Commentary: Responding to Trump’s Separation from the World

My commentary that was posted also on Lion’s Roar on June 4, 2017

Yesterday was a dark day for Americans, as we listened to our president withdraw from the Paris 2015 climate agreement. For me, deep sadness was followed by anger.

I turned to others’ wisdom about our duty to care for each other and the planet.

From Buddhist leaders:

Together, humanity must act on the root causes of this environmental crisis, which is driven by our use of fossil fuels, unsustainable consumption patterns, lack of awareness, and lack of concern about the consequences of our actions.

We are united by our concern to phase out fossil fuels, to reduce our consumption patterns, and the ethical imperative to act against both the causes and the impacts of climate change, especially on the world’s poorest.

The time to act is now.

From Pope Francis:

Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment. These attitudes also attune us to the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us. If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.

We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.

From Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Love Letters to the Earth:

“Caring about the environment is not an obligation, but a matter of personal and collective happiness and survival. We will survive and thrive together with our Mother Earth, or we will not survive at all.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches us about the fragility of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayan glaciers, called the Third Pole. Temperatures are rising three times faster than the global average at the Third Pole, which contains 40 percent of the world’s fresh water and feeds seven major rivers running throughout South Asia. His Holiness tells us, “Relying on prayer to God or Buddha seems illogical, because humans created the problem and humans must solve the problem to avert disaster.”

One person alone cannot solve the problem, but together we can do much.

With the Trump administration abdicating its global responsibilities, individual behavior and actions will make an even bigger difference. Our daily habits in two areas are especially important in determining our ecological footprint: diet and transportation. Our impact on earth is dramatically reduced if we eat little or no meat and if we do not waste food, which we can alleviate by eating leftovers and composting our scraps. Our carbon emissions are dramatically reduced if we drive hybrid or electric vehicles, use public transit, and walk or bike. A meat-heavy diet, wasting food, and driving gas guzzlers are killing people and earth, and are unacceptable Buddhist practice.

One person alone cannot solve the problem, but together we can do much. Working with our sangha and engaged environmental groups, we can work with our local and state governments to move ahead in creating low carbon and just economies. At the national level, we can resist Trump’s rollback of clean-energy programs by supporting legal actions and by pushing our representative and senators to support clean energy and sustainable agriculture programs, as well as financing the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund to help vulnerable developing countries prepare for climate impacts and transition toward low-carbon economies. Both lawsuits and town hall meetings make a difference.

As a Buddhist economist, I draw strength from knowing that we can create an economy that creates comfortable, meaningful lives for all people and cares for the earth. Together we can move forward, and not let Trump stand in our way.

Every second of every day, may we care for each other and Mother Earth, and may we enjoy life!

Image of Earth via NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

Love for Mothers Everywhere!

A guest blog from my son,Jason Katz-Brown: Happy Mother’s Day to every mother — keep inspiring the next generation to be compassionate to all and caring of the earth.

“When my mom first described the tenets of her new project Buddhist Economics to me it seemed, well, too obvious to be book material. That a country should optimize for total happiness of its people seemed obvious. That a business should optimize for the prosperity and sustainability of its employees and those who use its products seemed obvious. That we should keep our personal impact on the community and Earth top of mind seemed obvious.”

“Today on Mother’s Day I realized that these Buddhist economic tenets seem obvious to me because of the parents I grew up with. And that my mom had been living these values her whole life and instilling them in me over my whole life.”

“My favorite chapter of the book its last: “Leap to Buddhist Economics”. Even if Buddhist economics seems like a no-brainer, it’s far from obvious how we can get to a world that embodies Buddhist economic principles. Any one person is lilliputian compared to the magnitude of inequality and the trajectory of climate change. The systemic problems can seem to big too tackle; the impact of one person too small to matter.”

