Buddhist Economics

The Foundation for an Equitable, Sustainable, Caring Economy


  • Clair Brown UC Berkeley Author




Buddhist economics, Sustainability, Prosperity, Inequality, Neoliberal, Carbon emissions, Well-being, Government Policies


Our planet faces the extinction of much of the natural world, including humans, if carbon emissions are not dramatically reduced by 2030 in order to keep the global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees centigrade. Inequality in the United States has surged, and inequality in countries around the world has grown even as it has lessened between rich and developing countries. Yet economies continue to focus on growth of income, which has increased both greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and inequality. This paper asks: How can we create meaningful changes in our economic system to provide shared prosperity, a healthy environment, and reduced suffering? In this paper, I present a vision of Buddhist economics, which is based on known policies to create an equitable, sustainable economy with greater well-being for people in the United States and abroad, as a holistic alternative to free market (neoliberal) economics. First, I describe the Buddhist economic framework and compare it to the free market economic model. Then I discuss four observed relationships that support Buddhist economics: (1) Inequality and carbon emissions go together; (2) Inequality reduces well-being; (3) Society is subsidizing the fossil fuel industry and wasteful consumption by the rich; and (4) People are altruistic as well as self-regarding. To demonstrate how countries have policies compatible with a Buddhist economy, I present the Sustainable Shared-Prosperity Policy Index that ranks countries by their policies that support sustainability, structure markets, and provide social programs and services with the goal of creating a holistic economy that cares for people and the planet.

Author Biography

  • Clair Brown, UC Berkeley

    Clair Brown is Professor of Economics and Director of the Center for Work, Technology and Society at the University of California, Berkeley. Brown has published research on many aspects of how economies function, including understanding inequality, mitigating the climate emergency, improving sustainability, and evaluating quality of life. Her book Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science (Bloomsbury Press, 2017) provides an economic framework that integrates global sustainability, shared prosperity, and care for the human spirit. Brown’s research team developed a Sustainable Share-prosperity Policy Index that evaluates fifty countries’ economic policies according to how well they protect the environment (sustainability), structure markets to achieve social goals (equity), and provide basic services and opportunities (wellbeing). Brown is the co-founder of the Development Engineering graduate program at UC Berkeley, in which engineering and economics students develop multidisciplinary skills for designing, building, and evaluating systems to help under-resourced regions. She works with environmental justice and faith-based groups to improve California climate policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that improves the lives of vulnerable populations and meets the Paris goal of under 1.5°C temperature rise. Brown’s economic approach has been published in Eminent Economists II (Cambridge University Press). Learn more about Clair’s work on climate and equity here: www.buddhisteconomics.net.