Happiness, free enterprise, and human flourishing: A special online event featuring His Holiness the Dalai Lama
American Enterprise Institute, Thursday, February 20, 2014
Panel 1: Moral free enterprise: Economic perspectives in business and politics
AEI President Arthur Brooks has long argued that human flourishing requires more than material prosperity. Spiritual development and ethical leadership are indispensable to bring about the full blessings of free enterprise. To take this forward, AEI hosted an important event featuring His Holiness the Dalai Lama and key scholars from the field.
The first panel discussed the idea of moral free enterprise and shared perspectives from business and politics. Glenn Hubbard (Columbia University) opened the conversation by explaining how free enterprise — not government action — has been central in rewarding hard work in different parts of the world. But our goal should move beyond celebrating free enterprise to spreading prosperity.
Reflecting on his experiences from capital markets, Daniel Loeb (Third Point LLC) argued that decision-making skills honed by meditative practice and anchored in ethical intention are vital to making good choices in business. He further called for a greater dispersion of power at the individual level, and argued for the importance of education in ensuring opportunity. Jonathan Haidt (New York University) emphasized that while capitalism is a commendable economic solution, it is still a work in progress until we find a moral narrative that is agreeable to most stakeholders.
His Holiness responded to panelists' comments by acknowledging that he has greater respect for capitalism than ever before. He suggested that because actions are interrelated, individuals should look at the holistic picture rather than fall back on cant. Arthur Brooks summed up the discussion by noting that a capitalist society works best when free enterprise is predicated on moral living and the practice of compassion.
Panel 2: Unlocking the mind and human happiness
The second panel examined ways to unleash mental and human happiness. Connecting wellbeing with neuroscientific perspectives, Richard Davidson (University of Wisconsin) explained that although a small part of individual wellbeing is dictated by genes, there is room for larger improvement through education since wellbeing is more a skill rather than a characteristic. Diana Chapman Walsh (MIT) focused on teasing out a new kind of leadership that could bridge and balance tensions without collapsing them, open our minds to more syntheses, and strike a balance between power and love. Otto Scharmer (MIT) suggested that the key challenge to leadership is turning our focus from a narrow ecosystem to overall wellbeing of stakeholders.
His Holiness responded to these remarks by suggesting that knowledge is not enough — analysis of the holistic view is the only realistic approach. He stressed that taking action on these views is bound to generate better outcomes in a free market. Moderating the panel, Arthur Zajonc (Mind & Life Institute) closed the discussion by reminding everyone that free enterprise works best when practiced in the spirit of compassion rather than division.
Recent years have made clear that the free enterprise system is under immense strain. But the answer is not simply to double down on budgetary arguments, tout low-tax solutions, and explain economic basics. We must stop considering free enterprise purely in terms of economic gain and wealth creation and begin considering it in terms of human fulfillment. In working with his Holiness the Dalai Lama, AEI seeks to create an open forum among scholars, social and political leaders, doctors, and scientists to discuss the ways in which material prosperity, spiritual development, and ethical leadership can maximize human flourishing.
Far from a talk, we look forward to a conversation with His Holiness about how the free enterprise system can offer the best path toward happiness when predicated on ethical leadership, morality, and compassion for others.
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