Economics and the roots of America’s existential angst: Param and Elliot Srikantia

Guest columnist Param Srikantia is a professor in Baldwin Wallace University’s Carmel Boyer School of Business and Elliot Srikantia is an art director in New York City. To subscribe to Param’s YouTube channel or mailing list for notification on his free webinars, email him at [email protected] You can watch his TEDX talk at

We are aware of the rising levels of anxiety, stress, depression, addiction and panic disorders rampant among youth in today’s world. In conversations with young people, we are struck by their existential despair.

Staring at images of environmental degradation, economic catastrophe and military Armageddon, they plow through, wondering if life has any meaning or purpose against the backdrop of an impending global calamity depicted in movies such as “Don’t Look Up.

While medical science and psychology have identified diseases of the body and mind, Eastern mystics like Osho have prescribed remedies for sicknesses that afflict human consciousness and have cautioned us against neglecting spiritual wellness.

But we have not heeded their warnings. Many of the crises we are facing are the result of humanity adopting an exclusively economic lens on human life. Economic indicators like gross domestic product (GDP) are all that matter, and money is the measure of all value.

Karl Polyani noted in his “The Great Transformation” that, instead of the economy serving society, society has become a passive slave of the economy. Quality of life has been sacrificed on the altar of economic progress.

Even in the world’s wealthiest country, we are weighed down by crippling debt and somehow have no money to fund health care or education.

There are psychological challenges that arise from living in a world engineered exclusively by economics and the limited view of humans as homo economicus. People lose their appreciation for the richness and beauty of life and, instead, view their entire lives, relationships and choices exclusively through an economic lens.

The colorful poetry of life is reduced to a prosaic template of inputs, outputs and measurable outcomes. People’s conceptions of the good, the true and the beautiful are replaced by a singular obsession with efficiency, optimization and productivity.

Designing a society’s architecture calls for the integration of a mechanistic imagination with a generative imagination.

Mechanistic imagination helps produce better machines and efficient systems and is encouraged in the disciplines of engineering, business, economics and the social sciences.

Generative imagination helps create lives of greater meaning and purpose and is promoted in the humanities, spirituality/religious studies and in the fine and performing arts.

Mechanistic disciplines do not prepare their practitioners for understanding the intricacies of human subjectivity inherent in happiness, peace, compassion and relatedness. Their focus is on promoting economic outcomes, not on celebrating the farther reaches of human consciousness.

For example, to the economist, high employment numbers are a healthy sign — even if it means thousands of talented musicians and artists are only employed operating cash registers. The economist lacks sensitivity to feel the colossal loss of human potential in this scenario.

Today’s challenges require the creative integration of diverse, cross-disciplinary perspectives. As Osho indicated, the true richness of life is revealed to us only when the scientific and business perspective is complemented by the artistic and mystical orientation.

We must therefore create public forums that invite artists, writers, dancers, musicians, actors, mystics and poets to contribute their perspectives in solving global problems. Despite having deep insights into the existential challenges of our times, they are ignored in public policy formulation.

Building a new world that works for everyone must be an inclusive endeavor, and is far too important a job to be left disproportionately to the high priests of economics, business and engineering, whose perspectives lack the requisite variety urgently needed.

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