Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chapter 5: A Question of Size

Before beginning to read this chapter, judging by the title, I thought here Schumacher will give us the crux of his argument as to why "small is beautiful." And indeed I think he at least attempts to lay it down general. Whether he is successful, I was not impressed.

Schumacher gets away from talking about the danger of abusing natural resources and wants to speak on the question of size generally. However, I would think that our "idolatry of giantism" is a problem because of how the largeness tends to abuse natural resources and fails to recognize them as capital. So, I was confused as to why this point had suddenly dropped from discussion.

He makes his claim by attempting to focus on what is needed, namely, at least freedom and order, and the need to "discriminate, to get things sorted out." Indeed. This sorting out involves the necessity of noticing how there is not one solution to the problem. It is not smallness in every case, nor is it largeness -- giantism. I thought: how honest of him to include the relativity factor of the situation, but I don't think it helps his argument. If we suffer from a problem of giantism, which I agree with him that we do, perhaps it is better rhetoric not to make this explicit and only push the virtues of smallness.

And his primary schema runs: giantism leads to changes in technology (transport and communication), which leads to "footlooseness" which leads to lack of structure. Is this true, in all cases? I had a problem with understanding why being "footloose" was such a problem. It may tend toward instability, but can't see why it has to. Or even why these changes in technology should even lead to footlooseness. In fact, his example with the United States population and geography is grossly exaggerated: there are three megalopolis', one between Boston and Washington; around Chicago; and between San Francisco and San Diego. This is true, but is what he says next: "and the rest of the country being left practically empty; deserted provincial towns, and the land cultivated with vast tractors, combine harvesters, and immense amounts of chemicals." Wow! Empty?! Deserted?! Tractors and combines?! Either the man hasn't been to the United States, or he is exaggerating to make his point.

Generally, I agree with Schmacher's conclusions that we have an idolatry of giantism and that we need to reclaim the beauty of the small. However, I'm not too impressed with how he attempted to show this in this chapter. Like I said, he argument may have been more corroborated if he continued to on the discussion of the depletion of natural resources.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Chapter 4: Buddhist Economics

I enjoy my computer, t.v., cell phone, and car. Enjoy being in Bowling Green one moment and Cincinnati the next. Without a thought modern technology has allowed convenient pleasures in my life. Blindly enjoying these trinkets, which create happiness in my life, without realizing the effects these trinkets have on the world.

By comparing the two economic models Schumacher is able to show the effects of a modern economic system. Schumacher compares the effects of the two models on the idea that "...a fundamental source of wealth is human labour." A modern economic view perceives the value of human labor in the wealth of trinkets workers can produce. If possible employers would work to have output without employees, but since it isn't possible the value must be seen in human labor. By applying the pin factory example laid out by Adam Smith's book Wealth of Nations, Schumacher shows that by dumbing down workers and removing their skills employers are not only able to produce products more efficiently but at the same time condition employees who are dependent on them. Hence solving the problem of labor and creating wealth out of it. This dependence on the employer leads to the overall unhappiness of the employee. Buddhist economics even goes as far as saying it is almost criminal to "organize work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking"

Buddhist economics views work as threefold: "to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his ego-centredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence." If only everyone was able to find this in a job. Unfortunately someone has to sacrifice their happiness to produce the products we enjoy. Maybe their not not sacrificing their happiness because possibly from the beginning they were conditioned to think they would never have any other skill than to work a meaningless , boring job. Taking their wages and reinvesting it in materialistic happiness, temporary happiness keeps them enslaved.

Schumacher states "Modern materialistic way of life has brought forth modern economics." I would disagree however stating modern economics has brought forth a modern materialistic way of life. For thousands of years humans lived applying Buddhist economics to their lives. Small communities worked together providing meaningful labor opportunities that ensured the existence of the tribe. It was only with the birth of the industrial revolution that small communities began to fade. Importance was lost in the meaning of community and instead put in the importance of wealth. Buddhist economics was never about wealth but about the attainment of oneself. To discover ones true potential through compassionate meaningful work.

My take from chapter four is that globalization is unsustainable and it is this unsustainable nature which creates tension throughout the world. Can we except there to be peace when a modern economic system demands workers throughout the world to work meaningless jobs? Sadly I'm part of the reason there are meaningless jobs in the world because of my need for materialistic trinkets. Just now I'm realizing I have spent most of my life blindly enjoying trinkets which i knew nothing about how their creation negatively impacted the world. Buddhist economics has shown me to be more conscious about my spending and to realize happiness is not in the material but in the moment.

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"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend personal God and avoid dogma and theology. covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism."
-Albert Einstien