Happiness, sufficiency, and Buddhist economics

Wagner, Luke Eugene, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Lang, Karen C., Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Jakelic, Slavica, Department of Sociology, University of Virginia

Although neo-liberalism has effectively become the straw-man for antiglobalization activists, its influence and implications are very real and far-reaching. In many ways, any suggestion of an "alternative" economic paradigm represents an alternative to some of the most basic prescriptions of neo-liberalism. For this reason, the basic neo-liberal prescriptions comprise the bulk of what conventional wisdom holds as "mainstream economics." In short, this paper is about the call for alternative paradigms. More specifically, it will highlight alternatives that are based on the argument that neoliberal capitalism fails to sustain real improvements in human well-being and, perhaps more importantly, allows for the destruction of social, cultural and environment capital, which could ultimately produce widespread misery.

After looking at the general findings of the economics of happiness, through which it has been illustrated that economic growth does not necessarily generate improvements in well-being, this paper will turn to an alternative paradigm that is grounded in an approach that expressly deviates from not only the purported goals of neo-liberal economics, but also from its fundamental assumptions and worldview. That is, this paper will look at the concept of Buddhist economics. Whereas the foundations of neo-liberalism can ultimately be traced to the Enlightenment, which entails a view of human life and well-being that is grounded in notions of individual liberty and self-realization, and even further to Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman worldviews, it is argued that an economic system grounded in Buddhist concepts and principles would be significantly different. As will be seen, there is noteworthy congruence between the conclusions of scholars studying the economics of happiness and the prescriptions of models of Buddhist economics.

In turn, this paper will look at the development philosophies promoted by the governments of two countries with Buddhist heritages, Bhutan and Thailand. The political leaders in both countries call for understandings of development that are quite different from neo-liberal models: development in Bhutan is purportedly gauged by improvements in Gross National Happiness while Thailand promotes the concept of a Sufficiency Economy. While this paper is meant neither as an evaluation of the respective alternatives nor as a prescription for the implementation of particular policies, what is suggested is that the reconsideration of the fundamental assumptions of neoliberalism and the promotion of alternatives is an important step in the establishment of economic structures that generate true well-being.

MA (Master of Arts)
human well-being, Buddhist economics, neo-liberalism

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:37:51.

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