July 20, 2015


The Pursuit of Economic Growth Requires a Balance between 'Yin' and 'Yang'

Keywords: Newsletter Steady-State Economy Well-Being 

JFS Newsletter No.154 (June 2015)

Photo: Yoshifumi Taguchi
Copyright Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society All Rights Reserved.

The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society (ISHES), with JFS as its outreach partner, is undertaking a project called "What Is Economic Growth? -- Interviews with 100 People." How does Eastern wisdom view economic growth? Here we introduce the responses to this question by Yoshifumi Taguchi, a scholar of the works of Lao Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, and director of the Research Institute for Integration of Eastern and Western Wisdom.

ISHES: What is economic growth?

Yoshifumi Taguchi: I'm very concerned about the idea that the economy must grow continually. A fundamental principle of Eastern wisdom is the yin and yang theory; where there is yin, there's always yang. If something has two wheels, it is more stable than with one wheel.

In this sense, when I hear the words "economic growth," I feel uneasy, because it means a thing with one wheel. The economy is only one side of the balance between yin and yang. In yin and yang theory, expansion and growth are yang, and fulfillment and innovation are yin. Economic growth is expanding and growing, so it falls into the yang category.

So what goes into the yin category? Dignity and education. We need to discuss what assumptions we have in mind when we say we need economic growth? Economic growth without satisfaction of mind is like a kite flying after the line breaks. It gets blown around, out of control. People ended up being tossed around as the economy fluctuates.

Capitalism, accompanied with economy, centers on money and goods, which are in the yang category, while dignity and culture are yin. While money and goods are important, things that have more importance are reason, principles, humanity, and human behavior. Economic growth and a society based on the economy as we see now do not care about dignity and education. It seems to me as if they keep running toward dreadful self-destruction.

Moreover, growth means something is expanding. We can say that what is expanding is our desire.

Confucian philosophy, as well as the philosophies of Lao Tzu and Chuang-Tzu, do not deny "desire," because they see that desire has something good. So they don't deny it, whereas Buddhism is ascetic and partly denies desire.

For example, motivation is one form of desire. Improving a dangerous situation and altering inconvenience to convenience for humanity are all derived from one's motivation. It is a good thing. However, we need to think about yin and yang there, too. The more we accept the existence of desire, the more we need to have firm ethics and morality.

I often say, "If we compare desire to being an accelerator, then our society is like a vehicle with only an accelerator. No brakes." A brake is compared to reason, in other words, spirit and awareness. We need to put a focus on both of them evenly, and they should be dealt with collaboratively. Otherwise, we are like driving a vehicle without brakes and do not know how far it will race forward.

So we need balance and harmony. We need to balance economy, capitalism, and market supremacy on one side, and humanity and real human satisfaction on the other. Both economy and culture, as two wheels, turn in a fine balance.

ISHES: Why has the world now lost balance and gone to one side?

Taguchi: Because it is easy. It is hard to discipline or control oneself. Actually becoming a person of integrity would make us the happiest. But, naturally, the training for that involves a little suffering. Those who run countries never ask the people to do something that requires some pain. They only talk about the easy ways to get things. That is why we ended up where we are now.

ISHES: I just realized that we hardly ever hear the expression "becoming a person of integrity" anymore. Many people, however, talk about "becoming rich," and there are many books and seminars on that. I assume some books talk about how to become a person of integrity, but I don't think they are very common.

Taguchi: Classical writings do, however. Why is it important to read classical writings? Why am I constantly giving lectures on classical writings? It's because that is the part completely missing in modern society. Our world is not balanced, because of the overwhelming power of society that places money and materialism above anything else.

In the corporate world, making a profit without putting out too much effort is considered a management skill, as in the approach to gain profits the shortest way possible. But if we go on like that, we would be "no better than beasts," according to Confucian philosophy. Mencius said, "We are like beasts if we wear warm clothes, eat until we are full, and live freely without learning." This is what we are now.

