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.

[i] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-09/dimon-says-trump-has-reawakened-animal-spirits-in-the-u-s

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

[iii] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820947/;

[iv] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/kindness_makes_you_happy_and_happiness_makes_you_kind/

[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.
    http://w ww.pewglobal.org/2013/05/23/chapter-3-inequality-and-economic-mobility/

Buddhist Economics on Free Speech

In Buddhist economics, each person’s well-being is measured by how well everyone and the environment are functioning in a society that provides a comfortable life with access to basic nutrition, health care, education, and the assurance of safety and human rights and the health of the ecosystem. Central to living a fully developed and meaningful life are human rights, including free speech, provided by a transparent and honest government.

Buddhist economics integrates “right speech”, which is included in the Eightfold Path for relieving suffering. Right speech includes abstaining from lies, not causing enmity, abstaining from rude and abusive language, or indulging in idle gossip. Within a meaningful life, we want to use speech to relieve suffering and never to harm others or nature.

Only national governments can ensure basic human rights for all people within their borders and instill trust in all levels of government. In the United States, we take our right to free speech, protected by the First Amendment from government interference, for granted, until it is threatened. We assume that freedom means having the right to say and do and live as one pleases. Censorship takes away the right to free speech, and can even keep you from saying it.

Under the Trump Administration, free speech rights for the press and even individuals are under threat, with White House proclamations that journalists are dishonest and the media is the opposition. Although the media and individuals are protected against government restrictions on free speech, these restrictions do not apply to private businesses. This is where the fake news and alternate facts on the internet come into play. Facebook was seen as allowing fake news to have an impact on what people read and thought before the election, and Facebook finally set up algorithms to ban fake-news sites from using ads to spread fake news.

But the pro-Trump forces still are in charge of what users see on Facebook, because now the pro-Trump forces are able to get Facebook to cut off users with posts that are not in agreement with Trump policies. Once the pro-Trump forces complain that a post is “misleading” and the user (complainer) has “high negative experience”, then the “offending” site seems to be tagged like fake news and is banned from boosting posts. Censorship in practice!

This happened to my Facebook page for my book Buddhist Economics (Bloomsbury, Feb 21, 2017). https://www.facebook.com/Buddhist-Economics-973198039490789/. I shared an article from the Washington Post, with a short post explaining why investment in fossil fuel infrastructure is not a reasonable investment. Someone made a private complaint to FB, and I could no longer boost my posts to reach out to others, and I will never know why. Nine hours later, Facebook sent me an email that stated:

“Your ad account has been disabled for promoting ads which violate our Facebook Ad Guidelines. Any ads you are running under the Ad Account ID listed above have been turned off. If you believe this has been a mistake, please contact us.”

I requested information about why my ad account was disabled. Four days later, which I think is a long time to respond, Facebook sent me an email that stated (emphasis added):

“Your account has been disabled for not following Facebook’s Advertising Guidelines. Ad accounts are evaluated for policy compliance and quality of ad content. When accounts have run ads that are not policy compliant, they are disabled. Your account was disabled for running misleading ads that resulted in high negative feedback from people on Facebook. Our goal is to provide the highest quality user experience. We reserve the right to close an account creating ads contrary to these objectives. For this reason, if any of your ads have been removed or your ad account has been disabled, we will be unable to reactivate either. Please consider this decision final.”

Yep, Facebook can (and does) disable an ad account when a user privately complains about a post, and their decision is final with NO APPEAL.

With help from attorneys and Facebook contacts, eventually the ban was lifted on the seventh day. I will never know what happened because the ban was “magically” lifted without an email from FB. What I do know is that you can have your ad account banned because of a complaint, and you will never know why.

Complaining about posts seems to be another wrinkle in misinformation on Facebook, along with the “fake news” and “alternative facts”. Censoring and its impact cause a highly biased outcome in what users see on Facebook. We are living in the age of fake news and alternative facts and now “negative complaints.” Censorship had an impact on my “right speech” to protect people and earth. Personally I can tell you that being censored chilled me to the bone.

Together we must fight censorship to keep free speech alive!

Buddhist Economics on We Are One!

The Trump ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries has caused harm to millions of families, students, travelers, scientists, and workers, both in the United States and abroad. His ban on refugees whose lives are at stake is cruel. To close off U.S. borders to Muslims, Syrians refugees, Mexicans, and who knows what group is next, goes against American values, and is immoral.

Trump’s ban on Muslims hurts all of us, both at work and in our communities. A ban on one religion is a threat to all religions.

