Sujato's Questions (2): can money be defined solely in units relative to the value of human life?

Well, as someone who has occupied the social strata of America about which you are opining, I have to say your figures sound like a fairy tale. Everyone I’ve known is either working poor or lower middle class. Many of their families have degraded economically over the past two generations, not improved. This was largely because of the loss of blue collar manufacturing industries that paid well. They were replaced with poverty-wage industries and retail, mostly. We have a thriving underclass, as a result. Did you know that 12% of Americans receive SNAP benefits in 2019?


it would be great if you could provide a source for those claims. And be very specific about the timeframe at which those stats were collected and how much of that holds true across all other market-based capitalist economies in the planet.

Also, it would be nice to identify whether the 10-12 million of illegal immigrants providing a lot of value through their hard work and labor and coming to the markets with practically negative initial endowments were or not factored in these numbers! :thinking:

Hmm, that is odd! So what is in your view the proper goal for an economic system?

I struggle to conceive anything greater or more important than exactly meeting with equality the needs of the individuals in the society. This is to me the only goal worth being pursued by a political and economic system.

What is the alternative? To build pyramids? Or see which country creates the first trillionaire?

Or maybe, it may be a hidden fact that we are a sentient species enslaved by a much more powerful alien race, or maybe a very powerful pantheon of gods or demigods, who have shark loaned us technology and every single market-based capitalist economy is working towards repaying them somehow in the future! :sweat_smile:


I think you are fighting a straw man here mate!

No one is pushing for command economy and throughout the conversation we have been classifying militaristic attempts to achieve equality via socialism as inherently flawed.

I did raise the topic of socialist calculation problem to enrich the conversation and point that in the socialist thinking realm there is also no consensus on what is the best approach for individuals to transact and acquire the services and goods they need. Even among socialists, the wining hypothesis is that markets will do the trick, as per the Chinese case!

The only caveat being that a market solution under a truly socialist ideal will have much less room for pernicious things like predominance of financial capital and pursuit of accumulation purely for the sake of accumulation - which by the way the Buddha of EBTs also saw as unskillful!

Also, by making sure the means of production are indirectly ultimately owned by everyone potentially a more fair and egalitarian solution will be achieved for real problem of assumption and requirement that agents participating in a market come to it with a bare minimum in terms of initial endowement.

I respect your perception of socialism as a byproduct of the accounts from your relatives. But I encourage you to let down your guard, there is no hidden agenda here of brewing a revolution developing some sort of military-ruled communist state combining the worst of Marxist-Leninism and under the flag Buddhism! :sweat_smile:


“Wealth” is subjective. Thousands of years ago humans led simpler lives. They foraged, fished, hunted, and grew the food they needed to eat, they found or built shelter, they clothed themselves against the elements, and they lived among kin amid a culture that provided them with meaning and purpose. They also lacked electricity, vaccines, and treatments for diseases that today have been eradicated. They also faced periodic famine, were vulnerable to the weather, and lived on average only until their forties, sometimes with painful and debilitating disorders that today are treatable even in very remote parts of the world.

To the extent no human being alive today will ever get Small Pox, everyone in the world right now is wealthier than all of humanity just a hundred years ago.

Today people have electricity, sophisticated medical treatments, modern transportation, communication, and hand-held computers. The smart phone would seem like a fantasy, even to futurists fifty years ago. The poorest person on the planet today has more access to medical treatments than the richest person alive five hundred years ago. A third of Europe’s population died in the Great Plague of the 1300s!

On the other hand, as Ajahn Sujato has pointed out, human life today is in some ways very “poor.” Humans are wasting the environment in ways that threaten their own existence. Huge public works projects such as Chinese dam construction in Southeast Asia are destroying the environment and obliterating entire cultures.

So what is “wealth” is subjective and contextual. The nice thing about today is that many people have choices. Millions of humans (not all) can choose among a variety of lifestyles. Much better than the Khmer Rouge, which proclaimed “Year Zero,” and decreed that everyone under its control had to return to a “simpler” life.


In the moderator’s defense, this modeling could also have been achieved (equally?) by posting publicly your ignorance and questions and then inviting those interested to participate in a private thread.

