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Economics derives from the Greek word meaning household management. Today economics is the study of how we manage our resources, products, and services. Since the division of labor in the acquiring of food, protection, and shelter, human beings have exchanged things of value with each other through cooperation and trade. As we have advanced in technological skill, we have become more interdependent, making social and economic relationships more complicated. Human population has steadily increased such that the Earth's space and resources are being sorely tested in the twenty-first century with population still increasing and global warming threatening the present and even more the future.
As more people become accustomed to a prosperous style of living, economics becomes more of a concern. Both individually and collectively we must decide what to contribute to society for all of the resources, products, and services that sustain us. Thus we must examine both our individual and social economic responsibilities.
Everybody needs to breathe air, drink water, and eat food to keep alive. Human beings also require extra protection from the cold. Since humans do not live independently in isolation but rather in communities, communication and education have become essential. Because we are social, I would add that love is a human necessity.
Through evolution of intelligence and particularly manual skills, humans have become most successful at adapting to and shaping our environment. Because of our ability to provide food and shelter so efficiently, our numbers have increased, and we have been able to turn much of our energies and talents toward other cultural pursuits as well. Nonetheless many people in the world today suffer from malnutrition and lack of health care. With the rare exception of a person who has resolved to commit suicide by refusing to eat, surely all individuals are willing to do the work necessary to provide for themselves if they are capable and the opportunity is available. Thus out of compassion for their suffering I believe that we as a society have the moral obligation to help provide the necessities of life to the poor who are in need of them and to create the opportunities for all able people to become self-reliant.
How we handle our responsibilities to provide for our needs both individually and collectively is a basic part of our educational experience on this planet. Individually we each must decide what we wish to contribute to human society. Throughout history the vast majority of people supported themselves by working directly in agriculture. Now in advanced societies only a small percentage of the people work in agriculture. Because of this and the complexity of our society, every person in need cannot be expected to turn to the land to grow food. Vast numbers of people suffering drought, as in Africa, likewise cannot be expected to provide their own food without outside help. The abundance and wealth of so many people in the world today is so prosperous that we as a society ought not to shrink from sharing our bountifulness with those who would suffer disease and death without assistance, especially since poorer people tend to have more children as a survival instinct. Thus by neglecting to aid the poor we worsen the population problem and multiply suffering. Yet by providing good nutrition, health care, and education we can eradicate this needless agony and at the same time bring population growth into balance because educated and prosperous people have fewer children.
We provide for our needs and desires by working. Work is goal-directed activity whereby we apply our physical and mental energies to the accomplishment of tasks. Work is essentially creative, whether we have initiated our own project or are cooperating with others in a group endeavor. Since the abolition of slavery and serfdom, work has been freely chosen. Although most people feel the economic constraint to work, individuals do have the right to select the type of work they want to do. Naturally these choices are limited to the opportunities available in the labor market and to entrepreneurs. Much work is not paid for directly but is traded to others, especially what women often do as part of their family responsibilities. We all work when we bathe and dress ourselves, move our bodies from place to place, prepare and eat our food, clean and maintain our living space, etc. All of these tasks are learned by young children. Even play and artistic pursuits are work in the sense of expending energy in activity.
I believe that it is best for our society as a whole to provide education and training for everyone to prepare them for useful work and a productive life. The money taxpayers try to save on educational expenditures is often lost in lessened future productivity and in larger expenses for crime and punishment. Investment in education and occupational training promotes prosperity and improves the quality of our lives.
In capitalist and socialist nations approximately one in ten people who want to work may not be able to find a job. To me this shortcoming must be remedied for the sake of justice, balance, harmony, responsibility, health, and even growth and fruition. Surely we can find constructive work for these people to do! I believe that if we have the will, government agencies with skilled employment counselors could help all these people find the training they need and jobs in the private sector with the rest given public service work. Also we ought to realize that mothers and fathers taking care of young children are working, and we can enhance their experience and the future of those children by providing them with appropriate education and training as well as child care services so that they can do other work if they wish. I believe that the unemployment problem is so large, not because people do not want to work, but because our society as a whole has neglected to provide the opportunities needed for all the people. Another way of distributing work more fairly is to lessen the length of the work week so that employers will hire more people to avoid paying overtime wages. Since the introduction of the forty-hour work week, tremendous technological advances have improved the efficiency of human labor. Many more jobs can be made available by shortening the work week to thirty hours or less. I believe that as people grow in spiritual awareness, education and cultural pursuits, they will prefer to have more free time for these creative activities rather than increased material wealth.
Our work is what we give to the world; it is the channeling of our energy and intelligence into constructive production and service. Everyone has something to contribute, and cooperating together we are able to create an abundant and fulfilling life. Work ennobles us, almost as gods and goddesses on Earth. We must take responsibility so that our work or activity is not destructive or harmful to others or to our environment.
All wealth is originally produced from natural and human resources made useful to us by work, even if it is mining minerals from the ground or harvesting native plants. Work has evolved from gathering and hunting to agriculture and pastoral care of animals to crafts and metallurgy to inventions and industrial production to electronics and computers. All of these activities and human services have produced value or wealth for human beings. As farmers settled on land and tools were devised and shelters built, people began to claim the objects they were using and producing in their work as property. Trade was found to be mutually beneficial and evolved from barter to the use of metals to coins to paper money to credit. Wealth was shared with family and others and passed on through inheritance. Thus each new generation is given a legacy from all past accomplishments.
