For many years, I’ve tried to emphasize the need for humanity and morality in our economic systems – because I believe that lack of morality is the root cause of misery in the lives of billions of people.
Those people struggle daily to survive in the face of immoral economic injustice.
So in this brief essay, I will try to define economics as it is now practiced in most places, point out its problems, and suggest a remedy.
The complex subject of economics is hard to define, so here’s an easy way to understand it by going to the original root of the term: economics is derived from the Greek word “Oikonomia,” which refers to managing a household or family. This means, obviously, that an economic system is supposed to help us manage our households – not only in the individual sense but in the collective one, as well.
Every economic system, then, should exist to help sustain the welfare of all the human family members, so at a minimum, they can live comfortable lives and share their resources and earnings. That way, no family member lives in poverty or privation, and humanity as a whole can live a stable and productive existence. Historically, when great disparities in wealth exist, it destablizes entire societies, provoking war and revolution – so a good economic system doesn’t only ensure prosperity, it also keeps the peace.
Sadly, as most of us know, this lack of reciprocal kindness means our current economic systems do not work well – in the human family, one in ten people live on less than $2 a day. Globally, one-third of urban dwellers live in slums. What is the problem? Where did the system go wrong?
Perhaps the problem was exacerbated when Adam Smith, who observed economic activities in the marketplace as they relate to people’s behavior, made some assumptions and came up with a system. He assumed that everyone wants to maximize their satisfaction or profits, with self-interest as the major motivation. He also said the market could correct itself, so no governmental intervention is necessary.
This made sense to many, but Mr. Smith’s system left little room for morality or human virtues.
In today’s economic reality, money has become like a religion; therefore, we follow the practice of everyone in it for themselves, making as much money as they want by any means. Nobody asks if someone is a good person or evinces praiseworthy actions. Many consider someone who is poor a failure because they believe we have been created to make money and get rich.
It is easy to criticize the system itself, but that does not solve the problem.
Instead, we can all have a hand in reforming the system when we start injecting virtues gradually and slowly into it so that it revives itself to become a system that is sensitive to the needs of humanity, sensitive to the poor people of the world, and responsive to the spiritual aspiration of human beings.
Every day we can practice virtues like truthfulness, kindness, generosity, and honesty in our economic activities. These spiritual virtues, common in all religions, create an environment of generosity, caring, and cooperation – all necessary for the poor to prosper. We can do the same by injecting human values into the political, educational, and other systems because all systems suffer from the same afflictions.
We must take action – because our inaction is partly responsible for the suffering of the poor. If we don’t change the system, millions of people will continue to live in misery every day, deprived of God’s purpose for them because they are too busy finding a few dollars to survive.
We need “Humanomics” – economics with human elements – because we are humans, and we all aspire to have those qualities and values. You may ask: how can we do this? What is my role? It is impossible to change a system, so why should I even try? All systems are subject to change, so, in countless small ways and some large ones, too, we all can make a difference.
We can create a yardstick that measures our material and spiritual achievements. A yardstick, which considers spirituality as well as material things, changes our perspective. At present, sadly, our measurements are incredibly lopsided.
That personalized economic yardstick involves an important measurement: simple living. Throughout history, a great many people were symbols of simplicity and lived a simple life, avoided materialism, and shared whatever they had with others. Simplicity also makes financial sense, which can relieve us of so many headaches.
The pandemic highlighted the poor’s plight, widening the gap even more between the rich and the poor, and now the war in Europe has dragged millions more into poverty and starvation. The need for action is dire and urgent. The Baha’i teachings urge every human being not to close our eyes to the sufferings of members of our human family:
"Fear the sighs of the poor and of the upright in heart who, at every break of day, bewail their plight ... They, verily, are thy treasures on earth. It behoveth thee, therefore, to safeguard thy treasures from the assaults of them who wish to rob thee. Inquire into their affairs, and ascertain, every year, nay every month, their condition, and be not of them that are careless of their duty." -Baha’u’llah
By introducing spiritual virtues into our economic life, we begin to revolutionize the economic system within and change it to a humane system that meets the material needs and spiritual aspirations that God meant for everybody.
Badi Shams is a Baha’i and a mystic at heart. His field of interest is economics; he has published "Economics of the Future" and "Economics of the Future Begins Today" and recently written the books "Random Thoughts of a Mystic Economist" and "Towards a New Spiritual Economic System." You can find Badi's website at badishams.net called "Baha'i Inspired Economics" He is retired from the education system."
You can read more articles on out interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking at: https://www.timescolonist.com/blogs/spiritually-speaking