Peace and Disarmament

Back to listMar 15, 2012

Dr. Jeffrey Sachs Speaks on Economics of Happiness at SGI-USA New York Culture Center

Dr. SachsDr. Sachs lecturing on the economics of happiness

On March 15, Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, renowned development economist and director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, addressed a crowd of more than 350 at the SGI-USA New York Culture Center in his second lecture as part of the Culture of Peace Distinguished Speakers Series.

In his talk titled "A Mindful Economy," Dr. Sachs, who also serves as special advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, examined America's economic and political turning points between the late 1920s and the present, and the shift in the nation's civic values. Dr. Sachs introduced his latest book The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, which re-examines the source of human happiness in light of studies that suggest that Americans are no happier than they were 50 years ago despite the nation's rise in gross national product per person.

In his book, Dr. Sachs calls for a "mindful society" in eight areas: 1) personal moderation to escape mass consumerism; 2) the balance of work and leisure; 3) the cultivation of education; 4) exercising compassion and cooperation; 5) the conservation of the world's ecosystems; 6) a sense of responsibility to save for the future; 7) the cultivation of public deliberation and shared values for collective action through political institutions; and 8) the acceptance of diversity as a path to peace.

dialogue sessionDr. Sachs dialoging with SGI-USA youth members

During a dialogue session with youth members prior to the lecture, Dr. Sachs spoke about the spirit with which he wrote his new book, sharing his belief that life cannot be easily understood without being grounded in "moral seriousness." He also emphasized that in an age marked by profound cynicism and a lack of moral seriousness, the world's people need to unite around shared values and goals. He turned to the example of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have lasted a decade now and are seriously regarded. He also spoke about the implementation of UN Resolution 65/309, which recognizes the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal and how, on April 2, 2012, Bhutan was given the right to convene a high-level meeting on the theme "Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm."

Looking toward the future, Dr. Sachs stressed the increasing importance of the digital revolution, using social media tools, such as Skype, Twitter and Facebook to make connections with people around the world. He spoke about a recent global classroom session comprised of fourth-grade students from one of the most affluent schools in Connecticut and their peers from a poor region of Uganda.

Dr. Sachs shared his perspective that by employing the traditional Buddhist worldview and values, Americans could restore their standing in the world as a positive economic and moral force for good. Echoing the stance of the SGI, Dr. Sachs said, "The solution has to come from our own internal moral compass and human purpose."

The speakers series commenced in 2007, with lecturers focusing on one or more of the eight action areas defined by the 1999 United Nations Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace. The series aims to foster a culture that rejects violence and addresses the root causes of conflict through the power of dialogue.

[Adapted from a report from the April 20, 2012, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photos courtesy of Yvonne Ng]