Property is a way of saying that someone has created something or purchased it or received it as a gift, and is using it and is responsible for its care. Although some property is commercially owned and shared by a group, no large society, not even Communism, has abolished the private ownership of property. Communism and to some extent socialism have appropriated the means of production of industry by public or government ownership, but individuals still maintain private ownership and responsibility for personal possessions. Even in capitalist societies governments on various levels own and operate services, the military, many utilities, and public agencies; many private businesses are large corporations that are collectively owned and operated, and virtually all businesses attempt to serve the general public. Individuals and groups who have the opportunity to acquire and own property within society are expected to contribute to government services through taxation which is fair. Ownership of property by individuals and groups allows them to use those resources any way they wish as long as they do not violate the laws that protect the general welfare of society.
The sense of ownership gives people a selfish incentive for taking good care of their possessions. Collective or social ownership depends upon a sense of social responsibility and concern for others as well as oneself, whereas individuals may respect others’ private property out of fear of liability. Private ownership promotes greater personal autonomy and independence while collective ownership requires greater sharing and cooperation. Each society must decide what can be privately owned and what services and businesses are better publicly operated. These decisions and those of taxation affect the distribution of wealth, goods, and services. Certainly it is most efficient and free to allow individuals money and wealth from their work to spend as they choose according to their values of what they need and want.
The process of exchanging goods and services in the marketplace allows specialization of labor. We each contribute our work or property in exchange for money, and then use that money to buy the things we need and want. This enables individuals to choose not only what they want to contribute but also what they want to purchase, allowing the economy to be self-regulating. The price system serves to equalize supply and demand by offering monetary incentives for people to produce what people want more of or what they will pay more for. If demand decreases, then prices will fall or production will be lessened. These market pressures operate in an economy planned by the government just as they do in a privately owned free-enterprise economy. However, government bureaucracies may be less flexible in adjusting to popular demand because of their entrenched power and rigidity that may allow them to be inefficient without going out of business.
Individuals and family units do their own marketing for the products and services they want. This allows people creative freedom in choosing their lifestyle and enables them to learn the discipline of operating within the budget they can afford. Thus everyone learns by the limitations of their earning ability and property about economy in a very personal and experiential way.
Every individual and group must learn how to manage their resources and assets in order to fulfill their fiscal and economic responsibilities. Greater equality and democracy in business allows workers to share in management decisions. If employers and managers attempt to take unfair advantage of labor, workers can manage their situation by union organizing and collective bargaining. No one can exploit people, resources, and the environment unless we allow them to do so. In managing we are continually evaluating situations and making value judgments of what we should do. In making these decisions I recommend that in addition to profit and financial success that we carefully consider all of the divine principles in order to enhance the entire quality of life not just the material side. I suggest that our economic choices can work to maximize goodness, truth, beauty, reality, awareness, joy, love, wisdom, power, life, growth, fruition, will, freedom, responsibility, creativity, balance, harmony, courage, faith, patience, law, justice, peace, wholeness, health, and perfection. If these are all taken into account I believe that the results will be not only prosperity and success but personal fulfillment and happiness as well. Good managing requires a broad view and flexibility in considering and implementing what is going to be best for everyone.
Society has a right and even a responsibility to prevent harm to people and the environment by regulating economic activities by means of laws and public agencies. Furthermore most governments have assumed the responsibility of promoting, protecting, and providing for the general welfare of all the people. Thus the right to tax economic affairs has been accepted by virtually all societies. Taxation and government spending is best decided by democratic processes so that they will be fair to everyone. The people in each society choose the kinds and amounts of tax and what public services are to be provided by government.
Society is not a jungle, and everyone has the social obligation to contribute to the general welfare because of the opportunities and services they receive. Anyone who has attained financial wealth has done so because of the workings of the whole society as well as their own individual effort. Therefore I recommend sharply progressive taxes which place a larger obligation on the wealthy. Some say this reduces economic incentive, but I believe that greed and avarice need not be promoted. Everyone should have the incentive to work and contribute to society. In excessively capitalist societies these opportunities are often not well distributed among the people. The wealthy have an unfair advantage for obtaining even more wealth while the middle and lower classes face ruthless competition. On the other hand overly egalitarian economic restraint can reduce initiative, effort, and creativity. I believe that a healthy and just society will make sure that everyone has adequate shelter, clothes, food, health care, education, and employment opportunity either through comprehensive public services or a negative income tax benefit program. Theoretically private charity could accomplish this in a generous society, but history has shown that to be inadequate and inefficient. Government is able to organize the resources and services of the whole society in a more universal and fair system. People ought to have the incentive to work part of the time without losing needed welfare benefits, which can be gradually reduced as earned income is gained. I believe that more progressive taxes will allow more people to share the responsibilities of society’s upper echelons and lift people's motivations from greed to the desire to do a good job and be creative and generous with their talents.
In the 21st-century people have found the need to modify unfettered capitalism and supplement the free market with needed public services and welfare benefits. At the same time the ideals of Marxism have not resulted in the utopian withering away of the state bureaucracy. Rather pressures and movements are modifying Communist societies with more experimentation by free enterprise and incentive systems. In modern states with mixed economies the government plays a dominant role in stimulating and regulating the economy. Like individuals and other groups, governments too must learn to manage their finances and balance their budgets because to borrow from future generations is irresponsible and beneficial only to the capitalists who collect interest on the loans. In my opinion the greatest adjustment governments need to make is to stop wasting human, financial, and material resources on unproductive military expenditures which do nothing to improve the quality of life. These destructive pursuits have been eating up many of the technological advances that could be improving our lives and conditions. The poverty, unhealthy conditions, and starvation in the world today are a disgrace to humanity when we are wasting in military activities many times the resources needed to alleviate this suffering.
LIFE AS A WHOLE:
II. The Individual