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Bhante Sujato - Buddhist Futures Talks

Found these recent talks on the YouTube channel of the Buddhist Library

In this time of extraordinary change, how can we respond? What kind of future can we imagine? And what role could Buddhism play in helping us bring about the kind of future that we’d like to imagine?

Join Bhante Sujato for Part 1 of Buddhist Futures, a series of 4 talks exploring what it means to follow the Buddha’s teachings now and into the future.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

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I think the Buddhist Library process is in need of refinement!

This is supposed to be launched this evening, 7pm AEST, and will be followed by a Jitsi discussion. If anyone wants to watch and chat, please join in.

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To join the discussion, registration is necessary.

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Part 4 is already up and it is a very entertaining talk!


:anjal:
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Registration for the discussion at 7:30pm AEST is available and free. :smiley: See you there?

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FYI… If giving Dana for the presentations, take note that it can go either to Bhante and Lokanta Vihara or to the Buddhist Library… Make sure you click on the right button - it is not obvious :slight_smile:

This video tells us about the unrealistically optimistic scenario of 2 degrees warming, and its already catastrophic implications.

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Two degrees is already a nightmare, and the latest CMIP6 models indicate outcomes much higher than that. Current CO2 emissions are tracking the highest scenarios, with expected outcomes between 2.6°C–7.4°C.

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interesting talk. I just listened to the first one and found it fascinating; I liked the suggestion at the end of solving our problems by craving and consuming less (something I try to practice myself - for example last week I finally had to give in and buy a smartphone since it has become necessaey during lockdown for a number of things, but until then I had lived without one.) .

However I am not sure whether our society as a whole can put that in practice. For example a famous physicist from ETH Zurich has argued against the lockdown in Switzerland on the basis that if the economy slows down, the health sector cannot be properly funded and it will not be possible to provide medical assistance to people.

I did not like the argument personally, but this got me thinking: if this is true (whether you like it or not) for a rich country like Switzerland, it must be even more so for developing countries; so slowing down the economy (since all parts of the economy are interconnected) would affect many things like the health sector. And I think that many would agree that having good health care is desirable.

Also, would this mean, from an ethical standpoint, that if you argue against the way modern society functions you should also refrain from using the advantages it offers (like modern medical care) in order to be consistent? I am not asking this in a polemical way since as I mentioned I am all for consuming less on a personal level, but it’s an ethical question which I am trying to grasp, whether in order to be consistent one should refuse the whole of the system (including the advantages) if one does not agree with it. Otherwise on what ethical basis can one benefit from those services that are funded by those very aspects of the economy and consumerism that one is against?

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This is a very interesting thought experiment. Suppose everybody begins pursuing sīla, samādhi, and paññā, and begins consuming less. What would that economy look like?

If healthcare would be one of the main services that would remain to be consumed, a lot of lay employment would get reallocated to the health sector. Real wages in the health sector might be lower but the doctors and nurses and other people working in healthcare would also want to consume less so they could accept that.

Some sectors would be necessary to still support healthcare. For example, research into medicine would be necessary for keeping healthcare effective, or making it more effective. Engineering might be necessary for producing medical instruments. Pharmacology might be necessary for producing medications.

Other sectors would fall out of demand. For example, the production of alcohol would probably fall, gambling and cheap entertainment, too. Especially the kind of entertainment that reinforces the hindrances. The production of food might change too. Produce might not be shipped from the other side of the world only because it’s out of season where we live, etc. The manufacturing of guns, luxury cars, and environmentally more damaging vehicles might stop. Coal-fired power plants might close.

The decrease in demand in these other sectors would mechanically cause a drop in GDP. But whether that would negatively affect healthcare is not so clear.

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Indeed, and as nanavippayutta commented, the implications would be complex.

But I would like to step back and ask: why is health care considered part of economics at all? Should we not be caring for each other as a moral duty?

It’s important to continually question the assumptions of “economic rationalism”. The only reason we see these things in economic terms is because that’s how we have built our world. There’s nothing stopping us from building it differently.

