A Buddhist economic system--in practice

by Pryor, F.L.

American Journal of Economics & Sociology

Vol. 50 No. 1 Jan.1991


Copyright by American Journal of Economics & Sociology

The Rules of State Policy Making of the Ideal Kings Sought a `Middle Way' Between Right and Left ABSTRACT. Although there is little discussion of distributive justice in the Theravada canon, the Buddhist State is advised to provide all people with a minimum income. Radiation theory sees the economy prospering through the virtuous actions of individuals following the moral law. Early Buddhist writings generally accept existing political and economic institutions, even while providing a democratic social ethos revolutionary for its time. King Asoka, greatest of all Indian emperors, pursued a highly activist fiscal policy even though he believed only meditation could help people to advance in moral living. But canonical beliefs about economic activity are much more ambiguous than economic literature often indicates. Hence today there are rightist and leftist Buddhists, differing in interpretation. One can infer economic behavior from the principles of Theravada Buddhism, as I reported in my previous essay, "A Buddhist Economic System-in Principle" (Pryor, 1990). This leaves the question what influence did they bear on economic behavior as reported in the Theravada canon. Thus we advance from homilies to annals, and find that this branch of Buddhism was not as "other-worldly" as Max Weber thought. I Income Redistribution in the Ideal State According to little (1988), Theravada Buddhism has "nothing comparable" to Western analyses of "distributive justice." Although the Buddhist canon places great stress on gift giving, it is primarily to the monks and the sangha (monasteries). "There is, apparently, no . . . Theravadin literature on distributive justice, nor is it the poor as such who are for the Theravadas the primary object of beneficence." Of course, through the laws of kamma there is a distributive cycle of cosmic proportions, i. e., one's current social and economic position is due to one's good kamma accumulated in a previous existence. This does not mean indifference to the poor, for one's economic status is not only dependent on the laws of kamma, but is also complemented by the moral virtues of compassion and generosity.' Alms giving to the poor is regarded as increasing one's merit [viz. Anguttara-Nikaya, V, iv, 31]. The importance of our active intervention has some important implications for behavior of the "righteous ruler" as well. It should be added that the revered Buddhist kings are also known for the financial aid which they provided for the poor; indeed, the " Cakkavatti -Sihanada Suttanta" advises kings to give their gifts to all who are poor. Moreover, gifts to the monks and to the monasteries do not prevent them from providing a refuge for the destitute or from redistributing such beneficence to the indigent. Thus although there is little discussion of distributive justice, redistribution of income, either through the public, private, or monastery sectors, is certainly regarded in a favorable light. In order to favor the spiritual improvement of the population, the State is justified in taking steps to provide all people with a minimum income. Whether the motive for redistribution is to spread the dhamma (in a Buddhist economy) or to increase distributive justice (in a Western economy) seems a bit irrelevant; in both cases, it should be added, the limits of redistribution are difficult to determine. II Radiation: Virtue as a Positive Externality The Buddhist theory of radiation sees the economy prospering through the collective impact of the virtuous actions of individuals following the dhamma. In many respects it parallels Leibenstein's conception of X-efficiency as determined by an "atmosphere." This, of course, provides a considerable contrast to the views of Adam Smith who saw an economy prospering through the self-interested, not consciously virtuous, actions of individuals. (Of course, Smith would argue such individual actions would be limited by moral constraints; however, he places less emphasis on the differences between self-interest and greed than do Buddhists who see quite different long-term consequences of the two attitudes). Buddhists argue that since the economy can ultimately prosper only through virtuous action, ultimately the only hope for prosperity lies in a regeneration of human kind, e.g., through the cultivation of the Four Sublime Abodes (loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity). According to Reynolds (1988), Buddhists hold that any appropriate dhammic action inevitably leads to an increase of the material wealth of the community. Further (Reynolds and Clifford, 1980, p. 62) "As a result of the monk's pure and selfless actions, the laity flourish"; and they stress that it is the interaction between the laity and the monks which brings about such virtue. On the level of the State (p. 66), "the king legitimates his position by displaying his [merit and power] selflessly for the soteriological good of his subjects," especially by