But it is interesting to note, on a meta level, how the thread itself is an example of inequality: The founder asks for and is granted an indulgence by the mods where an exception would certainly not have been granted to a new member. Is this “wealth”? What role does “leadership” have in an “equal” society?

Because this exercise in privilege hasn’t been a totally bad thing. The conversation, as noted, has been quite positive so far — no doubt also due to the respect afforded to Ajahn. Perhaps the rule is that any topic is “on topic” as long as the replies are respectful?

In which case: may all threads be “on topic!” :rofl::pray::upside_down_face:


Amazing … :rofl: :arrows_counterclockwise: :wink: :upside_down_face:

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I’m not sure this is true. To me, the discussion in its entire scope has a very Dhammic quality. If these questions of economics, of how communities can thrive or fail in the context of human greed and delusion are not Dhammic, then the Dhamma just becomes a nice potted plant.

I have always seen that new members here have been treated with a lot of welcoming and latitude. I think Bhante Sujato kind of hit the nail on the head when he reflected that he, like all of us, wants to be challenged and educated; the mark of a true leader.

This thread has been a great example, at least to me, of how the Watercooler might thrive. A great discussion among peers, all of us trying to grasp these ideas and welcoming the approaches of some obviously skilled minds in the field of economics here. I have learned a lot, and am glad that I am not boxed out should this cool conversation end up in another’s PM inbox.


I think this infographic is a good way to understand how much “money” is there in the form of fictitious financial capital:

The huge amount of money currently existing in the form of derivatives tells us how far commodity fetishism can go, with the underlying source of surplus-value in exploitation of labour power being disguised.

Marx was very right to say that the formation of fictitious capital links to the wider contradiction between the financial system in capitalism and its monetary basis.

In a very scary way, all of the USD 500-1,000 trillion floating up there in the form of these derivatives is a measure of future surplus value yet to be captured via exploitation of labor.

Note that this humongous amount is equivalent to 4-12 times the total Gross World Product, currently estimated at USD 86 trillion - USD 144 trillion.


That’s cool. Have you seen this one?


The really interesting thing about Bezos’s wealth is that it exists partly because of other people buying his company’s stock, but mainly because he wants to retain control of the company, therefore he must own over 50% of its shares.

(Actually, he owns less than 50%, but his ex-wife gave him control of the votes her shares represent as part of their divorce.)

So, the enormous wealth people like Bezos and Gates end up with is a result of their need for power as well as just the monetary value of their company’s stock. People in similar situations as company founders who don’t need that power generally bail out early with less wealth and are happy with it.


Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Usually when a tycoon starts to accumulate that much power, the government steps in with antitrust law. But so far, Bezos has (it seems?) avoided the particular anticonsumer behavior that the law in the US mandates before antitrust can kick in. He’s discovered a kind of “power amassing loophole” that the US political system has simply been too disfunctional recently to close.

I was going to post it myself, it’s just mind-bending. If you think you can comprehend the scale of modern wealth, you need to think again.

Everyone, thank you once again so very much. I am going to ask the @moderators to close this and the other economics threads now. Please don’t fret, I will open another thread soon. We’re not closing for any bad reason, I just want to keep the conversation focused.

I’ve been a bit absent the last few days, as I have been somewhat overwhelmed with SuttaCentral work right now. Lots of very late nights working with developers on European time! I want to wait till my brain is clearer and my thoughts more coherent before taking the next step…


Nobody benefits from developed, market economies more than immigrants, both legal and illegal. If they did not benefit, they would not be clamoring to get here, often risking life and limb. Illegal immigrants especially do everything they can to reach the developed world because they know they can forge a better life for themselves and their families than the can back home.

I think the idea of equality is not only not a great goal, it is absolutely evil. I think a proper goal for an economic system is to give everyone the freedom to pursue what they find best for themselves and their families.

I am glad that you do not want to recreate the hellish socialist states of the past, but I don’t know what you mean by “a market solution under a socialist idea.” These are contradictions. I do think that there is a powerful socialist bias within western Buddhist communities, and I find it worrisome. ANY expropriation of private property (either through a gun or through the ballot box), is a violate of the second precept. The Buddhist ideal for caring for the poor and disadvantaged is clear: generosity. Generosity is only possible with freedom.

