PROFESSOR ATUL K. SHAH www.atulkshah.co.uk
Globally renowned expert advisor and broadcaster on culture, accounting, finance, business ethics, holistic education and leadership
Finance, Inflation and Money have gone out of control. In spite of inequality, the press regularly celebrate the rich including young technical wizards who become billionaires overnight, as if they suddenly ‘created’ wealth. However, when we look at human history, economics was for a long time a servant to faith and community. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Real wealth was in trust, relationships and service to one another. Yes belief and community came before economics. Modern economics, founded on beliefs about materialism and consumerism, used the language of science to convince society of its universalism – in the process, it ended up destroying nature and culture.
What mattered foremost in history was family and village, and risk was managed by sharing and caring – rather than large bank accounts, insurance or derivatives. Money, financial investment and stock markets never played a large part in society – peace, health and co-existence were the priorities. Top economists like Raghuram Rajan at Chicago or Kay and Collier in UK have recent new books pleading for a revival of community at the heart of a new political economy. All of them forget to see the vast role faiths play even today in weaving communities of hope and peace. Some experts are asking for society to go back to its roots, and faith and belief were a key part of that root, warts and all. Faiths gave people ways of coping with uncertainty and a conscience to check errant behaviour. Many faiths like Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Jainism have profound views on finance and economics, which are nowhere in our secular syllabi today, but these principles need to be revived if we are to deal with climate change. They understand the nature and limits of money and finance, and expose the violence that stems from greed and individualism. There is no fun being rich in a dying world.
The famous economist Keynes said: “The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”
― John Maynard Keynes
Sadly ethical cultures and communities have become over-ruled by economists, seriously undermining their beliefs and compassion towards society and nature.
Martin Palmer, founder of FaithInvest, and a global visionary, writer and broadcaster, is building a major new initiative to engage global faiths in reshaping sustainable finance and helping society to meet the United Nations Millenium Development Goals. One of the biggest strengths of faiths is that they are already organized in communities and have a long track record of sustainable development. They have vast ‘banks’ of social, trust and relationship capital which can really help the world at this urgent time. Faith leaders, philosophies and communities can help economics rewrite its foundational theories given the widespread evidence of the failures of neo-classical thinking. Martin Palmer explained:
‘The wisdom and insights contained in the teachings and practices of the faiths come from communities who have steered their people through wars, ecological collapse, civil wars, famine, drought, plague, delight, terror, opportunities, hope and despair over millennia. As Gunnela Hahn of the Church of Sweden’s Investment Board has said the time perspective of the faiths represented here “is eternity”. And, as they always are, those faiths that are in this movement are in it for the long haul.’
Buddhist monk Amaro Bhikkhu from the Amaravati monastery quoted from the scriptures:
‘There are five kinds of wealth. The wealth of faith, the wealth of virtuous behaviour, the wealth of learning, the wealth of generosity and the wealth of wisdom.’
Material possessions were not seen as wealth in Buddhism.
I am fortunate to be part of this pioneering initiative. It builds on my work with Oxford University and the keynote speech I gave at their COP26 conference. I have also been invited to speak at a major conference in USA later this month on the above theme. Watch this space to find out more about this initiative as it grows and develops. We are not going to wait for the academy to wake up to the wisdom of faith communities. We will not be trapped into a defensive role against an economic theory which has long been a chainsaw on nature, culture and community. Instead we will be speaking our own truths to power in our own terms. And diverse faith cultures will come together to learn from each other and help save society and the planet in these desperate times.
Feel free to share your constructive thoughts and ideas.