supporting the monasteries, and his actions and policies also increase material prosperity. Note that from the standpoint of the king, the primary purpose of the act is to gain individual merit, not further the social good. A stark contrast to this theory of economic radiation is exemplified by the writings of such Western theologians as Reinhold Niebuhr, who have argued that individual and social progress, in both material and spiritual senses, may be quite different in certain situations; further, personal virtue does not always carry directly over into social virtue. III Trade Through the Market The major parts of the Buddhist canon does not appear to discuss any alternative means of distributing goods and services beyond the market. Thus their analysis of trade is quite straightforward. The Buddhist discussion on right livelihood prohibits trade in certain goods and services, which means that all other types of trade are apparently allowed (but not explicitly approved). In an interesting comparison between trading and agriculture as means of livelihood, the Buddha also notes [Discourse 99, Majjhima-Nikaya] that both can bring high or low returns, depending on the circumstances; however, trading is an occupation with little to do, few duties, a small administration, and small problems, while agriculture is the reverse. In other parts of the canon (e.g, Anguttara-Nikaya, III, ii, 20) the capable merchant is approvingly said to know the value of goods and prices and the profits he obtains; and to buy where the price is low and to sell where the price is high. One of the most favored of Buddha's disciples was Anathapidika, a merchant who was generous to the cause and who was highly praised for his piety. Some scholars (e.g, Reynolds, 1988) claim that early Buddhism was particularly attractive to merchants, a marginal group adopting a marginal religion which had a strongly democratic nature. In more recent times, anthropologists such as Keyes (1988) have argued that Buddhists in some areas look unfavorably on merchants because they suspect that improper means were used in amassing wealth; however, this has nothing to do with the activity per se. All of this raises a difficult point concerning Buddhist beliefs about the functioning of the market. Certainly Buddhism accepts competition in general in the sense that it is possible to compete without hurting others, e.g., excel in virtue. For instance, King (1964, pp. 241 0 discusses the work of a Burmese writer on economic issues, U Chan Htoon, who speaks of "prizes in the school of life that each may strive for to obtain.... If a man chooses to interpret this as free competition, it is still competition without rivalry, for victory to oneself does not mean the defeat of someone else." How relevant is this to the economy? If we adopt the reasonable "Austrian" view that the competitive market can not properly function without rivalry, then it can be argued that innovation or "vigorous" market activities can not take place in a Buddhist economy. As Schumpeter pointed out, innovations bring the winds of creative destruction, which can cause economic distress to the non-innovators. Similarly, rivalry in a market where the available demand at an equilibrium price would drive a number of firms out of business would also lead to similar distress. We can lack attachment to our wealth and yet still experience considerable pain in the process of being deprived of our customary livelihood. In both cases, it must be added, the exact incidence and extent of the pain are unanticipated by the participants who are the cause of this distress. At this point it is important to stress the critical nature of motives in Buddhist ethical thought. Thus, if innovations are made, but not with the intention to ruin a competitor or to amass goods for personal use, but rather to supply goods to the population at a lower cost and to provide gifts to monks and the poor (including, perhaps, former competitors who were not flexible in responding), then innovation can be quite acceptable. Similar arguments can be made in the case of commercial rivalry. IV Other Economic Institutions According to king ( 1964, p. 177) the Buddha had little concern for society as such and little conviction of its possible improvability. Certainly society was not to be destroyed and social conditions might help or hinder humans in their search for nibbana, but such conditions could never befundamentallybettered. One receives the strong impression that early Buddhist writings generally accept existing political and economic institutions, even while providing a democratic social ethos which was revolutionary for its time. For instance, the Buddha did not appear to challenge the general framework of the kingship; and in so far as he did not strongly urge the freeing of slaves (who are mentioned in the canonical sources, even though they did not appear a numerically important group), he appeared to accept the institution of slavery (e.g, the scriptural sources cited by Gard, 1960, p. 225). The Buddha did represent a break from older social traditions in that he did not condemn