Let us turn to Buddhist economics to guide us.
Buddha taught that we are all interdependent. Visualize Indra’s Jewel Net (above), with the net stretched to infinity in all directions, each knot containing a brilliant jewel that reflects every other jewel. Each reflection bears the image of all the other jewels. Whatever affects one jewel affects all jewels.

Buddhist economics teaches all people are interdependent, and people and earth are interdependent. Interdependence changes how we think about who gets what. We move from the free market zero-sum approach, where additional resources to one person must come from another person, to a collective approach, where everyone’s well-being is connected. In Buddhist economics, the well-being of everyone improves when we transfer resources from those who consume much more than is required to live comfortably to those who are impoverished, even when total resources remain the same. Now individual well-being and societal well-being become intertwined.
All major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism) teach a version of the Golden Rule, “treat others as you would like others to treat you.”

As the Dalai Lama tells us, “Every religion emphasizes human improvement, love, respect for others, and the sharing other people’s suffering,” with all the major religions aiming to help people achieve lasting happiness.

The New York Times reports, “A broad array of clergy members has strongly denounced Mr. Trump’s order as discriminatory, misguided and inhumane…By giving preference to Christians over Muslims, religious leaders have said the executive order pits one faith against another. By barring any refugees from entering the United States for nearly four months, it leaves people to suffer longer in camps, and prevents families from reuniting.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/29/us/christian-leaders-denounce-trumps-plan-to-favor-christian-immigrants.html?smid=fb-share

Here is Buddhist master Shantideva’s teaching of “we are one” (The Way of the Bodhisattva). May this verse live in your heart.

Since I and other beings both,
In wanting happiness, are equal and alike,
What difference is there to distinguish us,
That I should strive to have my bliss alone?

Since I and other beings both,
In fleeing suffering, are equal and alike,
What difference is there to distinguish us,
That I should save myself and not the others?

May we join together to protect people at home and abroad, and may we live peacefully with prosperity for all!

Buddhist Economics on Trump Economic Policies

President Trump pushes for economic policies that will harm the health of people and lower the standard of living of many American families. Trump combines a hypothetical free market model for his domestic policies, with an obsolete mercantilist model to close the borders and stop foreign trade.

This blog focuses on domestic policies, and next week on trade and globalization.

In the theoretical free market model, markets are competitive and everyone has perfect information and knows what the future holds. Competitive markets mean no company can make more than a normal profit (about 3% profit rate), and no CEO will become super rich. People find jobs that use their talents, because the economy operates at full employment. People can obtain the education they desire, and receive higher wages that reflect their higher productivity. The free market provides the consumer goods that people desire (and more is better), and competitive companies produce these goods and services without excess profits.

Does this sound like the world we actually live in, where large multinational companies in fact dominate markets, earn high profits, and pay their top executives millions of dollars? Where the few rich executives and celebrities live lavish lifestyles while millions don’t have adequate food, shelter, and health care?

Using the unrealistic free market model, Trump thinks that reducing taxes for the rich and for corporations will make the economy grow, and he thinks that the government should cut budget programs for goods and services that people can purchase in the private markets. In the free market model, the government should produce security (think military) and enforce private property rights (think courts). Otherwise the private sector will provide what consumers want, and can pay for.

This is the approach taken by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in their suggested budget cuts. No more funds for public transportation, the arts, clean air and clean water, or public health care. The courts protect private property, but not human rights or voting rights.

Trump’s Administration has deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, and his agenda pushes to keep our economy running on dirty fossil fuels, which continues to be subsidized with tax breaks. Support for implementing clean energy goes away, along with our RIO21 commitment to transition to clean energy and stop global warming.

Trump ignores the fact that “trickle down” of income from the rich to the nonrich does not happen when the taxes at the top are cut. He still pushes to cut taxes of the rich. Although the Federal Reserve explains how our economy is near its capacity (full employment), Trump says he can “grow the economy”. Even if the U.S. economy can grow, so far the economic growth of the past four decades has benefitted mostly the top 5% as the bottom 60% have watched their earning shrink and incomes stagnate.

Economists agree that we have allowed the U.S. infrastructure to deteriorate, although free market economics pushes for investment subsidies to big business, which can pocket big profits from many projects that were already being planned. Trump’s plan is to “build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways”, so that our transportation system that runs on fossil fuel can continue to function.