“But I look to my mother as an inspiration. As the first woman on the University of California, Berkeley Economics Faculty, she has already been demonstrated that individual determination is worthwhile and sweeping institutional change is possible. Today mom tackles far-reaching projects aimed at systemic problems, writing Buddhist Economics and promoting it to governments and economists around the world, and projects in the local community, coordinating local climate activism with”

“Even after I joined Airbnb in 2011 as a software engineer, she was ahead of me in realizing Airbnb’s potential. I didn’t think there would be many travelers to Richmond, California, but my mom and dad became Superhosts, hosting Airbnb guests more than 100 times. She would always implore me to encourage Airbnb to encourage and highlight green hosts, and as the Airbnb host community has grown, I have realized the immense value in Airbnb hosts exemplifying sustainability and acceptance.”

“Happy Mother’s Day to every mother — keep inspiring the next generation to be compassionate to all and caring of the earth.”

Americans Happiness Will Plummet with Repeal of Obama’s Affordable Care Act

The Republican’s push to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will result in millions of Americans being cut off from basic medical care, both physical and mental. This will cause suffering and illnesses, and even deaths that would have been prevented with basic health care, especially for those most in need. We know from the 2017 World Health Report what contributes to our happiness, and our misery—an important factor is our health, both physical and mental, and this is true as we age.
Mental illness causes misery. In a study of U.S., Australia, and Britain, mental illness is more important than poverty, unemployment, or low education in explaining misery. The most powerful policy to reduce misery is to eliminate depression and anxiety disorders, our major forms of mental illness.

Without the ACA, pregnant women, homeless people, and many others in need of critical health care will find their access to health care has disappeared, and local health clinics will not have the funds to stay open. Already the homeless and working poor families are having a hard time getting the health care they need. Mental health care for depressions and anxiety are almost nonexistent. Now the line of Americans not seeing doctors will become vastly longer. Health problems will dwarf people’s happiness, and misery will skyrocket.
Repealing the ACA also hands out billions of dollars in tax cuts for the rich. Too bad this will not make rich people happier, because higher income doesn’t increase your happiness once your income has reached a certain point (around $80,000). The United States will end up with sick kids and adults needing medical care, while the rich have more money for fancier yachts and exotic vacations. This action is immoral. We must let our Congress members know that they will be defeated in the next election if they don’t provide decent, affordable health care for all Americans.

Surely Americans want “Health care for all!” and not “More money for the rich!” Together we can move from a “closetful economy” to a “mindful economy” that provide a comfortable meaningful and healthy life for everyone.

Sangha for Earth


On Sunday April 30, people joined together in Climate Mobilization Marches Rallies around the U.S.A. to demand that Trump protect the earth and provide clean air and water to all Americans. Trump put the fossil fuel industry and investment bankers in charge of energy and the environment, and they are rolling back clean energy programs and pushing ahead with more drilling and pipelines for oil, goal, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is rising rapidly and overheating the earth.

Our marches and rallies show how resistance can create change, and we cannot stop making demands of the national and local governments to take action to create a clean energy economy that is healthy for people and the planet. As we work together on climate change, we must be ready for the backlash from the wealthy fossil fuel energy companies and the organizations and politicians they fund. Big Oil fights hard to block regulations that reduce the use of coal, oil, and gas. They spent billions of dollars to elect lawmakers to the local, state and national governments. They spent millions of dollars to lobby against demands to reduce carbon emissions. They use their resources to fight “Keep it in the ground,” as they deny they are causing global warming and climate change.

A positive legacy of the climate crisis is that our collective response is building a more caring community, augmenting our citizenship roles with public action, and expanding our participation in, and donations to, environmental organizations and causes that protect people and earth.

In Buddhist economics, everyone belongs to a sangha, which provides support and love. Everyone needs a community for social and emotional support, and our family and friends give us courage and renew our energy. We cannot expect to be fearless in our practice Buddhist economics without a community of like-minded people who share our values and goals.