urban institutions and seemed aligned with such groups as merchants. It must also be noted, however, that according to the established rules of monastic life, the monks could not have slaves, which suggests that the institution of slavery was uncomfortable to them. In the writings of early Buddhists who are held in particularly high regard, e.g., King Asoka, there was no call to free slaves, but merely the "proper treatment of slaves and servants" (Nikan and McKeon, 1966, p. 45). V Economic Policies The "Agganna Sutta" which described the origins of property also discusses the origins of the State. As crime increased after the division of the land, the people elected a king to maintain law and order, paying him for his troubles. This suggests a type of social contract theory, which means that the king has important obligations toward the people. Some of the discussion about economic policy with such a social contract is too general to be of much help to the policy maker, e.g, Buddhadasa Bhikku's (1986, p. 95) exegesis of the traditional Ten Royal Precepts of Kingship: generosity, morality, liberality, uprightness, gentleness, self-restraint, non-anger, non-hurtfulness, forbearance, and non-opposition. However, more practical advice can also be found. For instance, one of the canonical sources, the "Kutadanta Sutta" [Sutta V of Digha-Nikaya] speaks of the Royal Acts to increase prosperity which include giving of seed corn and food to farmers and of capital to merchants to start or increase their business. The particular source emphasizes that if prosperity increases, economic disorders and crime such as theft decrease. Additional insight into State economic activities can be gained by examining the records of some of the "righteous rulers" who are revered by the Buddhists. Unfortunately, the economic parts of this literature are not extensive because the monks writirig such manuscripts were more concerned with their spiritual lives, rather than their statecraft, an orientation most apparent in the well-known discussion of King Malinda. It should also be noted that because of the participation of the State in the operations of the irrigation systems in many of these countries, the crown had a fairly active role in the economy. The prototypical important righteous ruler was the revered King Asoka (Ashoka) (ca. 274-232 B.C.E.), the grandson of the founder of the Mauryan dynasty in indict and one of the greatest of the Indian emperors.2 From Asoka's edicts it appears that he generally accepted the economic and political institutions of his time. For instance, he did not condemn either torture (although he spoke of the necessity to avoid "unjust torture" or the killing of criminals, Nikam and McKeon, 1966, p. 61), which seems peculiar with regard to his reverence for life, especially of animals. However, he also took as the goal of statecraft the welfare and happiness of the people (pp. 38, 53) an`i, although he did not discuss in detail the means, it appears that he adopted a highly activist fiscal policy, both with regard to current and capital expenditures. For instance, he gave gifts to the aged, other needy, and religious orders; he set up public education courses to teach the doctrines of dhamma; he cut back on large public festivals; he imported and planted medicinal herbs; and he carried out various public works projects such as digging of wells, planting of trees, construction of rest houses and animal watering stations along main roads in the empire. Some of his edicts appeared to enforce traditional Buddhist beliefs, e.g, bans on slaughtering various animals. The funds spent on the maintenance of the crown and good works were high, e.g., taxes were apparently about one fourth of the revenue of land (p. 69). However, a curious policy dilemma arises. Asoka quite specifically noted that "the people can be induced to advance in dhamma by only two means: by moral prescriptions and by meditation. Of the two, moral prescriptions are of little consequence, but meditation is of great importance" (p. 40). In short, he saw limits of an activist government in promoting virtue. The definition of such limits has been a source of controversy among Buddhist writers ever since. Still another righteous ruler was King Ruang (all references refer to Reynolds and Reynolds, 1982), who lived in the 14th century in Thailand, long after the canonical scriptures had been completed. Ruang stated (p. 153) quite clearly that a righteous king brings prosperity to his sub jects. He apparently had a much less luxurious court or a less activist governmental expenditure policy than Asoka, since he advised (p. 151 ff.) that taxes should be less than 10 percent of the crop (and less in a drought) and that such taxes should never be higher than those of the preceding king. He also urged (p. 152 ff.) that the State provide interest free loans to those wishing to engage in commerce and that no profit taxes should be placed upon such commercial activities. Of course, the various writings on economic policy are both unsystematic and diffuse; they certainly do not define very exactly what type of economic