ECONOMICS - A BAHÁ'Í APPROACH
A Baha’i View
"Re-adjustment of the social economy is of the greatest importance
inasmuch as it ensures the stability of the world of humanity; and
until it is effected, happiness and prosperity are impossible."
The Bahá'í analysis of the present condition of the world is that it
is in the throes of evolution towards a new set of conditions and a new
age. The economic problems reflect to a large degree the political and
spiritual state of the world. Bahá'í economic principles should be seen
in the light of general Bahá'í beliefs. The most fundamental beliefs
are, firstly, that we should treat all people, of whatever country,
race, gender or class, as of equal worth. Secondly that we should have
a form of world government with a peace-keeping role. The establishment
of world peace would not only free vast resources at present devoted to
warfare and defence, but would also allow all areas of the world to
develop unhindered by war.
At the same time, rampant materialism must give way to a more
balanced view of the world, in which everyone has the right to a
reasonable standard of living and in which resources can be conserved.
At present, a cycle of slump and boom characterises western economies,
while industrialised former communist countries strive to adapt to
market forces, and much of the developing world struggles against
poverty and a world economic system loaded against them.
Ultimately, Bahá'ís believe that all the world's population will
become a united community, diverse in their national and individual
characteristics, but co-operating in one shared world civilisation.
This civilisation will be based on justice. All trade barriers will be
removed, a common system of weights and measures adopted, a world
currency established and interest rates set at a fair level. These
measures would foster trade between countries and remove many of the
difficulties faced by less developed nations.
"The essence of the matter is that Divine Justice will become
manifest in human conditions and affairs and all mankind will find
comfort and enjoyment in life."
Work and the Individual
"It is the duty of those who are in charge of the organisation of
society to give every individual the opportunity of acquiring the
necessary talent in some kind of profession, and also the means of
utilising such a talent, both for its own sake and for the sake of
earning the means of his livelihood."
"It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of
occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously
exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God,
the true One..... Waste not your time in idleness and sloth. Occupy
yourselves with that which profiteth yourselves and others."
Profit-sharing is advocated as a general principle, allowing workers to have a greater role and interest in their employment:
"According to the Divine law, employees should not be paid merely by wages. Nay, rather they should be partners in every work."
Implicit in this is a partnership between capital and labour.
Employee/employer relations should be based on spiritual principles,
backed up by laws which are just to both sides:
"The mutual and reasonable rights of both associated parties will be
legally fixed and established according to custom by just and impartial
Redistribution of Wealth
"Absolute equality in fortunes, honours, commerce, agriculture,
industry would end in chaos, in disorganisation of the means of
existence, and in universal disappointment; the order of the community
would be quite destroyed."
Although absolute equality is not possible, extremes of poverty and
wealth must certainly be eliminated. Each person has the right to the
basic necessities of life but no-one has the right to more wealth than
he or she can use. Taxation laws should be designed to ensure that
everyone exists within comfortable limits.
The Role of the Local Community
Economic progress depends on a balance between the needs of the
different members of the community. In the Bahá'í view, this will work
better as mankind evolves a proper community spirit, and local
communities are allowed freedom of initiative. Although many Bahá'í
teachings are clearly global in application, complete transformation
will be from the grass roots:
"The solution begins with the village, and when the village is reconstructed, then the cities will be also."
Bahá'u'lláh, the Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, reminds us that
agriculture is essentially the most important industry. Bahá'u'lláh's
son, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, gave an example of how the system of local finance
should work, based on an agricultural community. The principle is the
same for towns and cities, but operating on a more directly financial
As weather conditions vary from year to year, it is recommended that
each village has a local storehouse, where a certain percentage of the
harvest is kept. This would be under the control of the local
authority, which would also receive income from a graduated income tax.
It would also receive a proportion of the income from any mining
operations in the area.
Great importance is put upon a detailed system of financial support,
administered by the local authority. A family whose income exceeds its
needs is taxed, but a family which does not earn enough to support
itself is supported by the local community.
Each local community would contribute to the national funds, if it
could afford to do so, but could also be supported by national funds if
necessary. The same principle would apply at international level.
The details of how this system will operate will clearly vary from one community to another, and from one time to another.
In the Bahá'í Writings, great importance is given to voluntary
sharing of wealth. Voluntary contributions form part of the income of
the local authority. Concern for one's fellow beings is essential to
the Bahá'í approach.
A form of voluntary capital gains tax is also advocated and is
already in operation in the Bahá'í community. Bahá'ís pay into the
international fund 19% of any increase in wealth which may have been
accumulated over a period of time. The amount to be taxed is total
income minus necessary living expenses. Although there are general
guidelines, what constitutes a necessary expense is up to the
conscience of the individual.
When people become citizens of the world, voluntary giving will be on a larger scale than at present:
"The time will come in the near future when humanity will become
so much more sensitive than at present that the man of great wealth
will not enjoy his luxury, in comparison with the deplorable poverty
about him. He will be forced, for his own happiness, to expend his
wealth to procure better conditions for the community in which he
The many specific recommendations relating to economic questions to
be found in the Bahá'í Writings cannot each successfully operate alone.
For example, the system of financial support can only work properly
when people are generally honest, and profit-sharing schemes depend
upon mutual trust and goodwill.
Although the implementation of certain economic principles could
improve the lot of humanity, it is only when the need for justice and
social equality is universally recognised that the full impact can be
achieved, for in reality:
"The secrets of the whole economic question are Divine in nature, and are concerned with the world of the heart and spirit."
Published by, and copyright of, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Warwick.
Approved by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom,
27 Rutland Gate, London, SW7 1PD.
All quotations are from the Bahá'í writings.