Most likely you already are part of a community of family and friends, including those who live nearby or share a sport or hobby or religion with us. This primary community expands outward to include old friends, people from work, and families we meet through our kids’ activities. Within our community, we also need a group of close friends with whom we share our ups and downs, with whom we feel free to explore our deepest fears and longings. People who love and trust one another, and who put one another’s well-being on an equal (or higher) level than their own, become a sangha.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that we amplify our energy to live mindfully and to create change when we join with others. He writes,

“Our collective compassion, mindfulness, and concentration nourish us, but it also can help to reestablish the Earth’s equilibrium and restore balance. Together, we can bring about real transformation for ourselves and for the world.”

If you do not have a personal sangha, take the time and care to create one. A sangha is a place where people reach out to help another person who needs compassion and generosity during a difficult time. When we practice kindness to help others without any thought of what they will do for us, then we are building a support network of close friends. Happiness studies show that having people to call on when you need help is an important source of satisfaction in life.

Together we are stronger, we are fearless, and we can prevent Trumpism from hurting people and the planet. Together we are unstoppable in healing the planet and promoting the well-being of all people!


How Can We Create a Successful Economy Without Continuous Economic Growth?

Reprinted from

My book: Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science (Bloomsbury Press, 2017) also addresses this question. Buddhist economics assumes that humans are interdependent with each other and with nature, and happiness comes from helping others and living a meaningful life, and not from consumption. Society can structure the economy and regulate markets to provide opportunities for everyone to live a comfortable worthwhile life while caring for the environment.

Buddhist economics integrates the capabilities approach of Sen, with the ecological economic approach compatible with strong sustainability (boundary thresholds for ecosystems), with the UN sustainable development approach for shared prosperity worldwide. Happiness comes from creating a worthy life, based on Aristotle, rather than hedonic happiness based on “more is better.” We move from a “closetful economy” to a “mindful economy.”

Following in the footsteps of Daly and the other Genuine Progress Indicator researchers, Buddhist economics measures economic performance (and growth) by people’s quality of life, and not by the average GDP. Once we evaluate economic performance this way, then economic growth increases with redistribution from the rich to people in need, and increases with protecting nature and reducing environmental degradation.

Consumption in Buddhist Economics takes a global approach rather than a domestic approach. Rich countries no longer can ignore the suffering from extreme hunger or poverty in poor countries; social welfare increases with transfers from rich countries to poor countries that improve the consumption of basic food, water, shelter, health care, education, and human rights. Development must depend on using clean energy instead of fossil fuel energy to raise the standard of living. Rich countries benefit from providing clean energy technology that supports green development.

Clair’s Interview With Gruppo Editoriale Mauri Spagno

This week’s blog is from an interview with an Italian reporter.

My book is being published by Italian publisher Vallardi, an imprint of Gruppo Editoriale Mauri Spagno (part of Penguin Random House).

BUDDHIST ECONOMICS is part of their bestselling Sakura line about Zen & Japanese philosophy and way of life.

My book trailer (2 min), has Italian closed captions.

What are the basic principles of Buddhist Economics?

Buddhist economics assumes that people are interdependent with each other, and people are interdependent with nature. These assumptions immediately lead to outcomes where shared prosperity and sustainability improve social welfare because one person’s well-being is affected by everyone else’s well-being and by the well-being of nature (the planet). Think of Indra’s Net, which is an infinite net with a jewel at each intersection, so each jewel reflects what is happening in all the other jewels. This is the infinite interdependence of Buddhist Economics!

Free market economics focuses on efficiency, or the size of the pie produced (national income). Most economists also care about inequality, or the division of the pie (distribution of income). Buddhist economics also cares about how people live, or what is in the pie (all output and activities that create a meaningful comfortable life and care for nature).

What are the main differences between Buddhist economics and Free Market economics or Socialist economics?