Buddhist economics provides an alternative to help U.S. families and workers, to creat comfortable, meaningful lives for all people and a healthy planet. People want jobs that pay a living wage and provide them with a sense of accomplishment. People also want balanced lives that give them time for family and community.
Chasing after more and more income does not make us happy. Living in harmony and helping each other makes us happy. Enjoying nature and having clean air and water makes us happy. When we transfer income from the wealthy to those in need, our economies improve people’s well-being. The government invests in modern infrastructure for clean energy cities that no longer rely on fossil fuels. We use our military budgets in cooperation with other countries and the United Nations to support sustainable development globally.

Americans are naturally kind and generous people. We want to reduce global warming, relieve starvation and extreme poverty around the world, and cooperate with the United Nations to stop wars and conflict and ensure human rights for all people. We want to be secure. Buddhist economics provide a way to make the country truly great as we all come together to live mindfully.

Buddhist economics looks to the basic goodness in all of us, and reminds us that the suffering of one person causes suffering for everyone. Now is the time to reduce the painful anger of the Trump supporters, along with the pain of people around the world who are suffering from hunger and from climate change.

We must have the moral courage to act, to speak out, to mobilize with people around the world to stop harmful policies by the Trump Administration and to demand that our governments do the right thing.
We have no time to lose, and together we can move to a bright future for everyone!

Buddhist Economics on Combat Evil

This week I turn to Martin Luther King as I ponder living a moral life during the Trump administration. King explained how “the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism” are related, and urged us to combat these evils in our society in order for people to live together with peace and prosperity.

In today’s world, how do we recognize and combat evil both as a country and in our daily lives? Buddhist economics says that virtuous actions lead to benefit (good results) and evil actions lead to harm (bad results). When our beliefs are in contradiction to reality, they cause problems. Racism that treats one group of people as inferior to another causes great harm; economic exploitation where people consume fancy goods made by people living in poverty causes great harm; and militarism where a country bombs another country that kills mothers and children and destroys dwellings causes great harm. By these harmful results, we know these actions are evil. In Buddhist economics, people must not undertake actions that harm other people or beings or harm the planet. Instead people undertake virtuous actions that relieve suffering and bring benefit to all beings and earth. (Payutto, Buddhist Economics)

In the United States today, the Trump government is using a free market economic model that ignores evil and morality. Free market economics is based on the belief that people spend their money wisely and buy what is most pleasing to them. This outcome is viewed as optimal because we all know what is best for us. The free market model puts a high premium on individualism and self-centered freedom, and on consuming more and more. Any harm to others or to the planet that comes from our actions is ignored, and economic activities are not judged as either evil or virtuous.

Yet society can see the harm to the real world, and each of us can feel the harm by our uneasy sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness caused by separation from our Buddha nature of love and compassion. To combat evil, and to create peace and prosperity, people around the world must care about and care for each other, and care for Mother Earth. Each of us has the moral responsibility to recognize and combat evil in our daily activities, and demand that our countries stop any actions or policies that cause harm to people or to earth.

 

As Ven. Payutto writes (Buddhist Economics, ch 1):

“Our ethics—and the behaviour that naturally flows from our ethics—contribute to the causes and conditions that determine who we are, the kind of society we live in and the condition of our environment.”

 

Buddhist Economics on Stopping Pain

Our lives have ups and downs, and daily activities can cause us pain—but we can stop the pain with practice. One of my favorite Buddhist teaching, “Two Arrows Sutra”, shows us how to respond to pain in a mindful way that prevents needless suffering.

An arrow hits us and causes us physical or mental pain. The arrow can be a nasty remark, or not buying something on sale, or not getting an outcome we want. When we react by becoming distraught and worry about it, we are hit by a second arrow, one of mental pain. The second arrow has been created by our own negative reaction, which causes us unnecessary pain. If our response to the first arrow is to remain patient and calm, and let the negative thoughts pass along, there will be no second arrow.

The great teacher Shantideva wrote (The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shambala, 2008, p 16):

If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?
I’ll not fret about such things,
To do so only aggravates my trouble.

In Buddhist economics we gain nothing directly from suffering or from feeling guilty. Instead we can learn from our experiences and make amends if we have harmed someone, and then let the experience pass. We want to help others and relieve suffering whenever possible. This is the way to be happy.

We can apply the story of the two arrows to our national economy as well as to our daily lives. The first powerful arrow of maximizing profits in free markets is launched, and though it makes a few people rich, it harms many people and the environment. Then the second arrow hits people as they work hard to earn enough money to buy lots of stuff, only to find temporary happiness on a treadmill that won’t stop.