policies should be followed or, in any very specific sense, the economic principles underlying such action. However, one important assumption behind such policy advice is simple a king following the dhamma and listening to the advice of the monks will know what are the correct policies to follow. These moral policies will bring prosperity according to the doctrine of radiation. VI Three Brief Meditations on the Economic Impact of Canonical Buddhism It should be clear that canonical Buddhist beliefs and attitudes toward economic activity and capital formation are much more ambiguous than often stated in the economic literature (e.g., Ayal, 1963). The purpose of this section is to delve into three economic problems posed within the framework of canonicalhe impact of canonical Buddhism on actual economic practices and beliefs in Buddhist countries is a much more complicated subject, especially since these vary considerably from country to country, and they must be left for another occasion.) The Economic Dialectic Between the Monks and the Laity As many have suggested, a Buddhist economy comprised only of monks (and nuns) could not last since these people have fully given up occupational and family duties in order to search for nibbana, relying on others to feed them. For a Buddhist economy to survive, there must be both monks and lay people. Simple economic considerations determine the relative numbers of the two groups for a closed Buddhist economy. If working incentives were not affected by giving away of food to monks, if "radiation" was not important, and if the entire population lived at the subsistence level, then the maximum percentage of the population who could live as monks (hereafter "maximum monk-share") would be determined from two factors the percentage of the economically active lay population (i e., engaged in production); and the difference between average production and the subsistence level for the family members supported by the person engaged in productive work. To these barebones, other considerations can be taken into account: Productivity: The higher the level of productivity (due to investment or to a higher level of technology), the greater the maximum monk-share. Minimum consumption level: It is unlikely that the lay population will be content to maintain just a subsistence level and give their surplus to the monks. The higher the amount of their surplus production they wish to consume before giving any food to the monks, the lower the maximum monk-share. Disincentives: If the laity must give up a large share of their produce to the monks, they might not work as hard as if all of their food were going to their own consumption. Although diligence is praised in the Buddhist canon, I could find nothing which specified exactly how hard people would work and it is, therefore, likely that less effort would be applied. The greater this disincentive effect, the lower the maximum monk-share. Radiation: If the laity consume many luxuries, they may become greedy and transgress the laws of dhamma so that negative virtue is radiated and the maximum monk-share is lowered. If the monk population follows religious prescriptions in a proper fashion, they and the laity together can radiate virtue, which raises production and increases the maximum monk-share. Actions of the ruler: The ruler's economic policies affect production and, hence, the maximum monk-share. This raises the problem of what should be policy goals of the ruler. For simplicity of exposition, I assume the policies remain constant and take up the problem of policy goals at the end of the discussion. An interesting economic problem arises when the number of monks is less than the maximum which can be supported and when the amount of luxury goods consumed by the population corrupts them. Three policy options are open: (a) The luxury foods can be collected and used not for the support of monks (who are not at the maximum number) but for the construction of temples. (Such investment is productive in the sense that it reduces corruption, increases virtue, and raises the production function). (b) The people can be persuaded to work less so that they will have fewer luxury goods, but more time for meditation. This would, of course, lower production. (c) The economic institutions of the society might be rearranged so that productivity would be less, but the possibilities of increasing merit would be greater. For instance, creation of small-scale villages where economies of scale would be lost, but an environment more nurturing of virtuous behavior than that of anonymous city life would be created. The second and third options both entail reduction of consumption, but in quite different ways. This economic dialectic between the monks and laity has a strong influence on capital formation. More specifically, gifts to the monks would lower the ratio of investment to the GDP if the laity were unwilling to lower their standard of living to an equal amount since the resources would come out of resources previously used in investment, which seems a reasonable assumption This situation also leads to trade-off