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Re: Brother can you spare $700 billion?

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  • ken
    The article below is a little bit on the long side, but given the the great depth and breadth of understanding it brings to contemporary issues, it s well
    Message 1 of 2 , Aug 13, 2009
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      The article below is a little bit on the long side, but given the the
      great depth and breadth of understanding it brings to contemporary
      issues, it's well worth it. If you can't read it now, save it for a
      time when you have fifteen peaceful minutes. It's worth much more than
      that fifteen minutes of your time.

      Because of its somewhat foreign origin, some background information on
      this article is called for. The author is an ordained buddhist and the
      understanding he brings to the problems and solutions addressed is
      characteristically buddhist. People unfamiliar with or new to buddhism
      often hold the mistaken belief that buddhism is a religion only, when in
      point of fact buddhist tracts have been written on physiology, medicine,
      psychology and other sciences, as well as martial arts, journalism, and
      logic. Buddhist masters have collaborated with Western scientists to
      advance such fields as neurophysiology and quantum physics, linguistics,
      epistemology and astrophysics. In short, buddhism is much more an
      organic and growing culture or, at minimum, an ubiquitous philosophy
      than it is a mere minor religion. It shouldn't then surprise us that
      buddhism might address a so very samsaric, or earthly, concern such as

      On 08/12/2009 06:28 PM Dhamma Group wrote:
      > Brother can you spare $700 billion?
      > <http://bhikkhublog.blogspot.com/2008/10/brother-can-you-spare-700-billion.html>
      > 23-Oct-2008 (Many thanks to Jeanne Jayansinghe for forwarding this article)
      > <http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/1/17/William_Hogarth_-_The_South_Sea_Scheme.png/720px-William_Hogarth_-_The_South_Sea_Scheme.png>
      > The financial markets reflect the cumulative result of millions of
      > individual decisions. Regarding decisions, The Buddha said that they
      > should never be made on the basis of greed, anger, fear or delusion. It
      > is obvious how greed and fear have poisoned the well, but I would like
      > to focus on something a little deeper, how delusion has worked in
      > creating the present financial collapse.
      > Specifically, the whole scenario demonstrates the truly amazing power of
      > mental formations in human history. Money itself is an abstraction. At
      > some point in the distant past people agreed to believe that this shiny
      > rock was worth two cows, even though the real, utilitarian value of a
      > cow is considerably more than the real, utilitarian value of a shiny
      > rock. Paper money is an even more refined level of abstraction. This
      > piece of paper with the queen's face, or a spooky eye-in-the-pyramid
      > design or whatever, is said to represent so many shiny rocks, which are
      > worth so many cows. Eventually, they dropped the bit about the shiny rocks.
      > Having gone off the "gold standard", such currency is sometimes called
      > "fiat money," meaning that the value is purely by government fiat. This
      > is not really accurate. A dollar bill doesn't have value because the
      > government or the central bank says so. It has value because the people
      > believe it does. It is faith-based currency. It is not surprising that
      > paper money was first used in China, a civilization deeply affected by
      > Buddhism and Taoism, and used to philosophical subtlety.
      > Consider what is happening here; material goods and hours of labour are
      > freely traded for an agreed convention. Something on the material plane
      > of reality is being surrendered for something on the purely abstract
      > plane of mental formation, which is void and without substance. Maybe
      > that eye-in-the-pyramid is telling us something.
      > Fast forward to the dawn of modern capitalism in post-reformation
      > Europe. The "real economy" of goods and services was becoming
      > complicated, involving more, and more kinds of goods, some of which were
      > being shipped literally across the planet. To facilitate all this action
      > on the plane of material reality, various new kinds of mental
      > abstraction were invented, usually represented by fancy bits of paper.
      > Insurance, promissory notes, bonds and company stocks all came into
      > being, each representing a contract between parties to fulfill certain
      > obligations.
      > The stock market, in it's original manifestation was not very far
      > removed from material reality. If you bought a ten percent share in the
      > East India Company it represented something close to ten percent of the
      > ships and goods of the Company and entitled you to ten percent of the
      > profits made. The value of the stock would, in theory, go up only if the
      > Company acquired more ships and trade goods.
      > Of course mental formations, although void of substance, have a powerful
      > energy when millions agree to believe in them. From the earliest days of
      > capitalism the phenomena of "speculative bubbles" made themselves felt.
      > As company shares traded hands, the value become divorced from the
      > underlying reality it was supposed to represent. The value of a share
      > was no longer based on how many ships the company had, it was now based
      > on what the buyer and seller mutually believed it to be. If the buyer
      > believed he could later resell it for more to somebody else, he didn't
      > care about the underlying value.
      > This is sometimes called the "Greater Fool Principle." If the value of a
      > company share in terms of the real goods it represents is, say one
      > hundred dollars, a person would be a fool to pay one hundred and fifty
      > unless there is a greater fool out there to whom he can sell it for two
      > hundred. The value of the share becomes a pure abstraction. You might as
      > well be trading tulip bulbs. Or "credit-default swaps."
      > The problem, of course, is that inevitably you run out of fools. Then
      > the whole bubble bursts with frightening rapidity. The whole thing would
      > be comical if the abstract world of imaginary numbers on bits of paper
      > or computer disks didn't rebound back on the real world. Many 17th
      > century Dutch burghers had sold real assets like land or ships to
      > "invest" in tulip bulbs. Many, many people today have put the earnings
      > of their labour into the stock market or other financial instruments
      > that were pure bubble. Real goods thrown into an imaginary realm.
      > Now, after several centuries of elaboration, we are into a fantastic
      > realm of abstractions of abstractions. Fractional reserve banking
      > creates money which is based on nothing at all, not even bits of paper.
      > And understanding the levels of abstraction involved in derivatives is a
      > special science. The "value" of the derivatives out there is said to be
      > ten or fifteen times the combined GDP of the whole planet. Tulip bulbs.
      > The imaginary nature of the financial world is very clearly illustrated
      > when you hear, after a market downturn, that so many billion or trillion
      > dollars of wealth have disappeared. That "wealth" was never there in the
      > first place. What has disappeared is the agreed upon mass delusion that
      > such wealth existed.
      > It will be interesting to see what happens next. So far the world
      > leaders seem to be reacting out of panic and fear. Huge sums of borrowed
      > money are being pumped into the bubble in a mad attempt to keep it
      > inflated. The Stadtholder is buying all the tulip bulbs with money
      > borrowed from Venice.
      > The state, really the community as a whole, has now become the greatest
      > fool, the fool of last resort. The question is, what effect will all
      > this movement of imaginary numbers have on the real world of work,
      > clothes, food and housing? Real goods will probably become scarcer for
      > most people either through higher taxes to repay the stupendous debt
      > load or through hyper-inflation of the currency to eliminate the debt
      > that way. There will be pain, material existence will become bleaker and
      > harder and all because of the shifting fantasies of purely imaginary
      > conventions.
      > In the various schemes to restart the big ponzi scheme, you keep hearing
      > the phrase, "restore investor confidence." That gives the game away; the
      > goal right now is to get people believing once again in the magic money
      > tree. Eventually, we will have to face the need to get the real economy
      > of goods and services working. It may have to wait until the bubble
      > economy collapses back to it's natural state. Then there may be a
      > general realization that you can't get something for nothing, no matter
      > how inflated the imaginary numbers are.
      > If the collapse is as complete as it looks like being at the moment,
      > there will inevitably be a restructuring of the world economy. What
      > shape will it take? What shape should it take? I don't have the
      > slightest idea. I've long ago stopped believing in political utopias;
      > this is samsara, after all, it's supposed to be broken.
      > It might be worthwhile, though, to consider some basic values.
      > Capitalism, at least before it switched from managing production to
      > flim-flam schemes, worked pretty good in some respects. It did keep a
      > very complex economy moving on a global scale, and that is no mean feat.
      > However, it was not so good at other things, very important things. It
      > has no built-in mechanism to conserve the natural environment, and that
      > is starting to become critical. It was never very good at distributing
      > goods to those who needed them most, and in recent decades the gap
      > between the richest and the poorest has been growing.
      > When thinking about an economic order, we should remember what an
      > economy is for; human comfort and health primarily and the satisfaction
      > of lawful sense pleasures secondarily. The first priority should be to
      > make sure that every person gets the sufficiency of a decent life, i.e.
      > the four requisites of food, shelter, clothing and medicine. After that,
      > the surplus should be rewarded to those who are most energetic and
      > creative in producing wealth for the general community, certainly not to
      > those who are most clever at manipulating mental abstractions like
      > derivatives and futures. In other words, reward production and creation,
      > not speculation.
      > In any case, we are in for some changes, but that's always been the case.
      > LINKS-
      > What's all this about tulip bulbs
      > <http://www.stock-market-crash.net/tulip-mania.htm> then?
      > Image is Hogarth's "South Sea Bubble." Full size version
      > <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:William_Hogarth_-_The_South_Sea_Scheme.png>.
      > Posted by Ajahn Punnadhammo at 23.10.08
      > <http://bhikkhublog.blogspot.com/2008/10/brother-can-you-spare-700-billion.html>