Economic systems present a variety of capitalism, as taught by political scientists. The role of the government is to structure markets to achieve specific social outcomes. Each society chooses their inequality and their carbon emissions (pollution), as well as how many people are suffering from poverty or inadequate health care. The government can be minimalist, as in Free Market Economy where the government enforces rule of law, property rights, and national security. Or the government can be activist, as in Social Democracies that structure markets in order to reduce poverty; provide social services such as child care, health care, and education; limit discrimination; and administer a social safety net. A Buddhist economy is a market economy where the government plays an important role in structuring markets so that everyone can live a comfortable, meaningful life in a sustainable world.

What are the policies supported by Buddhist Economics compared to Free Market Economics? Are these policies already being applied by some countries?

Free market economics ignores inequality and pollution, because these problems are assumed away, which means they are denied.

Buddhist economics looks to policies that have been used in many countries that effectively reduce inequality, and my book mentions some of them, such as higher minimum wages, laws that strengthen unions and workers’ bargaining power, more progressive income taxes (taxes that increase as income increases) with a top rate of 65 percent, more progressive inheritance taxes, adequate health care and education, child benefits, and mandated vacation days, overtime pay, and family care leave.

Buddhist economics also relies on available technology to transition from dependence on fossil fuel energy to a clean energy economy that is modern and affordable. Scientists have provided two road maps that show how countries can meet the Paris 2015 global warming target of < 2 degrees centigrade by implementing 75%-100% renewable energy by 2050 (see Stanford’s 100% clean energy; UN’s Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project


How does Buddhist Economics evaluate and measure economic growth?

A critical part of Buddhist Economics is measuring economic growth in a holistic way that looks at the quality of life provided to all people and the health of the environment, because what we measure indicates what we value and lays out the path for the economy.

One chapter of the book explains various approaches used by economists to measure economic performance as quality of life. Economists agree that average national output (Gross Domestic Product, GDP) is not a good measure of a country’s economic well-being because only what is sold in the marketplace is included in GDP, and all other human activities are ignored. Yet GDP is used to measure economic performance around the world. Economists have created several ways to measure pollution and environmental damage, income inequality, happiness, human capabilities, and nonpaid activities (both useful and harmful). These metrics have been used to create various holistic measures of economic performance, such as the UN’s Human Development Index, the OECD Better Life Index, the Genuine Progress Indicator, the Happy Planet Index, and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index. Buddhist Economics relies on these measures, and any one of them is better than using the GDP.

What are the steps to implement a Buddhist economy in a Western country? To what extent does it require a change of perspective, and what motivates this change?

The last chapter pulls together the Buddhist economics framework and lays out eight steps to make the leap to a Buddhist economy: four steps for the country, two steps for business, and two steps for people. The major change in perspective for a rich country, like the OECD nations, is to focus on the quality of life of everyone and go beyond consumerism to create happiness and a better world. Our perspective shifts from a focus on chasing after more income to creating a meaningful life and preserving nature. In a Buddhist economy, “Practice compassion to be happy” replaces “More is better,” and “Everyone’s well-being is connected” replaces “Maximize your own position.” Our motivation is that we are dissatisfied and want to have a more meaningful life; we want to get off the materialistic treadmill and enjoy the relationships and experiences that make us happy; we want to pass along a healthy planet to future generations.

Fuel Efficiency Is Important

The government plays two important roles in making sure our economic system reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are overheating the planet to dangerous levels. One is to educate people about how burning fossil fuels causes air pollution and global warming, so that they change their behavior to care for the environment. Two is to set standards so that companies provide greener products, such as more fuel-efficient cars. This could also be achieved by raising the price of oil, coal, and natural gas to include the social costs of carbon emissions, that is, the harm done to the environment and people’s health from burning fossil fuels. However politically it seems easier to pass regulations than taxes, and so mandating fuel efficiency standards for vehicles is a critical part of what government must do, at the national level and in California.