Much, possibly most, medical and health care happens outside the economic realm, even today. People take care of themselves, or look after friends and family, with no economic motive. Within the medical profession, a large proportion of the economic transactions are already placed within the public sphere as Medicare and the like, showing that we, as a human culture, do not want such decisions to be solely based on money.

If medical care is seen as a moral duty, it becomes immediately obvious that we are looking at the wrong things. Most of the major advances in human health over the past years have come from lo-tech things like nutrition, vaccines, hygiene, pre- and post-natal care, better diagnosis, clean water, sewerage, health education, women’s empowerment, giving up smoking, and so on.

Trillions of dollars have been spent on high-end medical research that has had very fitful results. Some things have improved greatly, while others have hardly changed.

If we are serious about medicine as being the promotion of human health, our efforts would be directed to eliminating malaria, legalizing drugs, feeding the hungry, and getting basic amenities to the many still in need. But research dollars are overwhelmingly spent by the rich for the rich.

So yes, in a shrunken economy there would be less money available for advanced medical research, and some people would suffer and die because of that. But shifting medicine out from under the umbrella of economics and Big Pharma would, I believe, save many more lives in simple and unspectacular ways.

The real reason we spend our health money the way we do is not because it is economically rational, but because we value the lives of rich white people more than poor brown people.

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Bhante Sujato, these are great points.

I just want to respectfully note that economics is not about the study of money nor consumption but about the study of human well-being. The field of development economics is ever so popular, and is concerned exactly with the people whose needs are the least looked after in conventional Western discourse. It focuses on outcomes that are neither monetary nor material on the face of them: food security, women’s equality, education, political voice, mortality, physical health, and more and more mental health as well.

Your Buddhist Futures series is phenomenal, and I don’t see a conflict with economics. I only see a conflict with the goals which the majority of us in the economy today pursue.

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Good point, thanks. When I think of economics, I confess I am usually thinking about the modern co-opting of the field by the monetarists, and the ongoing movement to subsume all human activity within the market.

May I ask, do you have an expertise in the area? I might have some questions!

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Yes, I am a development economist. I hope I will have some answers!

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As an economist myself I understand why is that, especially here in Australia!

Economics is a very heterogeneous field of human sciences. But for some reason Australians seem to only be exposed to a very specific and narrow range of thinking models on the topic of economics - all of them very biased towards a blind faith in private property rights and a market-exchange based system solution to allocation of people and resources.

There are dozens of different schools of thought within it and they all suffer from a very basic issue: they try to simplify to what is complex and inexact in nature with outdated exact science thinking models.

A nice talk on that is found within the video further below from which I quote:

“When Robert Solow won the Nobel Prize for economic growth theory in the mid-1980s, he actually let the little secret out.
He said, “We’ve got a problem here.”
When we trace every single year of the Industrial Revolution these two factors —better machines, better workers — it only accounts for about 14% of the productivity.
So Robert Solow asked the big question:
“Where does the other 86% of productivity come from?”
Don’t know.
Moses Abramowitz, the former head of the
American Economic Association said, “This is a measure of our ignorance.”
Now wouldn’t you think economists would know where productivity comes from, because that’s the basis of the discipline?
Here’s why they don’t know.
When classical economic theory was penned in the late seventeen hundreds, the Vogue was Newton’s physics.
Newton was the big guy in town.
Everybody wanted to use Newton’s metaphor so they could be more scientific because he had discovered the laws that run the universe—supposedly.
The economists also fell in line.
For example, you know Newton’s law:
“For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.”
Adam Smith borrowed that metaphor for his invisible hand of supply and demand.
“For every action on the supply side there’s an equal and opposite reaction on the demand side.”
Newton’s law: “A body in motion stays in motion unless disrupted.”
Baptiste Say borrowed that metaphor —the French economist.
And he suggested that, “Well supply will stimulate demand, which will generate supply, which will stimulate demand —unless disrupted.”
All of our economic theory, if you go back and take a look at it— it’s all based on Newton’s metaphors in physics.
There’s only one problem with this:
Newton’s physics has absolutely nothing to do with economics.
Nothing.
Nothing.

