The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.Ok, fair enough. I accept that millions of people cannot find work that both feels useful and pays the bills. And what should we do about it?
In America today, compared with 50 years ago, three times as many working-age men are completely outside the work force. This pattern is occurring throughout the developed world — and the consequences are not merely economic. Feeling superfluous is a blow to the human spirit. It leads to social isolation and emotional pain, and creates the conditions for negative emotions to take root.
Leaders need to recognize that a compassionate society must create a wealth of opportunities for meaningful work, so that everyone who is capable of contributing can do so. A compassionate society must provide children with education and training that enriches their lives, both with greater ethical understanding and with practical skills that can lead to economic security and inner peace. A compassionate society must protect the vulnerable while ensuring that these policies do not trap people in misery and dependence.I look at this and scratch my head. How are "leaders" supposed to create all these meaningful jobs? Not even a hint.
I suppose we might say that this is a task for economists, not spiritual teachers, but it seems to me like the heart of the matter. Pretty much everyone agrees that we need more good jobs, good in that they both satisfy the desire to be a contributing member of society and put food on the table. But not only is it completely unclear how we would create them – as Brooks and the Dalai Lama say, this is a worldwide problem – but the recommendations we have are opposite. One school of economists says we need to drastically cut taxes and reduce regulation, while the other says we should raise taxes, increase infrastructure spending, raise the minimum wage, and so on. Neither, so far as I can tell, would have any impact on the sad fact that millions of people have jobs that still leave them feeling useless. That just seems to be the way the economy of late capitalism works.
Morally, compassion is the absolute crux. In economics, it only goes so far.