If we look closely at the first arrow, we can question the viability of an economy run by competition for profit without concerns for the environment or people’s well-being. We can stop shooting the second arrow by structuring markets that move us beyond the pursuit of income as our primary goal. Now the “pursuit of happiness” becomes creating meaningful comfortable lives for everyone within a healthy ecosystem. A Buddhist economy can improve the lives of all people, even the archers of the first arrows.

Buddhist Economics on Demons

A New Year’s resolution to improve your well-being is to stamp out demons, which are mental habits that cause suffering. Stamping out demons is depicted in Buddhist art, and recently I enjoyed a sculpture of Buddha’s guardians stamping out demons (SF Asian Art Museum). Visualizing can help us stamp out our demons.

Kick them out of your heart.
Open your heart, and feel your Buddha nature of love and compassion.

Demons are mental poisons (called kleshas), such as desire (greed), delusion (ignorance), hatred (anger), pride (ego), and envy (jealousy). Kleshas are the source of our suffering.

Buddhist economics and free market economics view our mental states very differently. Free market economics assumes that people are greedy and care about maximizing their own income, without caring about the well-being of others. Happiness in free market economics depends on personal pleasure and the avoidance of pain. You are happy when buying things that make you feel good (at least in the moment). People chase after large wealth or great power or awesome sex or a major championship in the belief that they will bring lasting happiness. Reaching a goal gives us a momentary high that soon wears off, and we are off chasing the next high.

Buddhist economics shares the view of Aristotle—happiness comes from self-realization and living a worthy and moral life, with people developing their full potential and living a life in service to others and the community. In Buddhist economics, we are all interconnected, and so desire, or grasping after material possessions, causes us pain. The Dalai Lama teaches us that the feeling of not having enough and wanting more does not arise from the inherent desirability of the objects we are seeking, but from our own mental illusions. “Genuine happiness is characterized by inner peace and arises in the context of our relationships with others.” (The Art of Happiness, p 99)

In Buddhist economics, rather than maximizing their own income, people try not to cause pain and strive to reduce the suffering of others. In daily life, we do not want to ruin others’ experiences or even their expectations of happiness. For example, I cause harm when my words or actions anger others, or make them feel guilt or shame (or any klesha).

As a New Year’s resolution, I will continue to stamp out anger, which seems to be one of my hardest mental poisons to tame. When I become angry at my partner and make unkind comments, I hopefully remember to take a break. Visually, I stamp out the demon of anger, and then open my heart to be in touch with my love and compassion for him. After I apologize to my partner for my angry words, I let all memory of the event fade away.

Life will always have its ups and downs, and we will have negative emotions and pain. The key is not to grasp onto the bad feelings, but to let them float by. When we do grasp our mental poisons, hopefully we realize it and stamp our demons out before they harm us and others.

A Buddhist New Year’s prayer for you:
May the year be fulfilling,
May you stamp out your demons!

Buddhist Economics on the New Year

How we can make our lives richer and more meaningful? Forget about resolutions to “do better” and get down to what is truly important…

As we look forward to celebrating a New Year, how we can make our lives richer and more meaningful?
Forget about your endless resolutions to “do better”—lose weight, get more work done, organize your life and your closets. Let’s get down to what is truly important to us, and resolve to do something every day to make our lives more meaningful—actions that are possible, don’t take much time, and truly improve our well-being.

Buddhist economics says:
Stop.
Sit quietly, focus on your breath, and appreciate the wonders of the moment.

As you breathe quietly, feel your Buddha heart.
You can do this early in the morning when you first wake up. You can do this during your lunch break. You can do this when you go to bed.
Do this any time you want to pause, appreciate life, and feel refreshed. Sitting quietly can last from a minute to a half hour—whatever feels comfortable to you.

You can even practice this when you are in a stressful meeting that is causing anxiety and confusion. Focus on your breath, let your thoughts and judgements pass by, and feel your interconnection with the other people. Then let your thoughts return to the meeting, and feel your freedom to be at the meeting and participate in a more meaningful way.

You have freed yourself from the bad feelings and confusion of others, so what is important in life shines out. Freedom in Buddhist economics is stopping the constant chatter of thoughts flowing through your mind, so you can enjoy the moment and focus on what is important to you.
During the day, feel your interconnection with other people. Don’t confuse being hyperconnected on social media with being interconnected in human spirit.

Put your iPhone down.
Look for ways to connect with the people around you—family, colleagues, friends, strangers.
When all the demands on your life make you miserable, stop and help someone you know. In Buddhist economics, helping others makes everyone feel better.

In your New Year, think about what is important to you, what you really care about,
what makes life meaningful. Let the other things fall off your to-do list.

May you enjoy life, may you be free!