Study of the Bahá’í Writings on Economics (Part Seven)
At the outset, it has to be mentioned that, for the sake of simplicity, we are studying these Bahá’i Writings on economics briefly without going too deeply into their importance and implications. Volumes can be written on each of these Writings, and each could be the subject of extensive research. As time goes by, we will realize their importance and how they can and will bring us towards a totally different economic system. Future economists will write books on how these Sacred Writings changed our spiritual, social and economic lives. So please bear in mind that the simplicity of the language and my feeble attempts to share my understanding of them does not do them justice. Many Writings could be mentioned here, but I chose these on purpose because they cover many areas related to economics.
AGRICULTURE – THE FARMER
“… we must begin with the farmer, there will we lay a foundation for system and order because the peasant class and the agriculture class exceed other classes in the importance of their service.” – Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p.39
“The question of economics must commence with the farmer and then be extended to the other classes, inasmuch as the number of farmers is greater than all other classes, many many times greater. Therefore it is fitting that the economic problem be first solved with the farmer, for the farmer is the first active agent in the body politic. In brief, from among the wise men in every village a board should be organized and the affairs of that village should be under the control of that board.” – Abdu’l-Bahá, Extract from a Tablet to an individual believer, October 4, 1912, translation corrected in the World Centre, December 1985; cited in Lights of Guidance, p. 547
The basis of the economic system of the future will be on a local level and will start with the farmer. The role of the farmer is extremely important because the actions of the food industry at the present time are affecting the health and survival of mankind. People are questioning the quality of the food we put in our bodies. The methods of production of vegetables, meat, grains etc, are questionable to say the least. The greed in this industry and the short cuts taken in production has been linked to a higher incidence of life-threatening diseases. New research is pointing to the importance of organic food and herbs as a cure for many sicknesses. If the future of medicine is in the prevention of disease through nutrition, then farmers are vital not only for providing us with food but also giving us health.
WORK AND PROFESSION
“ … Every individual, no matter how handicapped and limited he may be, is under the obligation of engaging in some work or profession, for work, specially when performed in the spirit of service, is according to Baha’u’llah a form of worship. It has not only a utilitarian purpose, but has a value in itself, because it draws us nearer to God, and enables us to better grasp His purpose for us in this world. It is obvious, therefore, that the inheritance of wealth cannot make anyone immune from daily work.” – From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada, March 22, 1937; cited in Lights of Guidance, p. 624
“… Whatever the progress of the machinery may be, man will have always to toil in order to earn his living. Effort is an inseparable part of man’s life. It may take different forms with the changing conditions of the world, but it will be always present as a necessary element in our earthly existence. Life is after all a struggle. Progress is attained through struggle, and without such a struggle life ceases to have a meaning; it becomes even extinct. The progress of machinery has not made effort unnecessary. It has given it a new form, a new outlet.” – Shoghi Effendi, Letter written to an individual believer, dated December 26, 1935, Lights of Guidance, p.551
“ … Share your time with God. Spend half of the day in search of livelihood, guaranteeing your material life and dignified appearance, and dedicate the other half in the acquisition of moral virtues and service at the threshold of God…” – Abdu’l-Bahá, Áhang-i-Badí’, volume 31, number 339, p.83. (pilgrim’s note)
Everyone can make a contribution to society through their work. It doesn’t have to be physical work but there is no room for idleness. There’s a satisfaction in working, especially if you are doing work with a sense of service and then it becomes our daily worship. And by engaging in work or a profession, we are contributing to the progress of society and an ever-advancing civilization. Acquiring virtues is the goal and earning a livelihood is the means.
“… The Master has definitely stated that wages should be unequal, simply because that men are unequal in their ability, and hence should receive wages that would correspond to their varying capacities and resources. This view seems to contradict the opinion of some modern economists. But the friends should have full confidence in the words of the Master, and should give preference to His statements over those voiced by our so-called modern thinkers.” -Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p.551
“The workers could either be granted a wage that adequately meets their daily needs, as well as a right to a share in the revenues of the factory when they are injured, incapacitated, or unable to work, or else a wage could be set that allows the workers to both satisfy their daily needs and save a little for times of weakness and incapacity.” – Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, revised edtion (2014), p.317
“Now I want to tell you about the law of God. According to the Divine law, employees should not be paid merely by wages. Nay, rather they should be partners in every work.” – Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’u’llh and New Era, p.160
As we have discussed previously, absolute equality of wages is impossible because every man has different capacities and talents. But everyone has to be paid enough to live a comfortable life, one that is acceptable from all points of view so that a workman feels that he has been appreciated for his work. His wages should be enough to cover his expenses, provide for the education of his children, and to enable him to accumulate some savings. That is fair wages. Also, if workers are paid a portion of the profit of a factory or firm, they will have a sense of ownership and they will work harder because they understand the benefits. The owners will need to supervise less because they know that the workers are partners in the business and they can relax and have peace of mind.