A Call for Compassionate Solutions
As a Buddhist in Calcutta, I was taught to be mindful and compassionate towards the daily, existential suffering of others. It was obvious that this suffering was caused by poverty of the lower caste system and the societal inequities faced by women and minority groups. My college courses of study, on the other hand--economics, geography, demography, migration, regional development and planning--did not shed much light into the causes of this widening socioeconomic gap, a gap felt primarily between a formal, wage-based industrial economy and an informal, non-wage-based agricultural economy.
From my studies, I surmised that economics was about markets and firms, prices, profits and interest. It had very little to do with people, households, communities or real economic needs. People are seen in a mechanical way--they are producers, laborers and consumers of goods and services. They are rationally-guided by self interest and utility maximization, not by the basic human need to share or provide resources for others. Therefore, all unpaid caregiving work provided by women inside of the home, in agricultural fields and on community projects was devalued with the growth of an urban, industrial economy.
According to Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), the informal economy was not discovered until the 1970s and is largely seen as marginal in relation to mainstream economics. However, the informal economy in India is huge and can refer to street vendors, waste collectors, domestic assistants, garment workers, and home-based manufacturers largely comprised of women and children. The informal economy constitutes 83% of non-agricultural employment and 93% of total employment (including agriculture) in India.
Urban settlements in developing nations are growing at breakneck speed compared to those of first-world countries, with most urban poor living in large slum areas and squatter settlements. According to the United Nations, nearly one billion people live in slums worldwide. Fifty-five per cent of the population of Mumbai lives in slums that cover only 6% of the city's land. In essence, a growing number of nations and communities around the world are swimming against the tide of globalization.
Despite remarkable gains in standards of living, many developed countries--America serving as a prime example--are suffering from afflictions such as corporate downsizing, outsourcing, overproduction, excessive consumption of fossil fuel, bank fraud, a growing lack of job growth, unregulated pollution, and the rising cost of healthcare.
I believe that in order to heal the planet we must create right livelihood by developing a sustainable economy for the people, and that this intangible concept of "capitalism" must be thoroughly investigated and understood. We are all victims of a perception error; we view capitalism through a linear, competitive, fear-based and adversarial mindset. Greed, ill will and delusion (the three mind poisons noted in Buddhist thought) are practically built into the common banking system inherited from the Bank of England in 1697. Money can have a corrupting, destructive influence because it is based on delusional thinking and greed, rather than integrity and wisdom.
A healthy, progressive way of viewing economics is to break it down into a complementary relationship of three different types of capital, each one interconnected. First, there is the foundation of the economy, or the natural capital and resource base (physical, abundant and less mobile assets). Nested within--and connected to--it is the human capital or human resource base (mobile assets with specialized intangible skill sets). Lastly there is the intangible, transferable financial capital and currency, an economic theory side that has separated itself from nature and its feminine nurture values in the post-industrial era. If nature is abundant and human labor and creative capacity is growing, then why is money so scarce for basic human needs?
Our collective liberation awaits our collective literacy of economics and newfound perception of currency. This is all possible without violence or force, but through knowledge and the right understanding of the nature and function of economies. I feel that the best way to attain this knowledge is to engage women, citizens, activists, social entrepreneurs and humanitarians everywhere is to simply begin discussions on the topics that shape our financial world.
The following questions could be asked at the kitchen table, in the classroom and throughout the community:
• What is money?
• Who is collecting all the public and private debts and assets?
• What is fractional reserve banking?
• In what context did central banking originate?
• What is usury? How is it related to both ancient and modern (wage) slavery?
• Why do we have ever-growing private and public debt?
• What gives money its value?
• Is sustainability possible with unsustainable currency?
• What is the difference between a real economy and a speculative economy?
• What is the best way to allocate money so that basic human needs are met?
• Do we need different types of currencies for different economic sectors?
• Did currency exist before modern economics?
• Why do we need literacy when it comes to economics and their function in society?
• What role can women play in a more compassionate, humanitarian economy?
• What possibilities exist that we have yet to consider?
Asking profound questions is a way to generate a breakthrough, creative insights, and unforeseen possibilities. A diverse set of perspectives are required for sustainable solutions and a holistic approach. Albert Einstein commented that problems cannot be solved from the same point that they were created. And in The Art of Questions, Marille Goldberg echoes this sentiment: "A paradigm shift occurs when question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered from outside it."
It is up to active, socially-conscious citizens to transform the system--not international banks, corporations and global institutions. The system is held both in our individual minds and our collective perceptions. When we become socially aware and engaged in making choices for the generations to come, our government and institutions are bound to change. The best part of such a transformative conversation: everyone has the opportunity to participate in shattering economic limitations and forging new pathways to a sustainable future.
To learn more about Susmita Barua, click here.