I must confess that I do not draw a sharp or any distinction between economics and ethics. Economics that hurt the moral well-being of an individual or a nation are immoral and, therefore, sinful. Thus the economics that permit one country to prey upon another are immoral. It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labour. (YI, 13-10-1921, p. 325)
The economics that disregard moral and sentimental considerations are like wax works that, being life-like, still lack the life of the living flesh. At every crucial moment thus new-fangled economic laws have broken down in practice. And nations or individuals who accept them as guiding maxims must perish. (YI, 27-10-1921, p. 344)
That economics is untrue which ignores or disregards moral values. The extension of the law of non-violence in the domain of economics means nothing less than the introduction of moral values as a factor to be considered in regulating international commerce. (YI, 26-10-1924, p.421)
According to me the economic constitution of India and, for the matter of that, the world should be such that no one under should suffer from want of food and clothing. In other words, everybody should be able to get sufficient work to enable him to make the two ends meet.
And this ideal can universally realized only if the means of production of the elementary necessaries of life remain in the control of the masses. These should be freely available to all as Gods air and water are or ought to be; they should not be made vehicle of traffic for the exploitation of others. This monopolization by any country, nation or group of persons would be unjust. The neglect of this simple principle is the cause of destitution that we witness today not only in this unhappy land but other parts of the world too. (YI, 15-11-1928, p. 381)
True economics never militates against the highest ethical standard, just as all true ethics to be worth its name must at the same time be also good economics. An economics that inculcates Mammon worship, and enables the strong to amass wealth at the expense of the weak, is a false and dismal science. It spells death. True economics, on the other hand, stands for social justice, it promotes the good of all equally including the weakest, and is indispensable for decent life. (H, 9-10-1937, p. 292)
If we will but cleanse our houses, our palaces and temples of the attributes of wealth and show in them the attributes of morality, we can offer battle to any combinations of hostile forces without having to carry the burden of a heavy militia. Let us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and the irrevocable promise is that everything will be added unto us. These are real economics. May you and I treasure them and enforce them in our life! (SW, p. 355)
Strictly speaking, no activity and no industry is possible without a certain amount of violence, no matter how little. Even the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence. What we have to do is to minimize it to the greatest extent possible. Indeed the very word non-violence, a negative word, means that it is an effort to abandon the violence that is inevitable in life. Therefore, whoever believes in ahimsa will engage himself in occupations that involve the least possible violence.
Thus, for instance, one cannot conceive of a man believing in non-violence carrying on the occupation of a butcher. Not that a meat-eater cannot be non-violent but even a meat-eater believing in non-violence will not go in for shikar, and he will not engage in war or war preparations. Thus there are many activities and occupations which necessarily involve violence and must be eschewed by a non-violent man.
But there is agriculture without which life is impossible, and which does involve a certain amount of violence. The determining factor therefore is—is the occupation founded on violence? But since all activity involves some measure of violence, all we have to do is to minimize the violence involved in it. This is not possible without a heart-belief in non-violence.
Suppose there is a man who does no actual violence, who labours for his bread, but who is always consumed with envy at other peoples wealth or prosperity. He is not non-violent. A non-violent occupation is thus that occupation, which is fundamentally free from violence and which, involves no exploitation or envy of others.
Now I have no historical proof, but I believe that there was a time in India when village economics were organized on the basis of such non-violent occupations, not on the basis of rights of man but on the duties of man. Those who engaged themselves in such occupations did earn their living, but their labour contributed to the good of the community .
Body labour was at the core of these occupations and industries, and there was no large-scale machinery. For when a man is content to own only so much land as he can till with his own labour, he cannot exploit others. Handicrafts exclude exploitation and slavery.
Large-scale machinery concentrates wealth in the hands of one man who lords it over the rest who slave for him. For he may be trying to create ideal conditions for his workmen, but it is none the less exploitation which is a form of violence.
When I say that there was a time when society was based not on exploitation but on justice, I mean to suggest that truth and ahimsa were not virtues confined to individuals but were practiced by communities. To me virtue cease to have any value if it is cloistered or possible only for individuals. (H, 1-9-1940, pp. 271-2)