Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 18:37
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Economics    Topic: Economics

The present economic system, despite its success in wealth creation, is a significant impediment to achieving sustainability (Dahl, 1996). If it continues much longer with "business as usual", we risk major global crises and dislocations as we overshoot global limits. If economic principles and mechanisms have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind and no longer respond to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, then they should be discarded. In a world where everything changes and decays, why should economics be exempt from the deterioration that overtakes every human institution? Economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of a particular economic system (Shoghi Effendi, 1938).

To appreciate the unsustainability of the present economic system and to consider alternatives, it is necessary to arrive at a proper understanding of the role of economics. "The failure to place economics into the broader context of humanity's social and spiritual existence has led to a corrosive materialism in the world's more economically advantaged regions, and persistent conditions of deprivation among the masses of the world's peoples. Economics should serve people's needs; societies should not be expected to reformulate themselves to fit economic models. The ultimate function of economic systems should be to equip the peoples and institutions of the world with the means to achieve the real purpose of development: that is, the cultivation of the limitless potentialities latent in human consciousness.

"Society must develop new economic models shaped by insights that arise from a sympathetic understanding of shared experience, from viewing human beings in relation one to another, and from a recognition of the central role that family and community play in social and spiritual well-being. Within institutions and organizations, priorities must be reassessed. Resources must be directed away from those agencies and programs that are damaging to the individual, societies and the environment, and directed toward those most germane to furthering a dynamic, just and thriving social order. Such economic systems will be strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature; they will provide meaningful employment and will help to eradicate poverty in the world." (Bahá'í International Community, 1998)

The issues of sustainability and the resulting environmental crisis also challenge present economic thinking. It is no longer possible to believe that there is no limit to nature's capacity to fulfil any demand made on it by human beings. A culture which attaches absolute value to expansion, to acquisition, and to the satisfaction of people's wants is being compelled to recognise that such goals are not, by themselves, realistic guides to policy. Inadequate, too, are approaches to economic issues whose decision-making tools cannot deal with the fact that most of the major challenges are global rather than national or local (Bahá'í International Community, 1995).

It is not so much the mechanisms of the market system that are at fault, but the values that underly them and the institutions which have been created to implement them. We must start to evolve alternative economic systems, structures and business practices, starting with new and more universal values and ethical principles that reflect better the unity and solidarity of the human race.


Bahá'í International Community. 1995. The Prosperity of Humankind. Bahá'í International Community, Office of Public Information, Haifa

Bahá'í International Community 1998. Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London.

Dahl, Arthur Lyon. 1996. The ECO Principle: Ecology and Economics in Symbiosis. Zed Books Ltd, London and New Jersey, and George Ronald, Oxford.


Shoghi Effendi. 1938. The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois.

Article last updated 29 June 2006

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