Transportation is the single largest source of GHG emissions in California. With low gasoline prices, Californians have been buying SUVs and pick-up trucks. Automobile manufacturers like the high-profit SUVs and pick-up trucks, rather than the low-profit electric vehicles, hybrids, and smaller cars. In 2015, there were 80% as many pick-up trucks and SUVs as smaller cars registered in California. Car ads glorify the power and comfort of the larger vehicles to entice consumers to buy them. Then the auto companies say that they cannot meet fuel efficiency standards because consumers want larger vehicles with low fuel efficiency. This becomes a chicken-and-egg problem, as consumers respond to advertising and low gas prices and then buy less-efficient SUVs and pick-ups. Then government must make stricter regulations, and the companies push back harder.

Average fuel efficiency of new vehicles reached 25 mpg in 2014, up from 21 mpg in 2008. Then the average fuel efficiency has stagnated for the past three years. Emissions from transportation did not decline over the 2011-20114 period (latest data) as the economy recovered.

We want everyone to ponder the problems they are causing with each gallon of gas, which is putting an average of 250 grams/mile of CO2 into the atmosphere in California (and even more in other states without California fuel standards).

What new vehicle you buy makes a big difference to how much you are polluting the air. If you buy the popular Honda CR-V with 27 mpg (miles per gallon), you are polluting 70% more than if you buy a hybrid Toyota Prius with 46 mpg. If you buy an electric Chevy Bolt with 119 MPGe, then you are polluting only 40% as much as with a Prius, and your emissions drop to zero if you use renewable electricity to charge your car. If you buy a pick-up truck or minivan with 22 mpg (or worse), you are polluting 20% more than the Honda SUV. Your vehicle is adding carbon to the atmosphere, and your choice about which vehicle to buy and how many miles to drive make a big difference. Your driving style also matters. Eliminating aggressive driving and speeding can improve fuel efficiency and reduce driving emissions by 10%.

The government’s fuel efficiency standards are a critical part of the United States’ commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If consumers continue to buy larger SUVs and pick-ups, then the fuel efficiency standards become even more important in ensuring that manufacturers are providing vehicles that will reduce carbon emissions, including electric vehicles. Hopefully consumers will learn that electric and clean energy vehicles are important to people’s health and safety, and to the survival of our planet for future generations.




Animal Spirits for Worse or Better

“Animal spirits”, first coined by Keynes during the Great Depression, refers to people’s thoughts and feelings that can affect how the national economy performs. The term has been loosely applied in various ways to push for specific government policies by both conservatives and liberals.

Proponents of free market economics present an interpretation of “animal spirits” to push for lower taxes and fewer regulations. Jamie Dimon, who is CEO of JPMorgan and head of the Business Roundtable of 200 CEOs, espouses this one-sided business viewpoint. He says Trump’s economic growth agenda has “woken up the animal spirits” and ignited confidence in the economy.[i]

Nobel laureates Akerlof and Shiller in their 2009 book Animal Spirits[ii] show us how animal spirits can boost creativity and innovation that help the economy, but they also show us how animal spirits create excesses that harm the economy, as happened in the financial market crisis in 2008. An important role of government is to restrain the overconfidence and excesses caused by the animal spirits. The government needs to regulate financial markets to create a well-functioning economy that creates well-being for all people, and not just outsized profits for investment banks and income for the rich.

Animal spirits extend beyond the financial sector and include many emotions besides confidence (and over-confidence). For example, animal spirits can prolong economic recessions when workers feel they are not being treated or paid fairly. Akerlof and Shiller also show us how bad faith and corruption can bring down economic performance. The government plays an important role in creating and guiding animal spirits to support economic performance that improves societal well-being and protects the environment.

Buddhist economics is based on human nature being altruistic, because people are interdependent on each other and interdependent with nature. People’s animal spirits include generosity and kindness, because a person’s well-being reflects the well-being of others and the environment. Buddhist economics uses this approach to animal spirits in criticizing Trump’s proposed economic agenda and its potentially devastating impact on the well-being of most Americans.