I feel like at this point we are talking past each other, so I will have to say goodbye for now. I have enjoyed our conversation very much. Thank you. Much betta.

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Fair enough. Be well as well.

If possible try to share with us the basis for your statistical arguments eventually.

I am still puzzled with those claims. My understanding is that things are not like that and I am happy to be convinced of the contrary.

Also, there is a flaw in your argument that market based capitalism creates opportunities for immigrants.

The flaw has to do with the fact that it is capitalism that creates the market-based disparities in terms of resources and technology between nations which motivate immigration first place.

And I say so being myself an immigrant who had to pay a very high price to move away from a so called developing country highly eroded by the inherently uncompassionate motions of capitalism. Although not unlucky enough to be a political or religious refugee I am very clear about to what extent I am an economic refugee who was set back by years in many aspects as I moved countries.

The tragicomedy of the problem of immigration nowadays is that those defending capitalism don’t have anymore the excuse of a world war, of a cold war against an international communist threat, etc.

It is market based capitalism and its reliance on unequal distribution of resources and capital between countries and its peoples that really stops the humankind from being free to move a across continents and a gradual, coordinated and sustainable shift in population distribution to take place.


Nope, there is no contradiction and to a great extent the current world economic system relies quite a lot on the Chinese version of market socialism:

I don’t think that’s correct. In the Vinaya the Buddha makes it a defeating offence for bhikkhus to smuggle goods into a territory with the aim of avoiding paying duties on them. It’s the bhikkhus who do this that are judged to be violating the second precept, not the rājā who wants to tax them. In effect this ruling amounts to a tacit acknowledgement of a rājā’s (or a state’s) right to tax people.

Then in the Cakkavattī-sīhanādasutta one of the instructions that form part of the Ariyan duty of a righteous rājā is:

And whosoever in thy kingdom is poor, to him let wealth be given.

From where will the rājā get the revenue to do this if not from taxation?

That just leaves the question of where the rājā gets his right to tax from. What is it that makes his actions not a violation of the second precept? In the traditional Buddhist myth the answer is that the right derives from the primeval social contract, as described in the Aggaññasutta. To the extent that rājās are dhammika rājās they’re viewed as the spiritual heirs of King Mahāsammata, to whom primitive humans said:

“Come now, good being, be indignant at that whereat one should rightly be indignant, censure that which should rightly be censured, banish him who deserves to be banished. And we will contribute to thee a proportion of our rice.”


You make an excellent point. If the “tax” is actually a duty on a port or other entry into a land owned by the raja, then it is not a violation. If it is direct expropriation such as an income tax or wealth tax, that is a different story.

As for how the rājā can gain wealth without violating the precepts:
1.) I don’t think there is any expectation whatsoever that they wouldn’t be violating precepts. Most rules break at least the first precept.
2.) If they did want to gain wealth without violating the second precept, they can earn wealth by earning money from their own lands. A rājā who gives his own money is practicing generosity. A rājā who “gives” wealth taken from someone else is not.

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Just a bit of relevant humor I thought I’d share before the thread gets locked down :joy:


These days most modern nations operate with their own fiat currency (slips of paper and coins with numbers on them). Currency is continuously created by central banks and the private banking system, the amount of money in the economy is always increasing.

A rājā operating their own fiat currency in their nation would therefore not need taxes to get revenue (the rājā can print money).

Rather, taxes ensure that the fiat currency has value in the first place, because there is always a demand for the fiat currency since the state will punish you if you don’t pay your taxes in the fiat currency.

Another reason the rājā might want to tax is to prevent runaway inflation through reducing people’s spending power. In this case, taxation seems “good” if it prevents the economy from collapsing and destroying everyone’s livelihoods.

Edit: But the rājā could also tax people he didn’t like simply to make them poor, clearly not very skillful.

Basically, taxation is one way states can regulate the economy. A state that did not tax at all would likely have a much more unstable economy. Which is better? Personally I prefer stability, but others might not.


Why so? What’s the difference between a rājā who expropriates, say, fifty out of every thousand kahāpaṇas profit that a merchant makes, and one who expropriates fifty kahāpanas’ worth of goods for every thousand kahāpaṇas’ worth that a merchant brings into his territory?