It does not matter if we look at the Christian church and it’s social justice programs, or engaged Buddhism, or any other world religion‘s approach to solve suffering. The world is rapidly devolving into the super rich and the poor, with the middle class being mainly pushed downwards towards being poor. Look at cities in the industrialized cities of the last 200 years, all have become hollow shells of what they were. Was it because the products the companies made became obsolete, they could not adapt. No it was because the rich who control have pushed production to the lowest cost provider of labor, and the lowest environmental standards. In the USA 93% of the wealth is controlled by 20% of the population. Even during the great depression of the 1930s this disparity didn’t exist.
How can we begin to effect change on a global level? It starts at the local level, right where you live. Good environmental policies that protect the world we live in, are in accordance with the teachings of most world religions. I will use Buddhism as the basis, for most of my points, however they also can apply to most other world religions.
When the Buddha taught how to become free from suffering, he mentioned economics many times. From the sparse monastic lifestyle of the monks, and only having 3 robes and a bowl, well depending on the alms of the lay people for their needs. To the description of the attributes of a husband, where he is to provide his wife with the resources needed for the family, and provide her with adornments. The wife is to protect what he provides and be a skillful manager of the families resources. Then they are to see to the needs of their parents, relatives and others, as they have resources to do so. When it comes to earning a living, we are to have a Right Livelihood, to earn our money without causing suffering. That once we have skillfully earned our money in such a manner, then we must be mindful of how we spend our resources.
So The Buddha has shown that economic without ethics is not an appropriate way of looking at this important topic. If a company uses illegal or unethical means to enhance it’s profits, such as the adding of melamine to dairy cattle feed in China a few years ago. This increased the reading of protein in the milk, while later causing many injuries and even death. Other examples are where companies avoid or break safety rules putting employees at risk for injury or death. Within the last several years ethical purchasing practices have started to be demanded by consumers of such products as coffee, tea, clothing to name but a few products. Good ethics mean a better economy, and steadier profits in the long run for the company. Better health for the workers means less production lost to injuries, training new workers, or paying penalties imposed by governments for failing to maintain standards.
Consumers can influence product design, by choosing quality over flash. If buying a pair of shoes, buy good quality, and it will more than pay for itself over time. Yes fashions change, but in a few years, it will be back in style, and you will also have saved the environmental costs of disposing of the first item, and having a second made and delivered to you. As a few ladies I know point out, certain fashion items never really go out of style, the little black dress for example. What does change is the accessories, or hairstyles, so buying a good quality dress will pay dividends.
Learning to respect all life when we make purchasing decisions is the first step. Followed by taking care of needs before wants. Finally allowing some luxuries without leaving yourself in debt with credit cards. Just as individuals have gotten in trouble through bad debts, so have companies, and countries. As I have pointed out before: We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
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