Economics 84, Section 1

Buddhist Economics (2 units, P/NP)

Professor Clair Brown
Wednesday 3:30-5:30, 2521 Channing Way, Berkeley, Class number: 23464

In Buddhist Economics, we will explore basic economics concepts and ask how Buddha might have taught them. Some questions that we address are these: What creates happiness? What is an equitable distribution of income? How is our own well-being related to the well-being of others? Does economic growth and having more income make people better off? How would Buddha revise the basic assumptions of modern economics?

Instructor Bio

Clair Brown has published research on many aspects of the labor market, including high-tech workers, labor market institutions, firm employment systems and performance, the standard of living, wage determination, and unemployment. Clair taught Econ 1 for many years, and practices Tibetan Buddhism. Her books include American Standards of Living, 1919-1988 (Blackwell, 1994), Work and Pay in the United States and Japan (Oxford University Press, 1997), Economic Turbulence (University of Chicago Press, 2006), and Chips and Change: How Crisis Reshapes the Semiconductor Industry (MIT Press, 2009, 2011). Clair is working on developing a holistic measurement for economic performance for California. She is also is a faculty leader in the Development Engineering program for graduate students.

Her book: Buddhist Economics: an enlightened approach to the dismal science, Bloomsbury Press, 2017. Book trailer (2 min): Blogs, podcasts, reviews at

Faculty web site:


Many students in my Econ 1 class at UC Berkeley were frustrated with the assumption that “more is better”---having more income and what it buys is what makes people better off. They also were shocked that economics did not compare the wellbeing across different income groups---the rich benefited just as much as the poor from another dollar of income, and income per capita compared quality of life across countries. As a practicing Buddhist, I asked “How would Buddha have taught Econ 1?” <br> In the economic model, it makes sense to go shopping if you are feeling pain, because buying things makes you feel better. Yet we know from experience that consuming more does not relieve pain. What if we lived in a society that did not put consumption at its center? What if we follow instead the Buddhist mandate to minimize suffering, and are driven by compassion rather than desire? To explore these questions with an alternative economic model, I developed this Sophomore seminar “Buddhist Economics”. Most of the required reading is from my book, Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science, Bloomsbury Press, 2017.<br> Let’s explore together!