Economics and its discontent

Just recently listened to a lecture by one of my favorite economist, Professor Jefferey Sachs, on economics and theology. There are  couples of interesting reflections that he delivered.

First, the issue nowadays is between morale and material pursuits. Not long ago, he said, economics study was taught under the moral or philosophy subject. Yet, since the 19th century, I guess since the start of industrial revolution, the moral side has been abandoned. As the result, many of our problem nowadays is not on economics  issue (such as optimization), rather, it’s a morale question. He took an example of the difficulty of a senior health organization officials in securing financial support from the white  house for a global health project. The fund raising has been very very difficult even though the amount is only 1% of 1% of US economy, or equivalent to what Pentagon spend everyday.

Second, he cited Easterlin paradox, that is a paradox between happiness and material well-being. Professor Easterlin found that even though the wealth of american since 1950 to 1980 has increased, their (reported) happiness has remained unchanged. Thus this puts deep question on the material pursuit that we’re on.

Lastly, he cited how the material pursuit of human being has destroyed the nature at unprecedented level; and this destruction has brought considerable change to our lives, yet people aren’t care about it.

As an economist wanna be, I think this reflection should be well-noted. Professor Sach has the credibility to make such reflection, as he is one the greatest economists at the moment. It is somehow sad for Professor Sach and the people alike to finally come to this sort of conclusion, something that Muslim has taken it for granted. As a muslim, we has been taught that life in this world shouldn’t be based on material pursuit. We’ve been taught that we have to protect and sustain the nature, rather than to destroy it. We have been taught to spend zakat, charity, waqaf and other forms of givings to reduce poverty and inequality. But I guess it’s easier to say rather than practiced. We know that material pursuit, destruction on nature, inequality among people are bad things. Yet, we’re still on the blind eye to pursue it. I believe this is the test that Allah specifically designed for us who live in 21st century, when the temptation to worldly life is just irresistible.

This, I believe, should be reflected in Indonesia’s economy. We’re currently maybe in the most booming period of our country economy. I believe we should stop and ask, is this really what we want? Is destroying nature, exposing our lives to endless material pursuit, and widening inequality the one that we really want?

Prof Sach ended his speech by stressing that economics is (and should) not (be) a pure science. It should be combined with morale philosophy again. I wish he will get hidayah soon and understand that the true morale guidance can only be found in Islam, the final cut of Ibrahamic religion. May we’re not included in those who know the truth but do nothing to follow it.

You can watch the complete lecture here (it starts on around minute 45).

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