December 3, 2010

What Must We Do to Create a Mindful Economy?

And How Do We Avoid Giving Back Progress?

The ruling principle of our capitalist economic system is that the individual owns her property and labor, and therefore owns the risks and rewards that come with it. Coupled with the ideal of personal ownership and personal responsibility is the idea of individual freedom. Not only is freedom highly valued for its own sake, but if we are to claim that people are responsible for the risks and rewards associated with the use and development of their property, then we have to grant them individual liberty.

On the extreme end, this type of thinking leads to the conclusion, from thoughtful people like Robert Nozick and Milton Friedman, that progressive taxation (which is the preferred tax system of the developed world) is institutionalized theft, or state-sponsored slavery. Why? Well, if the government seizes the property of a few (through enforced taxation) and gives this property to a few, then it is effectively forcing those few to labor on behalf of the many. Hence, it is either slavery or theft.

Though these claims are rarely uttered, except in the most honest and fringe elements of the conservative movement (people who voted for Ron Paul, for instance), they are basically the ideas that lie behind the tea parties and protests that claim Obama is a socialist or a fascist or racist.

To the mindfully inclined, these claims may just seem crazy. More seriously, the whole idea that personal property, personal freedom and personal gain are at the heart of this movement is seriously misguided. To hold the self and its acquisitions up as the standard of what counts is to ignore the fact that every aspect of the individual is dependently arisen. To claim the inviolability of what is “mine” is the vestige of attachment. This is the source of all suffering!

While these are undoubtedly the conclusions a mindful person must reach, I worry that if we reach them too quickly, we risk missing some of the most important lessons that can be learned about capitalism, mindfulness, and our current political situation. While Ele has raised the issue of conscious consumerism to new levels, asking how should we participate in our consumer economy in a mindful way, there remain a whole host of issues that escape our powers as consumers. Issues like tax policy, environmental and labor regulation,

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Eric Dec 3, 2010 6:29pm

How is the "inviolability of what is “mine” is the.. source of all suffering!"?? Why can't i keep what is mine? Are you calling "the whole idea that personal property, personal freedom and personal gain" crazy? Why is this approach misguided? Isn't the idea of these three things the basis of America? I think I may be reading this wrong, but it sounds like your advocating for more public action, while saying that the people don't deserve these things. Why would people fight to be less free? I can't agree that working from within the system is the way to go because the system itself is corrupt. It corrupts more people than doesn't. Ron Paul may be the only guy in office who isnt corrupted, and he's called crazy. A restructre of the system itself is needed, as far as how we do that, I think it begins with a return to sound money. This alone leads to better regulation of the economy and allows for less accounting fraud and under the table deals.
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Nathan Smith

Nathan Smith is a philosophy professor at Houston Community College – Northwest. He’s a father of two and husband to fellow elephant columnist, Joana Smith. As a philosopher, he specializes in Descartes, the philosophy of mind, and phenomenology. He’s interested in all kinds of things, but he blogs primarily about politics, spirituality, and good, green living.

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