The Economics of Peace and Wellbeing

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Tribal Art (Gond Painting): Dinesh Shyam

Wellbeing means rejecting the illusory, consumerist notions of limitless growth.
Much conventional economics is focused on market based competition, money and profit – all predicated on the illusory notion of limitless economic growth. The results, in too many cases, are inequality and social conflicts, environmental degradation, and even wars.

Sadly, the departments of economics in many of our universities and colleges do not see the overarching importance of any other value, such as peace, sustainability or ethics. Yuan Yang, the founder of Rethinking Economics, and many of his fellow students are demanding a fundamental change in this attitude.

Symbolic of our growth-centred economics has been the sprawl of the world’s cities, home today of more than half the Earth’s population, and increasingly drawing on the Earth’s natural resources. Healthy economic systems must also concern themselves with justice and peace among people as well as sustainability of the natural environment. Society will
be more secure if it stands on the two legs of ecology and economy.

Instead, in my view, what we have presently is the economics of war. Wars are about power over resources and control over them. The pursuit of political power is part of it, but what drives the politics of war is greed for greater and greater profit derived from the possession of natural resources such as oil, gas, water and land.

In such a context, national interest, defence and security become dependent on acquisition of natural resources wherever they are. As long as societies are driven by everincreasing
consumerism, there can be no hope for ending wars and establishing peace among nations.

Peace, though, is not merely absence of war. Peace is a way of life; a life based in voluntary frugality and elegant simplicity. Instead of an unlimited search for material prosperity, peaceful societies need to seek personal, social and environmental wellbeing. As the example of Bhutan shows, instead of seeking Gross National Product, peaceful societies seek Gross National Happiness.

In order to satisfy human greed, not only do nations go to war against other nations, but they also wage war against Nature. Animals are treated with horrific cruelty in huge factory farms where living creatures are no more than a means of profit. The over-fishing of the oceans, the destruction of rainforests and the poisoning of the land are no less than acts of war against Nature. If humanity is genuinely to pursue the path of peace, we have to change the way we do business. There is always some room for moderate profit, but the purpose of business and the motivation of those involved in business have to arise from a mind of caring, sharing and sustainability.

Such motivation cannot be imposed by government: it has to emerge from within each and every person and it has to be an integral part of social and political culture. The seeds of greed, consumerism and materialism are there in every human mind. In order to establish peace in the world, we have to start by making peace within ourselves. A greedy mind cannot be a peaceful mind. A peaceful mind is a mind of contentment and fulfilment. The biggest challenge for our time is to create a new kind of economics, a new kind of business and also a new kind of politics,which will be rooted in the soil of ethics and spirituality. Profit and power must be subordinate to ethical and moral principles. Only then will we be able to minimise conflict within ourselves, conflict between nations and conflict between humans and Nature.