Economics and the Dharma:
coming to realize that all profit is loss
A small stone dropped in a stream can change the course of a river. For me, the stone was a political science course I wanted to take in my sophomore year. The class was full and I couldn’t get in, so I signed up for Principles of Economics – it was available and didn’t meet too early in the day. Assistant Professor James Pate was entertaining – bright, engaging, and animated – actually very animated. Sometimes he would jump up on a desk and wave his arms showing how lines on a graph would move about. I was captivated; I took another of his courses, and another, and another … and ended up with a B.A. in economics. I went to graduate school, got a Ph.D. in economics, spent some time in Washington D.C., and then became a Professor of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A year after I was granted tenure, I met Geshe Lhundrub Sopa.
We depend on each other to obtain what we need – none of us is self-sufficient. Our economic interdependence manifests through markets. It is in the market where we earn income and it is from the market that we obtain what we consume. Markets are driven by profits and limited by what people are willing to buy. To the extent to which economists would encourage charity, their advice would tend to be limited to those who consume and not the firms that produce. …
Slowly I started to understand that satisfaction is a state of mind, not a state of accumulation. Economics could provide some advice on improving holdings, but it offered none on how to develop a satisfied mind. The three principal aspects of the economics path – self-centeredness, materialism, and greed – offered scant direction for mental transformation.
As the year progressed I began to pay attention to spirituality. …
Dr. Rodney Stevenson is a Professor of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Recent publications include “Exploring the Ethics and Economics of Global Labor Standards: A Challenge to Integrated Social Contract Theory” with L. Hartman and B. Shaw, Business Ethics Quarterly, vol. 13, no. 2, 2003, and “An Ethical Basis for Institutional Economics,” Journal of Economic Issues, vol.36, no. 2., 2002. Dr. Stevenson lives in Madison with his wife Karen.
This article is an excerpt of the full article printed in Mandala