Buddhist Economics - three books reviewed

Economics Engaged Buddhism Social Action

Buddhist EconomicsAn Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science -- Clair Brown

Buddhist Economics Sumeru

224 pages, 14.6 x 21.8 cm  -  Bloomsbury Press, 2017  -  ISBN: 978-1632863669

From the Publisher

Traditional economics measures the ways in which we spend our income, but doesn't attribute worth to the crucial human interactions that give our lives meaning.

Clair Brown, an economics professor at U.C. Berkeley and a practicing Buddhist, has developed a holistic model, one based on the notion that quality of life should be measured by more than national income. Brown advocates an approach to organizing the economy that embraces rather than skirts questions of values, sustainability, and equity. Complementing the award-winning work of Jeffrey Sachs and Bill McKibben, and the paradigm-breaking spirit of Amartya Sen, Robert Reich, and Thomas Piketty, Brown incorporates the Buddhist emphasis on interdependence, shared prosperity, and happiness into her vision for a sustainable and compassionate world.

Buddhist economics leads us to think mindfully as we go about our daily activities, and offers a way to appreciate how our actions affect the well-being of those around us. By replacing the endless cycle of desire with more positive collective activities, we can make our lives more meaningful as well as happier. Inspired by the popular course Professor Brown teaches at U.C. Berkeley, Buddhist Economics represents an enlightened approach to our modern world infused with ancient wisdom, with benefits both personal and global, for generations to come.

Clair Brown is a professor of economics and director of the Center for Work, Technology, and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. An economist focusing on work and economic justice, she is a past director of the Institute of International Relations at Berkeley, and chair of the Committee on Education Policy of the UCB Academic Senate. She lives in Richmond, CA.


The Buddha on Wall Street: What’s wrong with capitalism and what we can do about it -- Vaddhaka Linn 

Buddha on Wall Street Sumeru

272 pages, 14 x 21 cm  -  Windhorse Publications, 2015  -  ISBN: 978-1909314443

From the Publisher

After his Enlightenment the Buddha set out to help liberate the individual, and create a society free from suffering. The economic resources now exist to offer a realistic possibility of providing everyone with decent food, shelter, work, and leisure, to allow each of us to fulfill our potential as human beings, while protecting the environment. What is it in the nature of modern capitalism which prevents that happening? Can Buddhism help us build something better than our current economic system, to reduce suffering and help the individual to freedom? In this thought-provoking work, Vaddhaka Linn explores answers to these questions by examining our economic world from the moral standpoint established by the Buddha.

Having completed a degree in economics, Vaddhaka Linn initially worked in the United Kingdom in trade unionism, politics, and adult education, before joining the Triratna Buddhist Community, in which he has lived and worked since 1994. He now divides his time between the United Kingdom and Estonia, where he teaches and helps to run a Buddhist center.


Our World is Burning: My Views on Mindful Engagement -- Ian Prattis

World is Burning Sumeru

192 pages, 15.2 x 22.9 cm  -  Manor House Publishing, 2017  -  ISBN: 978-1988058245 

From the Publisher

Dr. Ian Prattis looks at the state of our world through expert eyes and shares his views on climate change, over—development and short—term thinking that have placed our fragile planet in considerable danger — then he prescribes the actions needed to save our embattled world.

Ian Prattis, Zen Teacher, Anthropology Professor Emeritus, peace and environmental activist, was born in the UK. He has spent much of his life living and teaching in Canada. His moving and eye-opening books, essays and poetry are a memorable experience for anyone who enjoys reading about primordial tendencies. Beneath the polished urban facade remains a part of human nature that few want to acknowledge, either due to fear or simply because it is easier to deny the basic instincts that have kept us alive on an unforgiving earth. Prattis bravely goes there in his outstanding literary work. A stone tossed into the waters of life.


The Sumeru review

Engaged Buddhism is predicated on the understanding that we are part of a system of Interbeing with the natural world. Since we are social creatures, our engagement exists within the framework of society and much of the Dharma work involves the improvement of institutions and ways of being that harm others – other humans, other beings, and the planet itself.

Buddhist economics is one facet of that engagement. These three books are meditations on the existing economic paradigm of samsara, and reflections on a new paradigm based on a different set of drivers: happiness and sustainability rather than money and growth.

The first two books present the material in a neutral format, while the third is an impassioned cry. All of them take neoliberal capitalism and free market economics as the fundamental delusions spinning the karmic wheel. All of them provide ample scriptural references for their arguments. 

None of this will be unfamiliar territory to Buddhist practitioners. However, for westerners who have never stopped to reflect on our economic system or who have a vested interest in its propagation, it will be a rather strange trip.

I would like to say nice things about these books. Their authors are Bodhisattvas. The topic is extremely important. The books are well researched, well written and brightly designed. They are excellent introductions for readers unfamiliar with the material.

However, I came away hungry for more. Here are the main points of my critique:

  • Their portrayal focuses on late stage capitalism, but says little about the equally pernicious paradigms of state socialism, fascism, plutocracy, or the role of geopolitical manoeuvring in the global economy;
  • The books are very light on actual case studies showing how to implement Buddhist-based economic structures;
  • I have found way more useful information in secular books and websites on the karmic web of economic activity, sustainability, degrowth, post-industrial social structures, open government, and so on;
  • If Buddhists want to be taken seriously we are going to have to bring more to the table than “focus less on money and more on being happy.” 

Here are four examples of what I am talking about:

I urge all Buddhist community leaders to seek out and develop relationships with like-minded organizations and individuals within the community to realize concrete initiatives based on Buddhist economic principles, and to publicize these widely. To this end, for example, Sumeru is currently in the process of becoming certified as a B Corporation.



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