As someone who has a very fond appreciation for Marxian economics (not to be confounded with marxism or communism!) as long as humans do not let go or transcend the trap of private property there is no hope.

The production system implied in what you describe @sujato is very similar to what would result from that transformation…

This is because based on a thoughtless quest for accumulation by individuals the capitalist system will necessarily always need something at its borders to feed from and inevitably tend towards self-destructive crises at the expense of the individuals entrapped in it …

And we are not talking just about billionaires. Everyone who is working and saving towards a hopeful simple and frugal retirement depends on the meat-crushing machine to continue devouring future generations and those who do not win the ‘birth lottery’ of coming to this world in a developed country.

:pray:

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Interesting points, an old friend from university called Jonathan Aldred has written a book questioning the assumptions behind a lot of economic theories and putting ethics to the forefront.
Do you have good reference texts for development economics so that I can find out more?

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Thanks for sharing; as a physicist I find it interesting that many fields like say psychology or indeed economics and finance (in finance I am thinking for example of Fama’s theories of the efficient markets etc) tend to imitate physics even though the application of the same metodologies is questionable.
However people like Didier Sornette whom I referred to above (or Jean-Philippe Bouchaud) are very intelligent physicists (certainly more intelligent than me) who do claim that some methods of physics (e.g. statistical physics, physics of complex systems) can indeed be applied to economics. So the question seems to be indeed quite complex…

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Sounds awesome.

I more and more tend to think that economic “theories” are mostly just half-baked metaphors drawn from “real sciences” like physics and biology, or statistics, gussied up for respectability, and presented as facts about reality when they are really apologetics for inequality.

I’ll ask some questions on another thread!

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The best recent popular summary on development is probably Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s “Good Economics for Hard Times.” I have not been able to read it yet but I heard good reviews.

MIT OpenCourseWare has material available for Benjamin Olken, Esther Duflo, and Abhijit Banerjee’s 2008 course in development. This is probably somewhat outdated but might still be interesting.

But if you want to see the questions that modern economics tackles, and their reasoning and findings, books are not the best place to go. Economics research is first published in journal articles, not books, and most research never even makes it into books—at best textbooks. The economics you learn in an undergraduate curriculum most likely bears little resemblance to what is actually done by economists.

About as importantly, most of economics is also not macroeconomics. Macro is what makes it into the news but economic researchers overwhelmingly work on much less grandiose questions, and so their answers can be and are much more grounded in actual data. The discipline has a reputation for staunchly supporting pro-rich policies but that is very far from the truth. Starting with the early 1990s, data allowed the discipline to test hunches and theories, and to undergo a transformation. Today probably almost no PhD economist would say that a Milton Friedman-style libertarian utopia would not in fact be a dystopia. Bounded rationality, cognitive biases, social preferences, myopic decision making, etc., are now mainstream concepts. Well-designed policies to support workers and the poor are understood to be the right thing to do. Research on labor unions and the minimum wage are two examples where evidence is currently being established. Racism, sexism, xenophobia are important topics that are studied, their effects are being established, and their causes are looked for. Environmental economics is a whole separate field with its own PhD programs and departments, showing clearly the damage that is done by reckless economic and environmental policies. And I have already mentioned development which focuses on the realities of the majority of the inhabitants of the planet.

There are shorter and more focused literature reviews published by two journals of the American Economic Association (AEA), the Journal of Economic Literature and the Journal of Economic Perspectives (JEP). The latter tends to be more accessible because it has an explicit policy to omit mathematics unless absolutely necessary for the exposition.

The AEA curated a list of literature reviews, organized by theme. They call the list JEP in the classroom. The reviews linked don’t even remotely cover everything that is done in the various fields of the discipline. But some of them may be interesting to you:

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