between the relative number of current and future monks who can be supported. If a Buddhist government wishes to encourage the achieving of nibbana, it makes good sense to encourage capital formation so that in the long run a higher share of the population can become monks and engage in the necessary contemplation. The exact amount of capital formation depends, of course, on the social discount rate. What should be the policy goals of a ruler in such Buddhist societies? If achievement of nibbana of as many people as possible were the goal, then policy should be aimed for increasing material prosperity so that more monks could be supported (since they have a higher probability of achieving nibbana and of encouraging as many of the laity as possible (according to the conditions presented in the diagram) to join the monasteries in order to achieve this goal. This interdependence between laity and monks has some important implications for the nature of Buddhist society. First and foremost, it means that there is a strong complementarily between the nibbanic and the kammic strands of Buddhism. For nibbana to be achieved by some, the others must exist as well; and the two strands of Buddhism are thus inextricably tied. It also means that many of the interpretations tying Buddhism to lack of economic progress are misguided. As noted in a number of different ways above, Buddhism is not inimical to material prosperity. Further, Buddhism is not just a religion of the monks, but also of the laity; and, therefore, both groups require attention before generalizations can be made about the impact of the religion on the economy. These rather obvious strictures are not taken into account in many analyses. For instance, in a discussion entitled "The Other-Worldliness of Buddhism and Its Economic Consequences," Max Weber (1968, pp. 627-30) notes that the impact of Buddhism varies from country to country, depending upon the cultural milieu in which it is found. However, in all of them "no motivation toward a rational system for the methodical control of life flowed from Buddhist . . . piety." Although the doctrine does leave "room for the acquisitive drive of the tradesman, the interest of the artisan in sustenance, and the traditionalism of the peasant," it accepts "this world as externally given" and does not provide for a "rationalized ethical transformation" of existing conditions which is necessary either to improve one's own economic condition or that of society in general. Although a type of capitalism has existed in these countries in a modest sense, "there was no development toward 'modern capitalism', nor even any stirrings in that direction. Above all, there evolved no 'capitalist spirit' in the sense that is distinctive of ascetic Protestantism."[3] Clearly Weber is focusing his attention only on one of the complementary strands of Buddhism. If he had directed his attention to the Buddhist lay people and lay ethic, he might have discovered quite a different economic and social consequence of the religion, e.g, business management and capital accumulation in a "modern fashion," combined with the accumulation of merit by giving away some of the surplus to monks and other poor people. Certainly Zen Buddhism, which has had an extremely strong cultural impact on Japan, has certain important other-worldly aspects, and yet this has not prevented Japan from achieving an impressive degree of economic development. Of course, it is the lay people, not the monks, who are the producers and investors. Nevertheless, the relationships between "other-worldly" Buddhism and economic and political are much more complicated than Weber suggested (a matter explored by a number of writers, e.g., Tambiah [1984], Sarkisyanz [1965]). Although Weber's exclusive focus on only one of the two complementary social groups in a Buddhist economy appears one-sided, he maywell be correct that in certain situations, Buddhism does raise difficulties for economic development, but for quite different reasons than he argued, e.g, where traditional cultural values are antithetical to economic development and where these values and Buddhism are inextricably tied. The Problem of Needs and Wants Underlying much of the discussion in the canonical works is a distinction between needs and wants which provides a fulcrum for the doctrinal treatment of consumption. Needs, for instance, are embodied in the Four Requisites (food, clothing, shelter, and medicine) Although asceticism is condemned, the doctrine of non-attachment has been interpreted by many to mean that we should lead a life of simplicity and consume little more than our needs. How needs are defined is the key question; but I have found little systematic evidence in the canonical scriptures on the matter. An interesting ambivalence appears On the one hand, there appears to be an implicit assumption that our needs are both biological and social, i.e., related to the station of life in which one finds oneself. On the other hand, the various stories of generous giving suggest that even those of very high station can live in simplicity consuming only enough to