In Buddhist economics, greed makes people unhappy, and so people no longer focus only on their own selfish interests as they do in Dimon’s free market world. Being kind to others makes people happier.[iii] People build upon moments of compassion with a positive feedback loop: Kindness makes you happier, and happier people engage in more acts of kindness.[iv] Now our actions are win-win, because helping others also helps us. This echoes the Dalai Lama’s teaching that happiness comes from practicing compassion.[v] In contrast, free market advocates think that humans are selfish and egotistical, and push ahead to take advantage of situations that make themselves better off. In this win-lose world where one person’s gain is another person’s loss, people are happier when consuming more stuff and winning (a promotion, sex, sports), even if the happiness is temporary and people revert back to their former level of happiness (or pain).

The free market goals are to maximize total national income. Free market policies focus on national economic growth without concern for the distribution of income or the degradation of the environment—Trump’s proposed reduced taxes for rich people and companies in an unfettered fossil fuel economy. Global well-being and the development of poor countries are ignored.

The Buddhist economics goals are providing a comfortable, meaningful life for all people while caring for the environment. The role of government is to structure markets and guide animal spirits, so that the economy helps us and does not harm us. Buddhist economic policies focus on creating a robust domestic economy with shared prosperity and sustainability—more progressive taxes to improve the living standards of those in need, and investment in a modern infrastructure for a clean energy economy with global leadership in green technology and sustainable agriculture. The Federal budget shifts from defense funding for wars and new weapons to global funding to help poor countries develop their economies with clean energy and heal their damaged environment. We have the technology and know the policies to achieve the goals of shared prosperity in a sustainable world—now we need the courage and determination.


[ii] Akerlof and Shiller, Animal Spirits, Princeton University Press, 2010



[v] Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, pp 22-23.

Political Turmoil Reflects Vast Inequality

Political economists’ warning that the large rise in inequality over the past decades would lead to political turmoil and social unrest has finally come to pass. If the Trump administration wants to reduce divisiveness and bring the country together, then national policies must reduce inequality. However the Republican’s policies based on free market economics will increase inequality. In contrast, government policies based on a holistic sustainable market approach, called Buddhist economics, can improve the quality of life for all Americans and help heal our political divisiveness and turmoil.

A country’s inequality is not an inherent outcome of capitalism, but a choice that the country makes through its national laws and institutions. So far Trump’s proposed policies will increase income mostly for the rich, and will reduce social programs that improve the lives of the working class. Trump’s focus on reducing taxes will mainly reduce taxes for the rich. The proposed shifts of funds from social programs to defense spending will shred the safety net and reduce health care, food programs, and job training for working class families. Plus the EPA’s support for coal, oil and gas projects will pollute U.S. air, water, and land, which harms American’s health, as it promotes global warming and harms people around the world. Republican lawmakers fight against specific policies known to reduce inequality, including higher minimum wages, more progressive taxes, increased child benefits, and stronger worker bargaining power.

The Republican respond that these free market policies will promote economic growth that provides jobs and raise incomes. But the surge in income and wealth since the mid-1970s has been captured by the top 1 percent and has done little to benefit the majority of families, who have experienced stagnant incomes. Then many families suffered large wealth losses in the 2008 mortgage crisis. The banks were bailed out, but homeowners were not. In the United States, the bailout cost taxpayers $21 billion, plus billions in lost wages.

The recovery from the deep recession demonstrated once again that economic growth can no longer be our primary national policy to increase family incomes and provide good jobs. When we look to see who has benefited from the Trump election, we find that Wall Street has profited handsomely. The stock price of Goldman Sachs skyrocketed, as Trump nominated several Goldman Sachs executives to his cabinet.

