Political ethicist. Writer. Podcaster. Free Market Buddhist.
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A look at what the Buddha actually said about acquiring and spending wealth.

It’s easy to get the impression Buddhism opposes earning much wealth beyond what’s “necessary,” or using wealth for one’s own benefit instead of giving away everything beyond the minimum needed to get by. After all, monks shave their heads, put on robes, and take up alms bowls. If you listen to a lot of contemporary, politically engaged Buddhists, you’ll get the impression that Buddhism necessarily opposes market economies and that wealth inequality runs counter to Buddhist values.

But that view of Buddhism is misleading — and rather inaccurate if we look to the ancient texts to discover what the Buddha actually said about acquiring and using wealth. …


The first of the new Legend of the Five Rings novels is pretty fun.

I’m kind of a sucker for shared world fiction, so long as the world is great. Two years ago, I read or listened to nearly fifty Warhammer 40,000 novels in a twelve month period, which was both awesome and maybe not something to be proud of. This week, I dipped my toes in a different world, with the new in a new series of Legend of the Five Rings novels from Aconyte.

I’m a big fan of the new edition of the card game. It’s maybe the best card game I’ve ever played, dethroning Netrunner and the old Dune CCG. But I’d never gotten super into L5R lore. The novels seemed like a good way to do that. …


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The Buddha’s parable of the two arrows of suffering helps us understand why our politics seems so broken and harmful, and how we can fix it.

Our politics and political culture feel pretty broken. I don’t think many of us can take in the ways we engage each other on political matters and think it’s healthy. In fact, writing a week before the presidential election, political culture looks like nothing but suffering. We don’t like the government, we don’t like each other, and we especially don’t like the people who join opposing teams, or aren’t sufficiently supportive of our side. We vent on social media, shame mob outcasts and undesirables — and are quick to affix those labels to anyone with whom we have even the most mild disagreement. We “cancel” everyday people, destroying their livelihoods and sometimes lives, over clumsy jokes or insensitive comments — or just ignorance about the rapidly shifting fads of language and elevated terminology. …


They can’t escape Trumpism, but they can’t win with it, either.

Donald Trump is likely to lose in a couple of weeks. Once he’s out of office, the Republican Party will need to figure out what to do next, and its options are grim.

At the national level, Trumpism has never been popular. Trump’s approval ratings have stuck to the low 40s for most of his term, and when you control for partisanship (a lot of Americans will say they approve of the president of the same party, even if they have no idea what he’s actually up to), the actual level of support for what Trump represents is a good deal lower. Trump won in 2016 by a tiny margin, lost the popular vote, and benefited from running against an historically unpopular candidate. …


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The Buddha told us to interrogate our beliefs and discard those that aren’t helpful. This advice could radically change our politics.

The Buddha was a pragmatist. You can see this in the structure of the Four Noble Truths. He starts by stating the problem, then gives the cause of the problem, then notes that it can be solved, and finally offers a set of tools for succeeding in solving it. That the path to the end of stress is the fourth of the four truths tells us that what ultimately matters isn’t the path itself, but the existence, cause, and possible end of stress.

In other words, the Buddha began with the goal and then worked out a way to get there. We ought to keep that in mind when thinking about politics. Governments are tools for accomplishing an end. We have them because they’re for something. If we don’t keep a clear picture of what we’re trying to overcome, as well as the causes of it, we risk clinging to tools and methods that either aren’t as effective as alternatives, or actually make the problem worse. …


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Critiquing the case against consumerism, exploring the dangers of political consumerism, and showing how market innovation enables the cultivation of Buddhist values and practices.

Welcome to another issue of The Free Market Buddhist newsletter. This week looks at consumerism, a common worry Buddhists have about free markets. I discuss the Buddhist case against consumerism, argue that it’s less persuasive than it might seem, and point out the problems of political consumerism, which is both more pervasive and dangerous. The issue closes with an argument that unleashing markets and innovation from political control could in fact lead to less consumerism and more opportunity to cultivate Buddhist values.

The Dangers of Consumerism

Many contemporary Buddhists worry that capitalism promotes values that interfere with our ability to live the way Buddhism says we ought to. One of the biggest concerns is that capitalism leads to consumerism, and that consumerism makes it much more difficult for us to escape from greed and clinging. For instance, here’s how Sallie B. …


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The parallels are strong—and troubling.

A common worry voiced by critics of our modern, market-driven economy is that capitalism leads to — and depends on — consumerism. For capitalism to sustain itself, corporations need us to always be buying whatever it is they sell. They thus work to make consumerism central to our culture, and even to our very sense of ourselves. Anti-capitalists argue that because this consumerism is so destructive — to us, our society, and the environment — free markets must be reined in and consumerism opposed. …


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Laws depend on enforcement, which depends on violence. Does this violate Buddhist ethics regarding harm, even if we don’t intend the violence?

One of the arguments I make against Buddhist calls for expanded state action is that new laws and regulations are ultimately calls for violence and the threat of violence be used against others. When you say, “We ought to ban the sale of large sodas in order to prevent obesity,” what you’re actually doing is asking the state to use coercive violence against people who might sell large sodas. This is just definitionally what laws are. They’re authorizations of force. Otherwise there’d be no enforcement mechanism, and they wouldn’t really be laws at all.

Right Action, the First Precept, and many other principles of Buddhist ethics prohibit Buddhists from harming another being. As Khenpo Samdup, the monk at the temple I attend, writes, “This core of non-violence and non-harm is, in effect, another way of stating the whole of Buddhism.” It’s why so many Buddhists are vegetarians, for instance. And just like it would run counter to the dharma’s teachings for a Buddhist to kill a deer for his dinner, it would also be wrong for him to command another to do it for him. (Buddhist disagreement about meat consumption by monks tends to focus more on whether you can eat meat that’s offered to you and was killed by someone else, not at your request.) Likewise, if it is wrong for me to beat you up or kill you because I don’t want you to sell a large soda to another person, it seems clearly wrong for me to command or request a police officer to beat you up on my behalf. To think otherwise, categorically, would lead to absurd conclusions such as murder violating Buddhist ethics, but hiring a hitman being perfectly permissible. …


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I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for three years and a libertarian for twenty. I came to the latter through long conversations in college with my friend Trevor Burrus, who is now my Cato Institute colleague and my co-host on our Free Thoughts podcast.

I came to Buddhism by way of an interest in ancient philosophy. I’d long been a fan of the Greeks, and still am very much influenced by Aristotle. A few years back, I decided it’d be worth my time to branch out a bit, however, and I began with Buddhism. This meant that most of my early reading wasn’t contemporary Buddhist writers, but instead the Pali Canon and philosophical commentaries. I approached Buddhism the way I did the Greeks, reading primary sources, as well as academic works on those sources. A real delight in these early days was how much Buddhist dialogs read like their Greek contemporaries. …


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In each issue of The Free Market Buddhist, I write about the intersection of Buddhism and liberty. I’ll discuss different aspects of Buddhist libertarianism, give you a peek into my research, and offer links to resources I’ve found helpful.

Most Buddhists don’t have the luxury of avoiding politics entirely. Unless we become monks and escape from the world into a monastery, our participation in a politicized and politically governed society means we must “do” politics — or at least have it done to us.

For quite a lot of us, our Buddhism compels us to not just focus on our own well-being, but, through compassion, improve the state of the world for everyone. Because so much of our daily lives, from our personal choices to the economy, are governed through the political process, this means as Buddhists, we ought to mindfully use the political tools available to us to help realize that better world.

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