E. Ethelbert Miller asks: "What can a Buddhist teach a politician about poverty? How do we define wealth? Are our problems rooted in money or simply the "idea" of having and needing money?"
In the Cakkavatti-Sīhanāda Sutra (The Lion's Roar on the Turning of the Wheel) we are told the story of how a society failed. A king "did not give property to the needy, and as a result poverty became rife. With the spread of poverty, a man took what was not given, thus committing what was called theft." As more and more people engaged in theft "the use of weapons increased, from the use of weapons, the taking of life increased...lying increased...the speaking evil of others increased" along with sexual misconduct, harsh speech and idle chatter, covetousness and hatred, false opinions, incest, excessive greed and deviant practices, lack of respect for mother and father, for ascetics and Brahmins and the head of the clan.
Commenting on this sutra, H. Saddhatissa says in Buddhist Ethics that, "If rulers do not prevent the spread of poverty in their domains they not only induce disorder therein but create disrespect for all recognized forms of authority, so contributing to the deterioration of the human race." Put another way, this very old story states that widespread poverty causes the collapse of all the gossamer-thin structures of civilized life, and plunges men and women into a degenerate state of living like "goats, sheep and such animals."