Sant Kabir’s Wisdom and E.F. Schumacher’s Economics : Drawing Some Parallels

साहेब सो सब होत हैं, बंदे से कछु नाही |
राई सो परबत करें, परबत राई माही ||

Translation : All doing is done by Him (the lord). How can I claim doing something? He can turn a mustard seed into a mountain and fit a mountain in the mustard seed!

Nothing comes close to this Doha of Kabir when it comes to singing out gratefulness in the heart. In today’s world, imagining a task without a doer is implausible. Every action is performed to pursue some motive of the doer. This almost inevitable presence of a doer leaves no space for gratefulness. If I and many more people like me are doing everything and literally running the world, what one has to be grateful about?

Does gratefulness have any place in an economist’s heart?

After reading quite a few economists, I had concluded that the answer was ‘no’. For an economist, everything has ultimately to be ‘profitable.’ He takes everything that ‘is’ as a given to create something which will in turn produce money and if required, occasional employment. Economists, for me, were always the people of brain and no heart. Osho would often say that logic is like a prostitute. I had similar feelings for economics. It serves the best those who have money. For last few decades, economics has played huge rule in increasing the economic polarity.

‘Small is Beautiful’, a book by British statistician and economist E.F. Schumacher came as a ray of hope. Schumacher, in this book, has raised many questions about economics and its purpose. Most of the times, we believe the only way things can be done is the way they are being done. For the economy to grow, we need more automation and as a result, jobs will be gone; we see this happening around us and believe that that’s the only way to prosperity. For raising the standard of living of every person on the earth, we need to destroy and deplete earth’s natural resources. We are being told this and we believe it. That’s the only way things can be done, we console ourselves if we care a bit about ecology.

A tool serves the best the person who holds it. Who is holding the tools for attaining the so called financial prosperity and wellbeing? Who has defined ‘prosperity’? Are those definitions valid? We hardly ask such questions.

In our blindfolded journey towards raising the ‘standard of living’ and living conditions, a lot is being destroyed irreparably. Small is Beautiful forces us to let go these blindfolds and forces us to take a panoramic look at the mess that we are creating.

Sant Kabir or any saint for that matter, looked at human beings as just a part of the life.

पत्ती न तोडू जी , पथ्थर न पुजू जी, ना कोई झाड़ सताऊ जी |

Even for my worship and prayers, I would not hurt a tree, says Sant Gorakhnath.

When you read the Dohas or couplets of Kabir, though he does not directly talk about conservation of nature, one can always feel the reverence about ‘what is’. It is this ‘what is’ which is termed as ‘capital’ in an economist’s language.

Small is Beautiful begins with highlighting the utter disregard and lack of reverence we have for the huge capital that we have got. E.F. Schumacher argues that we are taking our capital for granted and using it as if it is income – something that we have earned. One can exercise some free hand while putting to use their income; one has to be extremely cautious about spending capital.

As Schumacher rightly points out, we are thoughtlessly wiping out our capital – clean air, richness of soil, fossil fuels, diversity of species etc. What would be the costs incurred to restore the imbalances caused due to climate change? Hardly anyone knows the answer. The capital that we are using, is invaluable and we have not figured out how to restore it once it is gone.

What’s the problem here? How do we grow sustainably?

In Small is Beautiful, Schumacher beautifully pinpoints the wrong notion on which today’s growth breeds. What Schumacher points out resonates very well with what Kabir professed.

Over the generations, we have been brainwashed that economic prosperity is going to end all human problems. If everyone has enough money, why would people steal and kill? Not religion and philosophy but money will solve all human miseries is the consistent message that every one of us has been hammered with. It seems very logical and utterly sensible, on surface. Schumacher often takes his readers’ attention to the USA – a country which had hardly 5% of the world population at that time but consumed 30-70% of world’s resources and still, was far form being a land of peace. In fact, even today, it is far away from being a land of peace.

Somewhere, we have to understand that material comforts cannot fill the void within. They cannot make humans free of their jealousy and greed. Otherwise, one would not find world’s largest corporations and richest people involved in tax frauds and other serious crimes. If money solved all the human problems and brought true satisfaction, the European Union would not have to fine top German automakers – BMW, Audi, Porsche and Volkswagen for colluding to slow down the rollout of emission control technology. We have to carefully examine whether economics and money in general can really fulfill the promises they make.

While this being said, we cannot ignore what money brings in our lives. Especially when a large portion of the humanity faces hunger and poverty, we have to talk about money reaching more people. Unfortunately, today’s economic models perform poorly when it comes to fairly distributing money. In ‘Small is Beautiful’, Schumacher has in detail laid out parallel models, other ways of deploying technology so as to generate income for a larger number of people. I do not think the economists in demand would pay any serious attention to them as these means, though they would create many jobs and actual prosperity, would slow down the crazy speed of wealth accumulation in the hands of HNIs.

साईं इतना दीजिये जा में कुटुम समाय |

I do not need much, just enough to take care of my family, says Kabir.

For Kabir, that’s where the role of money ends. Where does it end for you and me? For individuals who have a zillion times more money than you and me, it has not yet ended. Rather, they are more insecure, they want even more. Where does this cycle end?

Both Kabir and Schumacher had seen that this circle can never complete itself. When will you, me and our so called economists see this?

By Mandar Karanjkar

Mandar Karanjkar is author, motivational speaker and consultant based in Pune. Mandar works with handful of organizations helping them with strategy, communication and culture. Mandar is trained in Indian Classical Music over a decade. He is a classical singer and flute player.

Mandar has written columns for many reputed newspapers. Engineer by profession, he conducts workshops and delivers talks on subjects as wide as strategy, innovation, online marketing, spirituality, Kabir, Zen etc.

Mandar is a published author.

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