It is a serious problem. The main theme for me is to sustain this society as a human society. We need to think about "What are human beings?" and "What should human beings value?" Furthermore, money and goods won't make us happy. The key to happiness is becoming a person of integrity. Happiness is something we make ourselves, not something given by other people. That's why we need to become people of integrity.

You may think "Why do we become happy if we become a person of integrity?" We can be someone who is welcomed and appreciated wherever we go for being a person of integrity. Or someone who is not welcomed and not invited, because of being a nasty person.

Depending on that, our entire daily life will be either pleasant or unpleasant. When I say this, everyone says, "True. Neither money or social status makes us happy." So I tell people to become persons of integrity, because that is the only way to become happy.

ISHES: So it doesn't matter how much or how little money we have, or how much our salaries increase.

Taguchi: There is nothing outside of us that can ever define happiness. It is inside, how our hearts feel. Basically, it is a matter of how we can feel satisfied and grateful from our hearts. However, our world is focusing too much on "outside" when we look at it from the viewpoint of yin and yang.

I am not saying that "outside is no good." I do have certain desires and want to have some amount of money. I also want to drink good sake.

Balance is the key. In terms of happiness, the point is whether or not we can control our desires -- in other words, whether or not we have a brake on our desires. As soon as we let up on the brake, we would have unpleasant things, such as getting into trouble with the police. However, as long as we keep the brake, it wouldn't get serious, as we can handle it on our own. That represents the famous saying in the Analects of Confucius, "At seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing the norm," or an old saying, which is my motto, "He who knows enough is enough will be always happy."

ISHES: Back to economic growth, thinking of the current situation, we are heading toward a dreadful, self-destructive future as you mentioned before, and there are three possible scenarios left, I think. What do you think about that?

The first possibility is the worst scenario. Human beings tend to take an easy road, and we would lose our character and education easily. Once we lose, it is hard to get them back, and then things get worse and worse. Eventually, we lose human feelings and our human nature.

The second is to keep balance. According to yin and yang theory, when things lean to yang, they always get back to yin in the end. So even though we are focusing on economic growth now, time will come for things to get back to yin by the Heavens' guiding hand, achieving a balance.

The third one is the time might come, not to choose either economic growth or dignity and education, but to bring the two together to create something new.

Taguchi: That's it! After all, what we should do in our life is to balance yin and yang that you mentioned, I would say. To make the present better, we should add the missing one in the first place.

Next is the classic word "Aufheben" (one of the basic ideas of Hegel's dialectics; a German word with several seemingly-contradictory meanings, but the closest here might be "transcend"). It is very important to get over the contradictions, and this is a theme that human beings really need to deal with.

So, economic growth is not the theme. There is a contradiction between "economic growth" and "culture, dignity, and education." The question is not "Which do we choose, 'money and materials' or 'dignity and education'?" The question is "How can we choose both?" Because we need both. When we look carefully behind these things, we can see that both aim for the same thing.

That is the absolutely paradoxical identity theory Kitaro Nishida wrote about (a prominent Japanese philosopher, 1870 - 1945). Absolute paradox is to include plenty of identicalness, and so it should reach the point where we can see it says the same thing after all.

Where is that point? It is economic growth that leads to true happiness and our spiritual satisfaction. When it comes to industry (meaning productive pursuits), this means industry that leads to spiritual satisfaction will flourish the most.

ISHES: What kind of industry are you referring to?

Taguchi: I am thinking of "industry (productive pursuits) of opportunity." Our lives are full of opportunity. But many people don't think so. Industry that creates and brings in many opportunities, showing that "life is full of opportunity, like this and that!A" If we think that all our life is opportunity, from the moment we are born until even after we die, we can find an amazing amount of things that should become industry.

ISHES: Thank you very much for speaking with us. That was very inspiring and thought provoking.

Photo: Yoshifumi Taguchi
Copyright Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society All Rights Reserved.

Edited by Junko Edahiro