Why worry about a global economic recession? | Sunday Observer
Aarthikaya as arthakriyawa:

Why worry about a global economic recession?

26 April, 2020

In the mainstream idea of economics, we are now at a standstill. Exports and imports are shutdown. Production is shutdown; mining is shutdown; trade is shutdown. Profit got shot down and sank through a bottomless pit and disappeared into nothing by and by. But there was another kind of standstill that occurred largely by default. Pollution, competition, greed and excess, all got shutdown.

In the short space of a month, the status quo stood on its head. Animals started roaming in human habitat and not the other way around. Giving and sharing became more important than acquisition and hoarding. Collectivism and group sufficiency subsumed individualism and self-sufficiency. All the erstwhile pooh-poohs became yay-yays. All the erstwhile yay-yays became pooh-poohs.

The noose got hanged because there was no place where it became socially relevant. The high heels  retired because they were useless for gardening. The SUV was put out to pasture because there was no one who needed a ride. Above all, the walls of social irrelevance came tumbling down, literally and figuratively. Every substratum of society started to rethink their thinking.

But wait. The economists are already talking about exit strategies, stimulation of economies and back to business-as-usual.

Exit to what? The same old same old? Stimulate what? The enabling conditions for COVID20? Go back to what? The very same mindless ways of life that brought the utter meaninglessness of it all into sharp focus for everybody without a single debt-ridden, greed-lorn, disease-ridden exception?

Look, folks, the Sinhalese word for economics is ‘aarthikaya’ and that word is rooted in and is a component of the term ‘artha-kriyaava’ or meaningful action. Action that brings us all happiness, keeps us all healthy. Not, repeat not, meaningless mindless machine rotes. The term for it is Buddhist Economics and it can inform us on the conduct of worldly economic effort and help those more material bent to live out their lives in an environment less fraught with worry.

The term itself is not new, first coined by the German statistician and economist E.F. Schumacher in a 1966 essay that later became the fourth chapter of his classic “Small is Beautiful” which is an antithesis of the “Greed is Good” way of economic excess that has brought us to this calamitous juncture in world history. Ten years later, in his book, “A confused Society”, economist, former governor of the Central Bank and former chairman of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka, Dr. Neville Karunatilake describes Buddhist Economics as a system founded on developing co-operative and harmonious effort in group living where selfish and acquisitive pursuits are eliminated by developing man himself.

The key takeoff point in the Buddha’s reading of wealth is stated in the much quoted, mostly ignored  line from the Dhammapada “Santhuttiparamandhanan” (Happiness is the greatest wealth).  This firmly ties wealth to achieving a satisfactory state of mind and not to the acquisition of an overload of people, position and power.  According to the Buddha, in this case as in most, the mind overrules both matter (in this case, fiscal, natural and human resources) and matters (in this case, production, distribution and consumption).  Here, dhanaya or wealth is not merely personal acquisitions but rather the entire set of economic things and actions. Additionally, regardless of how much of these an individual can control or own, if that individual is not satisfied and satiated, then there is no sansindima or contentment and no happiness so that the individual is impoverished. We saw the extent of that impoverishment in the urban lockdown.

Now, since santhutti or happiness as the primary idea of wealth is something that is internal, once achieved, it is maintainable over the long term with little further effort. All other ways of determining what constitutes wealth are external and once acquired high in risk of loss. We all know that the acquisition of external wealth forces us to up the ante, increasing the overall effort of protecting, consolidating and growing our various acquisitions and assets.  We are fully aware what a suicidal, lifespan decreasing, earth destroying exercise this is. We have experienced the fact that such an effort comes with a veritable symphony of mental trauma and physical sickness, played upon the various instruments of competing, controlling, manipulating, conniving, coercing, threatening, weeping, worrying, stressing, diseasing and dying.

So, if happiness is wealth, it marginalizes every other way of defining it. You see, in every other reading wealth is supposed to lead to happiness where such “happiness” is acquired through the channels of gain, fame, praise and pleasure. Yet, human history has shown us that those who seek happiness through gain suffer loss. Those who hanker after it through fame suffer shame. Those who think they can find it through praise suffer blame. Those who attempt to catch up with it in their pursuit of pleasure suffer pain.  Therefore, if happiness is the outcome of an effort to remove suffering, then mainstream ideas of wealth can only compound suffering and never eradicate it. This is an awful conclusion for it implies that most supposed civilized effort is mad and most human beings are deranged. Small wonder then, that in our insanity, we have only managed to ‘develop’ ourselves to the point where we are just a hairbreadth away from annihilating our planet and ourselves.

That is the message we have from COVID19 and that is the message we have espoused through a global shutdown of what we hitherto considered to be civilized economic effort. Internalization of the idea of wealth sideswipes into the dustbin classic socioeconomic questions that have vexed us for millennia. Questions such as how to optimize earning potential, how to minimize effort and optimize profit, how to infinitely acquire and hoard fiscal and natural resources, how to infinitely consume as much as one can, how to rise within the serried ranks and tiered  hierarchies of a foaming, snorting, angry, jealous, frightened, confused, confounded society.  All of those have become irrelevant. It also implies that lasting solutions to the problems of economics must come from sociology, anthropology and metaphysics rather than from the lodestones of classic economics such as man-hours, machine hours, money markets, material management, etc.

Now that we have seen a better, simpler, happier and more wholesome way of life, we would be mad to want to go back to that horror situation we came from or consider exit strategies and stimulus packs to revert to suicidonomics. Instead of pawing the ground to put our societal engines back on the same track, we need to shunt them onto an entirely different one. One on which happiness for all is lasting, where development for all is durable, where wellbeing for all is guaranteed. We need to formalize and rationalize the ad-hoc systems that replaced every other system during this lockdown and allowed us to remain far ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the world. We need to consolidate this specific form of “arthakriyaawa” that is enabling us to surf over this tsunami and enable it to the nth degree to ensure we never get hit by one again.

Let the world economy recede if it wants to continue to stimulate itself back onto its death ride. Let us rely on the dragon heartstring of our culturally rooted idea of aarthikaya to keep us alive.