Economics and the zero-sum game

Sep 28 2012 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

"A man went into a park. All the cement benches were occupied. He was tired and wanted a little rest. None of the occupants of the benches seemed inclined to vacate them. He thought of the best plan. He moved towards the corner of the park and started looking up, pretending to be wonder-struck at the sight. Thus he created eagerness in the four people, occupying the nearest bench, to see what astonished him.

"Drawn by the curiosity, they left the bench and came near him. As soon as they were near him, he turned around and went straight to the bench and stretched himself on it comfortably. Before they could find out what it was that he saw, he had settled down to a nice sleep. The four fools argued for a long time as to what he saw, but could not come to the correct conclusion." [The Parable Of The Cunning Man And Four Fools - Swami Sivananda]

It's the economy, stupid!

The reason, many believe, that Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992 is because he focused on the economy. "It's the economy, stupid!" became the mantra his campaign and a focus that kept his campaign grounded and on message.

Today, in many quarters, the parable of the cunning man and the four fools is operating overtime. Barely a day goes by without some economist or politician popping up to claim that they have discovered the "solution" to our economic crisis and basking (often profitably) in their temporary notoriety. Meanwhile, commentators engage in endless, mind-numbing dialogues about the merits or otherwise of these theories.

The rest of us? Well, we're not doing so well.

It is the economy – and let's not be stupid!

"Economy is not a plan for construction, but it is a plan for destruction. It is economics which have brought us to destruction. It is the heart quality, it is the spiritual outlook which will change the world'." [Sufi expression]

Essentially, economics is a system enabling us to share goods and services to meet our needs. On a practical and spiritual level, when we can't meet our basic needs, we cannot experience fully who we are. When we're preoccupied with survival, we lose our ability to create, to grow and to serve others. Poverty depletes and diminishes our humanity.

On a practical and spiritual plane, economics is about taking care of our communities - the "household" of the world. Unfortunately, in current times, economics has become more about fulfilling individual desires and wants to the detriment of - and at the expense of - the community. It has become a purely selfish, ego-driven drive for personal gain, a highly distorted and unhealthy type of economics - except for those, of course, who are reaping the benefits.

There's a huge difference between the economics of needs fulfillment and the economics of pleasure. The economics of pleasure focuses solely on the individual and creates a society of separation, a society of me vs you.

The economics of pleasure brings with it the idea of controlling, dominating, manipulating, using and abusing others for personal gain and privilege – something that is clearly evident today.

In essence, economics has replaced soul as the governing force of the world. Focused solely on "me", on the ego, economics has become a zero-sum game, where one is selfishly obsessed with gaining an ever larger piece of the pie at the expense of others – a dangerous game that creates deprivation and suffering for greater and greater numbers of people.

Interconnectivity and economics

"The entire cosmos is a cooperative…when we realize the world is a mutual, interdependent cooperative enterprise…then we can build a noble environment. If our lives are not based on this truth, then we shall perish." – Bhikkhu (Thai monk)


  • Do you believe life is a zero-sum game? How did you come to have this belief?
  • Do you consciously reflect on your thoughts, words, feelings, and actions around money?
  • Are your thoughts and actions around money consistent with your core values?
  • What beliefs did your parents have about money? Are you carrying the same beliefs. Are they serving you?
  • Do you experience a general feeling of malaise or resentment much of the time?
  • How do you think we can introduce soul into our economic world? Do you think we should?
  • How can you contribute to (re) introducing soul into your personal economy and relationships – at work, at home and at play?

When consciousness starts to drives the economy, perhaps we'll begin to realize that we DO have a responsibility to care for one another through the way we conduct our business, our economics and all aspects of our social relationships. But until this truth hits home, economics as we witness it today will continue to result in physical, emotional and spiritual starvation. The ego-driven nature of insatiable greed will continue to lead to a vast moral and psychological emptiness that no amount of money or materialism will be able to fill.

Excising soul from our individual bodies and from the larger global body will only result in a deeper malaise and eventual incurable sickness (on many levels).

When, as a community, we can say, "It's the economy, stupid - a soul-based economy!", when we grasp the spiritually- or soul-based concept of an economy that fulfills peoples' needs and empowers others, then and only then will we have an economic system that contributes to the well-being of all of society and to the sustainability of the world.

"No one can tell whether they are rich or poor by turning to their ledger. It is the heart that makes a person rich. One is rich according to what one is, not according to what one has." [Henry Ward Beecher]

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.