INTERVIEW WITH Clair Brown
(Economist, author of Buddhist Economics)
“BUDDHIST ECONOMY: HOW TO PASS FROM SELF-CENTERED MATERIALISM TO SHARED PROSPERITY IN A SUSTAINABLE WORLD”
Buddhist Economy: is it the economic model used by buddhist monks? Of course not…It’s the model proposed by Clair Brown, Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Work, Technology, and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. According to Prof. Clair Brown, we are facing two major challenges: increasing inequality and ecological crisis. And these two problems are the consequence of the mainstream competitive economic model, popularly called the free market model, which pushes consumerism, selfishness, and domination of nature, leaving people suffering in a world out of balance. Buddhist economics is an alternative, that goes beyond self-centered materialism and provides a framework for an economy that delivers shared prosperity in a sustainable world where the human spirit flourishes. What are its basic principles? In whose hands does the responsibility lie for such a change? How to achieve happiness with this model and what is a compassionate economy? What are the steps to pass to the Buddhist economy model?
“Our free market economic system pushes consumerism, selfishness, and domination of nature,
and this leaves people suffering in a world out of balance.
Buddhist economics focuses on caring for others and the earth and relieving suffering.”
1. Question: Dear Prof. Clair Brown, thank you for being with us. Let’s go directly to the point. Why Buddhist economics and what’s wrong with the current economic model?
Our global economy faces two major economic threats—inequality and climate change—along with the political threat of war. The mainstream competitive economic model, popularly called the free market model, does not address these problems, because it incorrectly assumes that markets can take care of the problems and deliver a high standard of living to all. History has demonstrated that the free market model is not correct, as inequality and climate change have grown worse over the past four decades and threaten human existence as we know it. Wars along with climate change have decimated people’s homes and communities, and created millions of refugees seeking a safe place to live. Our free market economic system pushes consumerism, selfishness, and domination of nature, and this leaves people suffering in a world out of balance. Buddhist economics is an alternative, holistic economic model that goes beyond self-centered materialism and provides a framework for an economy that delivers shared prosperity in a sustainable world where the human spirit flourishes. Buddhist economics focuses on caring for others and the earth and relieving suffering, where our goal is maximizing well-being of all instead of maximizing consumption and income. In a Buddhist economy, the government provides social programs that provide health care, education, care for children and elders, and a social safety net, along with regulatory and tax policies that structure markets to deliver the desired outcomes. Company performance includes the well-being of workers, the community, and the environment as well as shareholders. Individuals live mindfully and care for each other and the planet.
2. Question: Who is your book directed to (institutions, firms, consumers)?
My book is for people, companies, and governments—for anyone who cares about sustainability, inequality, and the quality of life, especially in this time of climate crises. The final chapter lays out eight steps to creating a Buddhist economy, based on policies that are already known to work to reduce inequality, greenhouse gas emissions, and global suffering. Four steps are for governments, two for business, and two for individuals. There are no silver bullets, but many different possible policies and ways to create an economy that cares for all people and the planet.
3. Question: “Replacing the endless cycle of desire with more positive collective activities.” This is one of the main features of your approach. Why and in which way should it be achieved?
In Buddhist economics, income is just one element used to measure a person’s prosperity. More important is how a person uses resources to create a meaningful life. What does this mean for your approach to life? No longer do you fill your closets and home with all kinds of stuff. We stop buying things we don’t need and barely use, and move from a closetful (free market) to a mindful (Buddhist) approach to life. Consumption becomes only one aspect of a multifaceted life—helping others, contributing to your community, experiencing deep relationships with family and friends, and enjoying creative activities.
“Our awareness of interdependence makes us kind and altruistic,
because we realize that the well-being of others and of nature affects our own well-being.”
The full version of the interview is available on