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The East as a practical and spiritual basis for economics
Book Contribution - Chapter
E.F. SCHUMACHER’S “NYAYA”: THE EAST AS A PRACTICAL AND SPIRITUAL BASIS FOR ECONOMICS? What is needed, according to E.F. Schumacher, is “technology with a human face”. While he found his inspiration in “Eastern” traditions (Gandhi and Burmese Buddhism), his message was directly addressed to the so-called “Western” world. He was a Christian economist taking the Buddhist point of view that the function of work was to give a man a chance to utilize and develop his faculties, to enable him to overcome his ego-centeredness by joining with other people in a common task, and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. That his message was derived from Eastern sources but aimed a “Western” public puts Schumacher in a long line of 19th and 20th C. Orientalists.In this contribution we put Schumacher in the broader perspective of West-European Orientalism by referring to two different Sanskrit concepts of justice in ancient Indian jurisprudence: niti and nyaya. Amartya Sen introduces both concepts in his “The Idea of Justice”. Niti, on the one hand, relates to organizational propriety as well as behavioural correctness. Nyaya, on the other hand, is concerned with what emerges and how, and in particular the lives that people are actually able to lead. Early Indian legal theorists talked about the need to avoid “matsyanyaya” or “justice in the world of fish”, where the big fish can freely devour a small fish. A clear distinction was made between judging the institutions and rules on the one hand, and judging the societies themselves.We argue that most West-European philosophers who were influenced by Eastern philosophies were explicitly nyaya-oriented. More specifically we argue that E.F. Schumacher was the ultimate translation of this tendency into socio-economic terms. In a way Schumacher’s “Small is beautiful” was the final answer to the nyaya-influence from the East. In order to assess this we identify the socio-economic characteristics of the Orientalist tradition and the Orientalist orientation of economists during the 19th and 20th c. in Western Europe.From our qualitative analysis we conclude that Europe used Asian traditions for advancing a nyaya-approach in economics. E.F. Schumacher was no exception. As a German who took up his exposure to Asia as an opportunity to criticise mainstream economics from a practical and consequentialist point of view (a nyana-approach) Schumacher was no exception but confirmed the general tendency. Of late post-modernism provided the framework for yet another renaissance of Asian thinking in Europe. This time ‘Asian wisdom’ was introduced to business ethics. As Indian wisdom adapted so did Schumacher’s perspectives which were now translated from a business point of view. Only the perspectives changed, not the nyaya-approach.We finally suggest that the nyaya-approach can be a genuine answer to (1) solving the false East-West divide and thus promoting cross-cultural relations/negotiations, and (2) finding genuine solutions to socio-economic and ecological problems without being caught in ideological issues (West versus East; Chinese/East-Asian “pragmatic” model versus Western “democratic” model; Islam versus the “rest”).
Book: Responsible economics: E.F. Schumacher and his legacy for the 21st century
Pages: 97 - 106