fulfill their basic biological needs after they have disposed of almost all of their wealth to the monastery. If one's consumption needs are limited, then under normal conditions it may not be necessary to spend much time in work if one is diligent in the few hours when it is necessary to earn one's daily bread. Although Buddhism, in common with the doctrines of other religions, does not appear to treat such incentive problems, this is not worrisome since meditation and other spiritual exercises can be carried out in the greater amount of free time. I have found no evidence of any belief in the Protestant saying that "the devil finds work for idle hands." Such considerations give rise to a puzzle. What does the Buddhist canon mean by "prosperity" in describing the result of spiritual radiation? Clearly the economic needs of all people are filled and perhaps the quasi-necessities as well. Given the doctrines against attachment and pride, it does not seem likely that luxury consumption should be very high, except in the situation where people are mindful of the impermanence of the situation and would be willing to relinquish all such luxury consumption. The reduction of consumption to the level of needs--never very clearly defined--has a certain appeal among modern Buddhists and is supported by some interesting arguments. For instance, the Thai monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu ( 1986, p. 61) argues that the multiplication of individual wants is always at the expense of society since if people consumed only according to their needs, there would be enough for all and in all times. From the rest of his argument it is clear that he is relying on the story of the creation of property presented above, where the world had sufficient food for all before people started acting with pride and maximizing utility by storing food (and thereby saving daily trips out to the fields). The Problem of Economic Complexity In common with all religions which emerged in peasant economies, Buddhism has a number of doctrines which point toward the relationships within a small community as a behavioral ideal. The emphasis on simple living discussed above reinforces this idea. Further, according to Gard (1964, p. 112), Buddhism has a strong personalistic ethic, e.g., a preference for settling questions of equity and justice on a person-to-person basis, rather than by a legalistic technique or stated principles. Their belief that work should enable a person to overcome ego-centredness by joining with others in a common purpose is another sign pointing to the benevolent nature of the small scale community, in contrast to the large, urban community. Modern Buddhists, e.g., Buddhadasa BhikLu (1986, p. 86) or Sivaraksa (1986, pp. 54 ff.) argue that social problems seem to grow as people begin living in larger and larger groups and that such complexity and development leads to an overvaluation of "quantity" and an undervaluation of "quality. " The canonical scriptures appear to provide few direct guideposts for living in highly complicated and impersonal urban complexes. Two approaches are possible to imagine: (a) Traditional doctrines would be extrapolated to meet the new situation, e.g, rightmindedness could be reinterpreted for the needs of such a setting; (b) Attempts would be made to avoid the creation of such conditions. The latter alternate would require the deliberate maintenance of small, face-to-face communities; small factories; considerable self-sufficiency; dampening of the class struggle of workers and property owners by social forces, and maintenance of high direct and indirect barriers to trade with the outside world. Of course, all of this would be accompanied by a considerable loss of productivity and lower living standards. This, however, would be quite consistent with the beliefs about production for needs, rather than wants, and for simplicity of life style. Such self-contained communities would also reduce external trade and thus reduce the temptation of merchants to deviate from the dhamma by becoming too attached to their profits of trade. In a small community, it may be easier to enforce social controls to prevent trade profits from being too high. Finally, the fall in income from the loss of economies of scale which occurs in small-scale economic communities is, as noted above, one way of reducing the possible corruption of attachment arising from consumption of luxury goods. Although I have not seen proposals for such small-scale, autarkic communities in the Buddhist literature available to me, some--such as Mahatma Gandhi (who drew upon both Buddhist and Hindu traditions) and E. F. Schumacher (who drew upon Buddhist ideas)--have viewed this idea with favor. Certain of Gandhi's disciples (e.g., Das, 1979) have explored at considerable length how the modern society and economy could be arranged under such a principle while minimizing the loss of production. VII Buddism as a Guidepost for a Modern Economic System On a local level the uses of Buddhism are elastic, and doctrinal sources can be used either to justify the building of yet another temple or