Seeking Real Wealth

Image credit: 
Kaushik Ramu

The Credit crunch and the Nature crunch provide an opportunity to redesign our money system and our economies in such a way that we can restore the well-being of human community as well as the Earth Community.

The credit crunch has shaken the stock markets and banks around the world but according to George Monbiot “this is nothing”. He says that this crisis is petty compared to the crisis of nature crunch.

Credit crunch and nature crunch are related. Excessive greed for the limitless profit and reckless lending, borrowing and spending is the cause of credit crunch. We are doing the same with nature. Greedy pursuit of unlimited economic growth and wasteful use of the environmental capital risking the integrity and sustainability of the earth itself will be the cause of nature crunch.

The unregulated and free-market financial systems encourage irresponsible speculation, unmanageable debt, rampant consumerism and colossal waste of nature’s gifts.

The banks and stock markets and all our financial transactions are supposed to be in the hands of highly educated, smart people who claim to be realists and intelligent. Then how have they managed to bring the whole system to the brink of disaster, that they have to go to the government with cap in hand, begging to be bailed out?

The answer is staggeringly simple. They have confused money with wealth, they have failed to follow the fundamental truth that money is not wealth; money is only a measure of wealth and a means to exchange wealth. Real wealth is good land, pristine forests, clean rivers, healthy animals, vibrant communities, nourishing food and human creativity. But, the leaders of money markets have turned the land, forests, rivers, animals and human creativity into commodities to be bought and sold, even the money itself has become a commodity - speculators trade in money to make more money.

Money is a good invention as a means to an end, but now money itself has become an end. We buy and sell houses, forests, foods and land to make money. And, we buy and sell money to make money; almost everything has become a commodity - it is acceptable to engage in any kind of trading as long as it makes money. 80-90% of money whirling around the world, day and night, is unrelated to any goods or services or any kind of real wealth. Money which was a means to trade has been turned into a status symbol, a source of power and prestige. This false philosophy of money is the root cause of credit crunch and it will lead to nature crunch.

Nature crunch is not something in the distant future. Melting icecaps and climate chaos are already with us and that is because of our obsession with making money at all costs. We are over-fishing our oceans to make money, clear-cutting the rainforests, poisoning the land with chemical fertilisers, putting animals in factory farms, manipulating seeds with genetic engineering; the list goes on and all this to maximise money. We are prepared to let nature suffer but not prepared to slow down the pace of money growth. Of course money has a place within the broad context of sustainability and a harmonious relationship with the natural world, but we have to put it in its place and keep it there, rather than allow it to dominate our lives to such an extent that the human community as well as the earth community is endangered.

Cure for credit crunch and nature crunch is to put ecology before economy but at present economy is paramount and ecology is ignored.

Recently I was invited to speak at LSE, the London School of Economics. I asked my hosts, “You are a well known university teaching economy but where is your Department of Ecology?”

Their reply was, “We teach environmental studies as part of various other departments but we do not have a Department of Ecology, as such”.

Now, the study of ‘environment’ is not the same as the study of ‘ecology’. Environment is what surrounds us, the humans. The word implies that humans are at the centre and what is around us is our environment. Environment is an anthropocentric concept, whereas the word ecology is much more inclusive. The word implies relationships between all species, humans and other
than humans.

Ecology and economy are made of three Greek words; Oikos, logos, nomos. ‘Oikos’ means home - a place of relationships between all life, sharing and participating in the evolution of earth community. ‘Logos’ means the knowledge of our planet home, and ‘nomos’ means management of
our home.

Now what is taught at LSE is only economy; management of home and not ecology, the knowledge of home. How is anyone going to manage anything which they don’t know! If you don’t know your living room, bedroom, dining room, kitchen or garden how are you going to manage your home? If you don’t know your mother, father, wife, children how are you going to manage those relationships? So ecology should come before economy; knowledge before management. But at LSE, as well as most other universities, economy dominates. These universities are sending thousands upon thousands of young people in the world equipped with management skills but without the knowledge of what they are going to manage, these graduates are half educated like half-baked bread which is worse than being uneducated.

Together with ecology and economy we need a third ‘E’, ethics. Our ‘oikos’, our planet home has to be built on the firm foundation of ethical and spiritual values. Without such a foundation, our home will be unstable and unsustainable.

Credit crunch, as well as nature crunch offers us a challenge and an opportunity to redesign our money system and our economics in such a way that we can restore the wellbeing of human community as well as the earth community. E.F. Schumacher’s well-known essay on ‘Buddhist Economics’ and his book ‘Small is Beautiful’ should be read again and again. He provided a vision of economics where people and planet mattered and where spiritual values underpinned economic values. Frugality, simplicity and restraint are the urgent imperatives at these critical times, and if we are caring and generous to nature, nature will reciprocate. Mahatma Gandhi said, “There is enough in the world for everybody’s need, but not enough for everybody’s greed.”

This article has been printed with permission from author Satish Kumar and the Resurgence Magazine, UK.

“They have confused money with wealth, they have failed to follow the fundamental truth that money is not wealth; money is only a measure of wealth and a means to exchange wealth. Real wealth is good land, pristine forests, clean rivers, healthy animals, vibrant communities, nourishing food and human creativity.”

Shri Satish Kumar walked 8000 kms in 1962, from India to Europe and the US to campaign against Nuclear Weapons. In 1973, he settled in England, taking on the editorship of Resurgence Magazine and becoming the guiding spirit behind a number of ecological, spiritual and educational ventures. Satish teaches and runs workshops internationally
on reverential ecology, holistic education and voluntary simplicity.

He was the driving force in the establishment of a unique institution- Schumacher College in the UK. His autobiography ‘No Destination’ was first published in 1978. Since then he has written two more books ‘You Are, Therefore I Am – A Declaration of Dependence’ in 2002 and ‘The Buddha and The Terrorist’ in 2004.

‘Anyone who believes that economic growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.’ - Kenneth Boulding