Economic Exploitation, Racism and War Go Together

With the turmoil caused by Trump’s disrespect of a fallen soldier’s family, and the rampant racism, militarism and sexism in the news, I turn to Martin Luther King as I ponder living a moral life. 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 behavior 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.”