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Buddhism and the End of Economic Growth by John Stanley & David Loy

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Huffington Post

Sept. 19, 2011

"We   are seeing a perfect storm of converging crises that together represent   a watershed moment in the history of our species. We are witnesses to,   and participants in, a transition from decades of growth to decades of   economic contraction." --Richard Heinberg

"True   development is in harmony with the needs of people and the rhythms of   the natural world. Humans are part of the universe, not its masters.   This awareness of the interrelatedness of all things, as expressed in   Buddhism, is also lived in the traditions of indigenous peoples   throughout the world." --Sulak Sivaraksa

It is   increasingly obvious that natural limitations will soon force economic   growth to cease. Although this view has been well-studied for at least 40 years,   it still remains largely unexamined by the mainstream media. National   leaders and corporate CEOs continue to insist that the economy is the   true heartbeat of human society, and its growth is the only valid   measure of social progress. From this perspective there is very little   difference between the top levels of government and the top levels of   corporate management. Both are preoccupied with promoting endless   growth, because both believe in what Adam Smith called the "invisible   hand" of the market, which magically transcends physical and biological   limits.

As Dan Hamburg concluded in 1997 from his   years as a U.S. Congressman, "The real government of our country is   economic, dominated by large corporations that charter the state to   their bidding. Fostering a secure environment in which corporations and   their investors can flourish is the paramount objective of both   [political] parties." Back in 1932, Huey Long expressed this colorfully:   "They've got a set of Republican waiters on one side and a set of   Democratic waiters on the other side, but no matter which set of waiters   brings you the dish, the legislative grub is all prepared in the same   Wall Street kitchen."

However, something more powerful   than an invisible hand is turning our economic assumptions upside down.   Economic growth remains blocked. The so-called "recovery" of the last   two years (recovery for the banks and Wall Street, not for the rest) has   stalled. The official explanation blames the vast accumulation of   financial debt. But there are other long-term obstacles to growth that   are even more difficult to address, especially the shock of resource   depletion. Since the 1970s there has been a recession every time the   price of oil passes $80 per barrel. An increasing number of   environmental disasters are resulting from oil drilling and nuclear   power generation. Large-scale global warming impacts have already   appeared in Russia, Pakistan, China, Africa and Australia -- and Texas.   The consequences include major reductions in crop yields that are   driving up world food prices.

As Richard Heinberg points out, these are converging crises. They will compel our   civilization to re-think the way it understands the relationship between   the economy and the rest of the biosphere. Sooner or later, we will   have to adopt a sane and well-reasoned "steady state" economy that operates mindfully within the Earth's resource and energy budget.   Although you would not guess it from the mainstream media, our   contemporary obsession with economic growth is already a "dead man   walking."

Thai Buddhist elder Sulak Sivaraksa believes the future of the world must include interconnectedness, which   for him is a spiritual perspective that dwells in the human heart.   Globalization preaches the interdependence of nations, but that type of   economic interconnectedness functions in a very different way: in Asia   it has brought free-market fundamentalism, environmental degradation,   and the destruction of Buddhist culture and values by consumerism. The   same inner corrosion has been happening in "overdeveloped" as well as in   "underdeveloped" countries. Individuals are induced by advertising to   earn more to acquire more, creating an endless cycle of greed and   insecurity. Those who die with the most toys "win."

According   to Buddhist teachings, it doesn't have to be like this. Buddhists   should add their voices to other calls for society to go beyond the   one-dimensional measurement of gross domestic product (GDP), which is   merely a crude total of collective expenditures. The Buddhist kingdom of   Bhutan has developed an alternative way to calculate social   improvement, the Gross National Happiness index.   This measures nine aspects of society: time-use, living standards, good   governance, psychological well-being, community vitality, culture,   health, education and ecology. The Happy Planet Index (HPI),   developed by the New Economics Foundation in the UK, compares life   satisfaction, life expectancy and ecological footprints across the   world. Countries that exemplify "successful economic development" are   some of the worst performers in sustainable well-being. Britain is   midway down the table in 74th place. The U.S. is in 114th place. Costa   Rica has the best score.

Today it is essential that   Buddhists think critically and challenge the fetish of economic growth.   Buddhist leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh and Sulak   Sivaraksa have been emphasizing this for years, and now the crunch has   arrived. If humanity is to survive and thrive during this century, we   must quickly learn to accept -- indeed, to embrace -- the need for   limits. Buddhist teachings emphasize that this does not require a   reduction in the quality of life. On the contrary, a creative   "downshift" will help us to focus on what is most important in life.

If,   in the midst of converging global crises, we wish to enhance our   awareness of the interrelatedness of all things, and promote genuine   spiritual contentment, we must emphasize and live by another way of   life: the steady-state economy.   In this fashion we can minimize, for ourselves and others, the social   difficulties of transition from decades of economic growth to decades of   economic contraction.

John Stanley and David Loy are part of the Ecobuddhism Project.

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