacher. This article appeared as the last chapter of Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful, one of the texts that inspired many of us in the 60’s and 70’s. If you have never read it, I urge you to go over to the Doc Library, search for Buddhist Economics, and take twenty minutes to read it. It’s only eight pages long. No hurry - I’ll wait until you finish. …
Hi again – Welcome back! Wasn’t that great?
Schumacher tries to turn economics on its head by postulating a Buddhist approach to economics in which the quality of labor is more important than its cost or efficiency; in which the goal of industry is to maximize human happiness and not maximize production; and in which economics is integrated with all other areas of life. He is not asking anyone to believe him, simply to engage in the exercise of imagining with him what a Buddhist economics would be like.
Similarly, I’d like to invite you, Honored Reader, to engage with me in the exercise of imagining Buddhist Financial Services.
Here are some ideas, borrowed liberally from Schumacher, of what financial services might be like, if they were inspired by the principles of Buddhism.
First, Buddhist Financial Services would not try to eliminate human labor, but rather provide people an opportunity for Right Livelihood, or labor that served them and served others. Buddhist financial services would give people a chance to utilize and develop their skills and knowledge; to enable them to overcome their ego-centeredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a life in which one is free to perfect oneself, and to follow the Eightfold Way of Right Speech, Right Action, Right Concentration, and so on. Being an involved member of a savings group might fit this criterion better than being a client of a bank.
Buddhist financial services would use tools but not machines: tools facilitate ennobling human labor, allowing us to appreciate and understand the process we are participating in; machines replace human labor, leave people divorced from understanding the entire system of production, and relegate individuals to simply a small part of the process. For instance, a cash-box opened once a week in front of a group of savers is a tool, in that it leaves the user understanding the process, while an ATM, for all its convenience, is a machine for most of us, in that few people have any idea how it works or what is happening to their money.
Secondly, Buddhist financial services would encourage well-being for all, not only for some. Buddhism supports physical well-being for everyone and finds unnecessary suffering abhorrent. Thus, Buddhist financial services would by their nature contribute to the well-being of the entire community, and would not encourage the rich to get richer while others were suffering in poverty. As the Dalai Lama said, “all living beings in the world feel pain and sorrow, but only humans can feel the pain and sorrow of others.” Relieving the suffering of others helps us on the path to enlightenment. It’s not clear that there is any place for Goldman Sachs or CitiCorp in Buddhist Financial Services.
Third, Buddhist financial services would be modest in scope. Buddhism realizes that happiness increases until a comfortable level of wealth and security are attained, but decreases when excessive wealth is acquired, as that can lead to worry and greed clouding our minds. Buddhist financial services would be designed to allow people to become self-sufficient and secure, and to be satisfied when that happened. Annual distributions, allowing people small lump sums to fix a roof, get out of debt, pay school fees or buy supplies would fit right in; savings schemes for wealth accumulation with no goal in sight might not.
Finally, Buddhist financial services would be inextricably linked to and supportive of all parts of a good life, including protection of the physical environment and other forms of sentient being. Buddhist financial services would seldom finance the purchase of unsustainable means of production, like power saws or kerosene, but rather would encourage investment in local and sustainable, low-impact, low-carbon, means of production.
Gentle readers, I’d love to hear from you what you think, especially if we happen to have any Buddhist readers who can correct my inevitable errors.