      Of the many fine points in Bhikku Ajahn Punnadhamm's exposition, I'll
      address just one, albeit an important one: the contention that samsara
      (roughly, the cycle of rebirth into earthly existence) "is supposed to
      be screwed up."

      First, in the context presented it suggests that the world we live in is
      beyond hope and so it may well excuse or even discourage action which
      might make life here better. I'm sure the author wasn't promoting that
      view; for the thrust of his entire article-- bringing understanding to
      our current credit crisis-- bespeaks a concern for others, for helping
      them live through it, and to prepare us for what the future may bring.
      Yet though we live in critical and overwhelming times, times in which
      action seems futile, we should still, as did Ghandi when confronting the
      British occupation of his country, acknowledge that though it may be
      futile, we still have to act.

      Moreover, we should avoid dichotomizing nirvana and samsara for they are
      not really separate. As Padmasambhava said in "Introduction to
      Awareness" (in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, 2005 Viking translation, p.

      "All these [practitioners] stray from the point because they polarise
      the non-dual reality.
      And since they fail to unify [these extremes] in non-duality, they do
      not attain buddhahood.
      Thus, all of those beings continue to roam in cyclic existence,
      Because they persistently engage in [forms of] renunciation,
      And in acts of rejection and acceptance with regard to their own minds,
      Where [in reality] cyclic existence and nirvana are inseparable."

      This notion is not unlike an answer given by Jesus Christ: when asked,
      "Where is this 'Kingdom of God' you speak of", he replied, 'It's here,
      it's all around you.'

      In the chapter entitled "Acts of Confession" [op. cit.], Padmasambhava
      points to other, related dualities to avoid: good and evil, great
      buddhas and small sentient beings ("there is neither great nor small"),
      "this life and the next", "spaciousness and confinement", and "higher
      and lower". (p. 143ff.) Embracing-- believing in-- such mentally (and
      physically and ethically) divisive concepts constitutes delusion and so
      too is karmically hazardous. And they disserve the holder of such
      delusions to manifest for them a breach between samsara and nirvana.

      So if there's what may be no more than an enlightened glance of a
      difference between samsara and nirvana, we shouldn't disparage this
      world-- nor should we speak or act to discourage those striving to
      better this samsaric life. These-- either of them-- would only create a
      duality larger and stronger, fulfilling the delusion of that duality.

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