to provide religious support for village development work (e.g., Macy [1983]). On a national level, a similar doctrinal flexibility is found. In bygone years some Buddhist social commentators took a very passive view toward economic policy, arguing that it is even useless to try to correct some obvious shortcomings of the economy. For instance, in Burma the Buddhist ShwayYoe, writing at the end of the 19th century (cited by King, 1964, p. 231), says that the rich and powerful man has a right to govern because in a previous life he was pious and good; the poor man must be content with his lot because he must have been bad before he entered this existence. In more recent times this appears to be changing and a considerable number of Buddhist intellectuals start their analysis of economic systems with a critique of the obvious defects of both capitalism and communism, then to argue that since Buddhism is a doctrine of the Middle Way, it is possible to draw upon the positive aspects of both types of systems while, at the same time, arranging matters so as to avoid the general materialism and spiritual sickness which is found in both systems. The real question, of course, is what must the economy look like and what must the State do to avoid the various specified evils, while increasing virtue. The Buddhist canon provides arguments for all sides of the political spectrum for reconstructing the economy. For purposes of illustration it is useful to compare the ideas advanced by the far left (Buddhist socialists or communists) and right (Buddhist traditionalists). Representing the left I draw upon the doctrines of the Buddhist socialists as summarized by Sarkisyanz (1965, 1978); representing the right I draw upon the writings of a Thai monk, Buddhadasa Bhikkbu (1986).4 I have not been able to locate any intellectual in recent years justifying some type of laissezfaire capitalism by recourse to the Buddhist canon, although it is not hard to imagine updated versions of the arguments advanced by Shway Yoe (noted above) combined with some notion that it is primarily individual actions, rather than governmental moral prescriptions and policies, which lead to a virtuous society. Buddhadasa has little discussion of public ownership of the means of production, apparently taking a pragmatic stand in favor of current arrangements based on the necessity of private property arising from human frailities. The Buddhist socialists have favored considerable nationalization of the means of production. For instance, U Nu supported land nationalization by arguing that by eliminating private bwnership of land, the class struggle based on the illusion about the importance of property could be eliminated as well (Sarkisyanz, 1978). The Burmese government of Ne Win, who overthrew U Nu, carried out considerable nationalization of industry and banks. Both the right and the left Buddhists favor a certain minimal redistribution of income so that the basic consumption needs of all are covered. However, based on traditional arguments, Bhikkbu can still support the maintenance of class distinctions, albeit based on function and duty rather than inherited wealth. Others on the Buddhist right have argued that redistributing income is "patchwork, like social service" and that true Buddhism takes away the instinct of possessiveness; and that sharing can come only after the overcoming of self. On the left U Nu argued for considerably more redistribution on the grounds that this would increase the number of those economically capable of performing works of piety (Sarkisyanz, 1965, p. 171). Others of the left argued for redistribution, drawing upon arguments about the rough economic equality found in the monastery. With regard to governmental activism in the economy, the important role of the governments in the irrigation economies of Southeast Asia received mention above. Nevertheless, the dilemma mentioned above concerning King Asoka--how to define the limits of intervention-is still an unresolved issue. On the right, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has drawn those limits rather widely: He called his ideal system "dictatorial dhammic socialism" which, among other things, means that moral governmental policies should be carried out "expeditiously"; this differs from tyranny, he argues, since in the latter the policies carried out do not serve the general interest. In any case he is not shy in urging governmental coercion to force people to contribute their labor to public works construction. The Buddhists on the left have urged considerable governmental intervention, and both the Burmese governments of U Nu and Ne Win carried out a variety of direct and indirect measures to guide the economy. It also seems possible, however, for a Buddhist to draw upon the canon to urge relatively little intervention, not only on the grounds that "each must find refuge in himself" to achieve virtue but also on the grounds of the effect of such a concentration of political and economic power in the government upon the personnel in the government itself. In short, the vagueness of the Buddhist canon on