Proponents of free market economics argue that inequality is required in order to provide incentives for people to work hard and be rewarded for their contributions to the economy. But does inequality actually provide incentives by rewarding good performance? A recent study of CEO pay (value of total annual compensation) and the performance of the CEO’s company (revenue and profit) shows that as CEO pay goes up, company performance goes down. CEOs with lower pay run companies with better performance. Furthermore, the negative relationship between CEO pay and company performance was most pronounced in the 150 firms with the highest-paid CEOs. Yet free market advocates continue to argue that outrageous CEO pay provides required incentives.

The other argument that free market enthusiasts make is that more income for the rich will “trickle down” and make everyone better off. Yet research demonstrates that trickle-down economics does not work— reducing the taxes paid by the rich is not related to higher saving, investment, or productivity growth. Instead reducing taxes paid by the rich increases their share of total income and inequality.

The alternative holistic Buddhist economics model argues for tax reform with more progressive income and capital gains taxes to redistribute income from the rich to those in need, to help families eat better, be healthier, and live more fulfilling lives. Buddhist economics shows how
Trump’s policies will increase inequality and reduce American’s quality of life and speed up global warming. As inequality increases, people look for a scapegoat, and Trump gives us globalization and immigration. But economists already know the policies that will create an innovative, productive, and healthy economy—clean energy infrastructure, progressive taxes, child benefits, worker bargaining power, strong safety net for hard times, standards to protect labor and our environment, and affordable health care and college education.

Now is the time for egalitarian policies that bring back progressive taxation, reduce inequality, and unite our nation in shared prosperity, rather than regressive policies that increase both inequality and political turmoil.

Inequality Hurts Your Happiness

News reports have heightened public awareness of inequality, yet few people understand how inequality decreases their own well-being and happiness.

Buddhist economics show us how inequality everyone’s well-being. People feel worse off as inequality grows—families compare their economic well-being to those at the top whose incomes are growing, and they see their lifestyle falling behind in comparison. Then economic insecurity replaces what had been considered a comfortable lifestyle, and middle class and working families feel left behind. Meanwhile the rich spend their higher incomes on status goods to mark their position. In the United States, income from economic growth has been captured by the top 1% for the past several decades. The top 1 percent enjoyed 95 percent of the country’s income growth in the recovery following the Great Recession. A more equal distribution of income would improve social welfare, as invidious comparisons are replaced by communal feelings of belonging and status consumption of the rich is replaced by basic consumption of families in need.

No longer does the free market maxim hold that economic growth is a “rising tide that lifts all ships”—now economic growth gives us more inequality that reduces well-being and happiness for most people.

The decline in U.S. well-being goes deep. Today, U.S. indicators of mortality, life expectancy, childhood poverty, incarceration, and general health put the United States at or near the bottom among high-income countries, although as recently as 1980, when income inequality was not so stark, the United States was closer to the top.

These findings reinforce the Buddhist economics’ goal that all families have adequate income to buy basics, (food, housing, transportation, along with access to adequate health care, education, and social networks). Then the economy allows people to achieve their full potential in a sustainable world. Buddhist economics incorporates the policies that reduce inequality and provide a strong safety net to create an equitable, sustainable economy that provides a meaningful, comfortable life for everyone.

Within a country, the distribution of income does matter: our quality of life and well-being improves with our income. We should be grateful when we are in the top 20% of the income distribution, and realize that our well-being reflects our higher income, even as the growing inequality reduces our life satisfaction. Let us reflect on how the well-being of people across the U.S. is harmed by the enormous inequality, and push our state and national lawmakers to create an economy that creates a high quality of life in a sustainable world for all. Then everyone can be happy!

  • References
    Anthony Atkinson, ThomasPiketty, and Emmanuel Saez, “Top Incomes in the Long Run
    of History,” Journal of Economic Literature 49 (1), 2011, 3–71.
  • Robert H. Frank, Luxury Fever: Weighing the Cost of Excess (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
  • Joseph Stiglitz, The Price of Inequality (Norton, 2012).
  • Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (New York: Bloomsbury, 2009). Well-being is measured precisely with a quality of life indicator that incorporates measure of health, education, and social problems.