Monday, November 01, 2010

Buddhism and the Liquidity Trap and the Election

I have a couple of colleagues, one of whom with which I presently work (not closely) who is, um, let's say an avowed right wing extremist.  Tomorrow, right-wing groups are expected to make large gains in the American elections, which I attribute to  reasons known only to elites which don't admit Paul Krugman to their inner sancta, or perhaps naked, abject greed on the part of oligarchs playing a game (in the game theoretic sense) in which they adopt a  strategy by which they individually seem to benefit in the short term but wind up with all being harmed in the long term.

The ideologues have their reasons, and that's where I would say Buddhism enters into the picture,  though again, as a compact explanation I'm still led to think of the Tao te Ching:

When the great Tao is lost spring forth benevolence and righteousness.
When wisdom and sagacity arise, there are great hypocrites.
When family relations are no longer harmonious, we have filial children and devoted parents.
When a nation is in confusion and disorder, patriots are recognized.
Where Tao is, equilibrium is. When Tao is lost, out come all the differences of things.

Do away with learning, and grief will not be known.
Do away with sageness and eject wisdom, and the people will be more benefited a hundred times.
Do away with benevolence and eject righteousness, and the people will return to filial duty and parental love.
Do away with artifice and eject gains and there will be no robbers and thieves.
These four, if we consider them as a culture, are not sufficient.
Therefore let there be what the people can resort to:
Appear in plainness and hold to simplicity;
Restrain selfishness and curtail desires.

But - to put a more Buddhist spin on it, all dharmas are fundamentally empty.   In Buddhism, we start from a few positions - very few, compared with Christianity or other montheisms.   Our "noble truths" are realities, that are experienced - the aren't things that can't be really refuted from observation.  There is suffering or discomfort at least that all beings experience.  There is a a cause to that suffering, there is a way to transcend that suffering, and the eight-fold path, when followed works. 

But all dharmas are fundamentally empty, as the Mahayana tradition asserts.

Early Buddhist schools of Abhidharma , or scholastic metaphysics, analyzed reality into ultimate entities, or dharmas , arising and ceasing in irreducible moments in time. The Mahayanists reacted against this realistic pluralism by stating that all dharmas are "empty," without self-nature ( svabhava ) or essence. This was a radical restatement of the central Buddhist teaching of non-self ( anatman ). It was declared that not only ordinary objects, but the Buddha, nirvana , and also emptiness itself are all "empty." The teaching attempts to eradicate mental attachment and the perception of duality, which, since it is a basis for aversion to bondage in birth-and-death ( samsara ) and desire for nirvana, may obstruct the bodhisattva's compassionate vow to save all beings before entering nirvana himself. Wisdom ( prajna ), or direct insight into emptiness, is the sixth perfection ( paramita ) of a bodhisattva. It is stressed by both Buddhist writers and Western scholars that emptiness is not an entity nor a metaphysical or cosmological absolute, nor is it nothingness or annihilation. "Empty" things are neither existent nor nonexistent, and their true nature is thus called not only emptiness but also suchness ( tathata ).  
Politically, the state of affairs in which we find ourselves is but a singular instance of tathata amidst myriads of others.   The ignorant and greedy and hateful may yet cause a reply of the 1930s, including but not limited to a major war breaking out to decide the fortunes of those few who've been playing the game  but risk losing their piece of the Empire.   And, barring ill health or severe misfortune, folks such as myself might yet profit from it one way or the other, but at the end of the day, it is all without substance and form.  No doubt the triumph of greed, hatred, and ignorance will cause a pandemic of dukkha, rife with opportunity to help the benighted in ways which were not previously possible, simply because you words cannot really help much at the end of the day.

So there is a good chance that the American elections will bring an exacerbation of the liquidity trap - a situation where there will be no government intervention in the economy to protect people's livelihood.  And that will mean that incomes will fall, unemployment will be high and likely increase, and that most of the world will experience greater impoverishment.

Like Krugman, it is hardly the outcome I would have the world choose,  but it appears that many are hell-bent on going down this path.   But, as Leonard Cohen wrote, "Every heart to love will come, but like a refugee." 

Get ready for a flood of refugees if the pundit predictions come true.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No matter what happens this election, times are gonna get rough.

interesting read at...