economic matters combined with its complexity and length allows room for quite different interpretations of an ideal economic system in modern times, especially since conditions are very much different than they were more than 2000 years ago when the Buddha lived. Of course, this situathon is little different from that of Christianity. The really difficult problem is to determine what part of the canon will be taken seriously under what circumstances, but this would require a much different kind of approach than the textual exegesis offered here. Many of the writings of religious figures applying the ideals of Buddhists to problems of economics are incredibly naive, but this is similar to writings of other religions as well. The Buddhists' moral critiques of modern economies have cogency, as do their investigation of possible alternative economic policies. The increasing interest in Islam has given rise to an exploding literature on Islamic economics; the increasing interest in Buddhism might give rise to a similar development of Buddhist economics as well. Notes [1.] From one perspective, this gives rise to an interesting puzzle: if i give alms to a poor stranger, is such generosity a consequence of his previous behavior and thought, or merely a random event which provides him with pleasure? Is the deed a consequence of my accumulated merit so that our kammic-trajectories intersect at this particular point, or is it merely a random event which provides me with unexpected merit? [2.] Asoka's edicts have been collected and systematized by Nikam and McKeon (1966); and my discussion is based on their book. Strong (1988) argues that it is not the historical Asoka or his writings which are famous and revered, but rather the legendary Asoka Although this may well be correct, for purposes of this essay, this is irrelevant. An important righteous ruier before Asoka was Prince Vessantara, who was Siddhartha Gautama in his immediately previous existence. Of particular note, the Prince gave away all of his wealth to anyone who requested it; this including his children, his wife, his magic white elephant which brought rain, and the kingship itself. He represents the ideal of non-attachment and generosity; it is noteworthy that he did not give funds to monks and their sangha since, of course, they did not appear until the Prince in his next life became the Buddha His other economic policies are not well known. [3.] In this passage Weber also makes an argumentative leap from the doctrines of the religion to the actual practices of the sociery which, as I have indicated above, does not appear warranted. Certainly there is little in the kammic strand of Buddhism which would hinder the development of accounting and other aids to rational business calculation; indeed, the injunctions for good stewardship would encourage such developments. Keyes (1988), for instance, speaks of the "innerworldly asceticism" and "work ethic" of the Buddhists in northeastern Thailand. [4.] Although my boef presentation of Bhikkhu's economic ideas make them sound rather similar to doctrines of national socialism in Germany, this connection should not be drawn Bhikkbu is a strong believer in non-violence and has a profound moral conception of human kind; unfortunately, his economic ideas are naive. Sarkisyanz (1965) presents an interesting summary of active economic policy by Buddhist kings from Asoka onwards. 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Clifford, "Sangha, Society, and the Struggle for National Identity: Burma and Thailand," in Frank Reynolds and Ludwig, Theodore, eds. Transition and Transformations in the History of Religions. Leiden: Brill, 1980, pp. 56-91. Reynolds, Frank E. end Mani Reynolds, Three WorldsAccordingtoKinBRuang: A ThaiBuddhist Cosmology, University of California Research Series 4. Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press, 1982. Sarkisyanz, E., "Buddhist Backgrounds of the Burmese Socialism," in Bardwell L. Smith, ed. Religion and the Legitimkation of Power in Thailand, Laos, and Burma. Chambersburg, Pa.: ANIMA Books, 1978. Sarkisyanz, E., Buddhist Backgrounds of the Burmese Revolution. The Hague: Maninus Nijhoff, 1965. Schumacher, E. F., "Buddhist Economics," in his Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. New York: Harper and Row, 1973, pp. 53-63. Sivaraksa, Sulak, A Buddhist Vision for Renewing Society. Bangkok: Tienwan Publishing House, 1986. Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja, The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets: A Study in Charisma, Hagiography, Sectarianism, and Millennia/Buddhism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Weber, Max, Economy and Society, edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, Volume II. New York: Bedminster Press, 1968. Weber, Max, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hindukm and Buddhism, transl. by Hans H. Gerth and Don Manindale. Glencoe: Free Press, 1958. ~~~~~~~~ BY FREDERIC L. PRYOR[*] [*] [Frederic L. Pryor, Ph.D., is professor of economics at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA 19081.] -------------------