Shaping a New Society: Conversations on Economics, Education, and Peace is a dialogue between the economist Lawrence J. Lau and Buddhist thinker Daisaku Ikeda. As individuals of Chinese and Japanese descent, respectively, who witnessed East Asia emerge out of World War II and undergo rapid development from the latter half of the twentieth century into the twenty-first, they are uniquely positioned to provide insights into future prospects for the region, not only in terms of economics but also in education and peace and security. And this is precisely what they proceed to do in the eight conversations that comprise this book.
It is indisputable that economics plays a vital role in our lives, both on the individual and societal levels. And yet, many find the topic complex and difficult to grapple with. This dialogue approaches the topic of the development of economics in modern society from a historical perspective, looking at what lessons can be learned from the East Asian currency crisis in 1997 and the global financial crisis during 2007–09. Using China, Japan and Hong Kong (where Lau was raised and currently resides) as case studies, it helps readers who may not be experts in the discipline understand the challenges increased globalization has placed on economies, the importance of government regulation in markets, and the delicate craft of governance—balancing a country’s long- and short-term economic growth with enabling its population to experience improved well-being.
“The challenge of politics,” Ikeda puts forth, “lies in balancing economic growth with enhancing the quality of people’s lives and ensuring that this effort is stable and sustainable. [Second Soka Gakkai President Josei] Toda often told us that individual happiness should never be sacrificed at the altar of social prosperity, rather the two must advance hand in hand. I believe there is growing urgency for economic activity to not only focus on efficiency but also the greater public good.”
Concerning problems the global economy faces at present, Lau offers: “To overcome the current crisis, the developed economies must focus on restarting the real economy on a path of sustainable growth and not on inventing additional financial wizardry. One must not lose sight of the fact that the role of the financial sector is to support the other sectors of the economy, and that, ultimately, the financial sector must be based squarely on the performance of the real economy itself.”
In terms of the likelihood for regional integration in East Asia, Ikeda remains hopeful: “We must not fail in shaping East Asia into a region that forever renounces war. To achieve this objective, I am certain that such progressive moves as regional integration are well within the realm of possibility.”
Drawing from their personal histories, the authors also discuss their commitment and dedication to education, sharing ideas and concerns on how to improve higher education in Japan and Hong Kong in particular, including the role of language instruction and exposure to good literature and teachers. Having been involved in education both as a member of faculty and as an administrator, Lau comments: “In my view, the university administration’s proper role is, first and foremost, to maintain complete political neutrality, so as not to discourage the free expression of any opinion by anyone on campus. And second, to make sure that all voices, whether ‘politically correct’ or not, can be heard, and that no one group, no matter how large or loud it may be, is allowed to prevent others from expressing opinions different from its own.”
Other core themes explored include China-Japan relations, future prospects for economic, political and environmental cooperation in East Asia, how to bring about a Northeast Asian nuclear-free zone, and which countries will assume an important position in the world in the foreseeable future.
“These conversations between two distinguished educators offer a host of interesting insights. Topics range widely, including prospects for Japan, China, and Hong Kong and reflections on the global economy and how it can more fully succeed for the world’s populations. What shines through most vividly is a commitment to the value of humane education and an eagerness to explore what this entails amid the many challenges of the contemporary world.”
—Peter Stearns, Provost Emeritus and University Professor, George Mason University