Towards a Divine Economy: Setting the Table for Inquiry

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This article is the first in a series, all dealing with concepts involving economic theory and exploring models of prosperity and wealth. In Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, the Blessed Beauty* urges us to, “Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements”. The author is striving from that perspective. Please note that these essays do not represent the official stance of any organization, rather they are the current understanding of one individual.

*The Blessed Beauty (or Jamál-i-Mubárak) is a title frequently applied to Baha’u’llah by followers and friends.

Adam Smith penned An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776. Known today as The Wealth of Nations, it is often credited with launching free market capitalism. Over 200 years later the fulfillment of Adam Smith’s canonical work appears to have been embodied by fictional character Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the well-known 1987 Oliver Stone film “Wall Street” [1]. Mr. Gekko’s infamous words? “Greed is good”.

It is noteworthy that Adam Smith was a moral philosopher. He was not an economist per se. He didn’t focus on mechanical equations, formulas designed to create an optimal market environment. Much like a good chief marketing officer of an organization (who would initially focus on strategy, organizational goals and key targeted sectors; as opposed to starting on promotional pens, a modified promotional discount, or a new logo), Adam Smith sought to understand and outline the challenges at hand and then to offer a detailed solution [2].

Today’s economic discourse is cluttered and noisy. Books and volumes abound. Some are mechanical in nature, others granular or thematic, others extremely partisan and still others simply comical. Certainly the world in 2012 is far different than 1776. Where is our grand canonical document on economic theory?

The articulation of a comprehensive Baha’i economic model will not be produced through the sole efforts of someone in an ivory tower. Rather, it will be forged through the collective learning of the worldwide Baha’i community in the course of its continued expansion and consolidation:

A small community, whose members are united by their shared beliefs, characterized by their high ideals, proficient in managing their affairs and tending to their needs, and perhaps engaged in several humanitarian projects—a community such as this, prospering but at a comfortable distance from the reality experienced by the masses of humanity, can never hope to serve as a pattern for restructuring the whole of society [3].

Relative to economics, Shoghi Effendi outlines:

There are practically no technical teachings on economics in the Cause, such as banking, the price system, and others. The Cause is not an economic system, nor can its Founders be considered as having been technical economists. The contribution of the Faith to this subject is essentially indirect, as it consists in the application of spiritual principles to our present-day economic system. Baha’u’llah has given us a few basic principles which should guide future Baha’i economists in establishing such institutions which will adjust the economic relationships in the world [4].

At this moment in time, what is abundantly clear is that the current economic paradigm is not sustainable. With the challenges and opportunities before us, we could not be better positioned for a fresh dialectic concerning our collective world economy, including concepts such as:

– What is the true source of long-term sustainable wealth?

– How do we balance the needs of the collective with the liberty of the individual?

– What is the role of government in establishing programs of welfare?

– How do we reconcile nearly inconceivable variances in the standards of living experienced between (and within) different countries and regions?

– “How do we move from a world centered on materialism and self-gratification to one that is centered on the application of spiritual principle and service to humanity” [5]

Over the next several months, we will be examining these and other concepts. The aim is to clearly articulate specific disconnects in the realm of economic thinking between the old and the emerging new world order.

[1] See for a brief clip (less than 60 seconds) of his famous speech
[2] Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, offers a tremendous review of Adam Smith’s work in The Real Price of Everything.
[3] From the Universal House of Justice, in a letter dated 12/28/2010 addressed to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors
[4] From Lights of Guidance, page 550
[5] This last question is from Paul Lample’s remarkable book, Revelation & Social Reality (from page V of the preface)

Jeff is a business strategist and turnaround expert. He currently works and lives in Minneapolis, USA. He is the proud father of 2 sons, Bayan and Aidan. He used to rap and do the hustle in the townships of South Africa.