Can India, the world’s second-largest developing economy, inspire a new principle of economics that combines religious beliefs with financial practices?
|Subramanian Swamy (top) and Hrishikesh Vinod discuss Hindu economics at a Fordham conference.
Photos by Janet Sassi
Scholars participating in the first academic conference on Hinduism and the global economy on June 2 at Fordham said that such a new principle is needed.
As one of the world’s oldest stable civilizations with a population of 1.2 billion people, 80 percent of whom are Hindu, India has the sixth-fastest-growing global economy, according to economic indicators.
This unique growth, when guided by ancient Hindu spiritual values, can create a new economic principle that changes the objective of material gain to something that encompasses spiritual reward, according to Subramanian Swamy, Ph.D., India’s former minister of commerce, law and justice and president of the nation’s Janata Party.
“There is no such thing as ‘Hindu economics,’ because economics is a universal science of laws,” said Swamy, delivering the conference’s keynote speech, “Hindu Principle of Economic Development.” “What changes in a Hindu school of economic thought is the objective function, or the objectives which you are going to pursue.
“Why are Ashrams so crowded with Westerners? Why is yoga so universally acceptable? This background of growing interest among the Western world is largely due to the fact that economic prosperity has not brought happiness.”
Hindus, Swamy said, believe in the concept of “Karma calculus,” or that if someone is good, then reward or profit will come sometime during that life, but not necessarily right away.
Hindus also believe that the four sources of power—education, weapons, wealth and land—should never be combined within one person or entity if a society is to remain harmonious, he continued. Those who acquire wealth, he said, must take to philanthropy, while those who pursue knowledge must never have weapons, wealth or land.
“Harmonization is the core of Hindu thought,” he said. “Material growth, when not moderated by spiritual values, leads to greed, and greed leads to corruption.
“An American classmate of mine once asked, ‘How can you have Mahatma Gandhi as your leader? In the U.S., we would put him in jail for indecent exposure, because Gandhi had only a piece of cloth. If you look at the leaders in the Western world, they are the best-dressed people. [But] in India, you will find that the more a person gives up, the more venerated he is.”
Speaker Ravi Kulkarni, Ph.D., professor of mathematics at the Indian Institute of Technology, reported that Indians donate only 1 to 2 percent of their annual income to charity, compared to Christian and Jewish totals averaging between 8 and 10 percent.
The government of India, he said, could easily promote charitable giving among India’s new middle class by changing backward tax deduction laws and regulations on foreign charitable contributions.
The Hindu belief in Karma and astrology can assign an outcome—even an economic one—based on a horoscope or past action of one’s soul, said Hrishikesh Vinod, Ph.D., professor of economics at Fordham. While this is not considered scientific by Western standards, said Vinod, such Hindu beliefs can foster a culture of individual responsibility and encouragement of good deeds, on the positive side. On the negative side, he said, a sense of “fate” or fatalism can “rob the society of dynamic changes which lead to wealth creation.”
“A lot of people think that economics and religion have little or nothing to do with each other,” he said. “Today’s presentations show how there are aspects that are definitely related.”
Swamy suggested that Hindu economists could devise a mathematical formula that could be incorporated into universal economic teachings, one that would ensure material and spiritual growth.
“A classic economic textbook tells you that consumer behavior is the maximization of utility subject to a budget constraint,” he said. “I would say the Hindu approach would be minimization of the expenditure, subject to a utility constraint.
“It is time for an intellectual exercise to codify this and see if we can redefine economics in such a way that it not only produces economic prosperity, but also produces genuine happiness,” he said.
The conference was sponsored by Fordham’s Department of Economics, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the International Political Economy and Development program, and the Vijaydev Mistry and Twaalfhoven Family Foundations.