Public Discourse: The BIG Problem with Technological Unemployment

Today at Public Discourse, I question the ability of proposals for a basic income guarantee (BIG) to solve the potential problem of massive unemployment due to automation in the future. I am skeptical on economic and spiritual grounds, but also hopeful that the future won’t be as gloomy as some predict.

On the economic problem, I write,

When income is procured through the threat system of taxation and redistribution, no wealth is created. Thus, when people who have contributed no wealth to an economy are given a grant from those who have, the money they spend is only the fruits of production being returned to the producers. The unproductive consumers are merely a conduit for funneling what was taken back to those who produced it in the first place. It is like trying to increase your bank account by writing yourself a check. And unless the receivers are required to spend 100 percent of the BIG, the result will not even be zero-sum. It will be negative-sum.

On the spiritual problem:

Labor puts us in a unique relation to our neighbors and the material world. It pulls us outside ourselves and situates us in society and the world around us. “Work,” wrote the Reformed theologian Lester DeKoster, “is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.” Without work, we are left with a nagging sense of uselessness. According to Genesis, human beings were even made to work in Paradise—it is fundamental to who and what we are. As Arthur Brooks has pointed out, earned success is a key factor of happiness.

On why we can be hopeful for the future:

As time goes on, we will find that certain jobs are more resistant to automation than others. In something of a reversal of trends from the last decade or so, creative applications of the liberal arts may even increase demand for people with those skills. Furthermore, automation will create markets to serve its own needs. We will probably have a greater demand for mechanics and programmers, for example. No doubt, with our aging Baby Boomer population, we will see increased demand for elder care in the next twenty-five years as well. And who knows what markets may be created by future technology that few have yet imagined? Even if 47 percent of current jobs will be automated, new labor markets may be created to replace them.

Read the whole essay here.

Everyday Asceticism: Get Born

Today at Everyday Asceticism, I reflect on birth as an image of the spiritual life:

For the child in utero, the womb is her world. She catches glimpses of muted light from the world beyond, hears muffled voices, feels softened touches of her mother and father and brother. But she knows very little about that world. Not only is this due to her circumstances, it is also due to her limited cognitive capacity at such an early stage in human development.

To be born means leaving the only world she has ever known and entering one that is utterly alien. It is alien not only with regard to the external environment, but also due to her own heightened senses. Unimaginably more of life is revealed, while at the same time one has a sense of how very little one knows.

Read the whole post here.

St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly: A Theology of Asceticism

This week I received two copies of the most recent issue of the St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 60, no. 4 (2016), which contains an article by me offering a theological and philosophical analysis of Christian asceticism. In particular, my concern in this paper is asceticism and personal identity. A full philosophy or theology of asceticism should account for its social and communal dynamics as well (inter alia), which I have explored in other academic work.

Excerpt:

This paper examines the compatibility between ancient and modern, East and West, through a philosophical and theological analysis of asceticism. Drawing upon Hegel’s dialectic of self-consciousness, I bring together Vladimir Solovyov’s account of the ascetic principle in morality and Pavel Florensky’s dynamic, non-essentialist understanding of personhood to argue that the logic of asceticism follows a dialectic of awareness — denial — transformation or, in Christian theological terms, life — death — resurrection. This modern perspective is then compared to and supplemented by Patristic accounts of the nature and goal of asceticism that generally rest upon Stoic axiology, (broadly) Neoplatonic metaphysics, and the specifically Christian themes of self-denial and divine grace. This synthesis of modern philosophical and ancient Christian understandings of asceticism is offered as an example of how, in this instance, such narratives of incompatibility are both unfounded and unhelpful. In addition, this dialectic of asceticism is offered as a paradigm for further study of asceticism in both theology and philosophy.

Be sure to pick up a copy of the new issue and check out my article here.

Powerblog: Rogue One and Religious Diversity

Today at the Acton PowerBlog, I look at the unique depiction of the Force in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’:

We already know of two traditions of Force religion: the Jedi and the Sith. But shouldn’t we expect that an inter-galactic religion should have many divergent traditions? Global religions on Earth certainly do. And those differences matter. Think of how sociologist Max Weber argued that the “Protestant ethic” shaped the “spirit of capitalism.” Even those who have disagreed with Weber do not generally dispute that religious sub-traditions have important impacts on societies and economies — how much more so on galaxies?

While I don’t have high hopes for complex inter-religious relations in future Star Wars movies, I take Rogue One’s contradictory monistic depiction (as opposed to the light/dark dualism of the other films) to be a positive move toward a better portrayal of religious diversity in Star Wars beyond the antagonism between the Sith and the Jedi.

Read the whole post here.

Mere Orthodoxy: Rejoicing and Weeping After Election 2016

Today at Mere Orthodoxy, I offer my take on a Christian response to the complex and still hotly discussed results of our 2016 presidential election:

Writing to early Christians in Rome, St. Paul the Apostle offered a succinct summary of the Christian ethic in the twelfth chapter of his epistle. It is worth reading the whole thing with the events of the last week in mind, but here I’ll just look at one verse: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Many are weeping and rejoicing after last Tuesday. A Christian who weeps ought to know how to rejoice with those who rejoice. One who rejoices ought to know how to weep with those who weep.

I realize that this is hard to do. Rejoicing with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those we agree with is easy. Weeping with those who mourn the very thing that we celebrate – that’s hard. Rejoicing with those who celebrate the very thing that we mourn – that’s hard. But that is “the way which leads to life.”

This way is especially difficult, given the self-aggrandizement and demonization of others that have so often characterized this election cycle. Do you think everyone who voted for President-elect Donald Trump is racist, xenophobic, misogynist, Islamophobic, and homophobic? If so, I doubt you are rejoicing with those who rejoice right now. Do you think everyone who voted for Sec. Hillary Clinton is a pretentious, radically pro-choice, uber-progressive, out-of-touch, sore loser? Then you probably aren’t weeping with those who weep today.

Something to keep in mind when sitting across from eccentric uncle Earl this Thanksgiving.

Read the whole post here.

Everyday Asceticism: My Son’s Questions about “Our Father”

Last night at Everyday Asceticism, I reflected on my son’s questions about the “Our Father” or “Lord’s Prayer.”

Brendan, who is four years old, has been able to recite the prayer from memory for over a year. I have prayed it with him nearly every night since he was born. So now that he’s bigger he’s the one who says it. As a reward, he gets a smiley face on his chore chart.

After a few months of having him pray, he started asking questions. “What’s evil?” was the first one. “What’s heaven?” was the second. He has also asked what “our daily bread,” “our trespasses,” and “temptation” are. These are great questions!

I’ve tried my best to answer him in ways he could understand.

“What’s evil?”

“Evil is when good things go bad.”

“What’s heaven?”

“Heaven is where everything is good and right and true.”

“What’s our daily bread?”

“That’s everything we need every day.”

“What’s trespasses?”

“Trespasses are when we do things that we shouldn’t do.”

“What’s temptation?”

“Temptation is when we feel like we want to do something we shouldn’t. It can also just mean when life gets hard.”

Read the whole post here.

Powerblog: Mars needs religion!

Today at the Acton Powerblog, I take some inspiration from James Poulos to reflect on the need for a sense of other-worldliness right here on Earth:

C.S. Lewis once remarked, “No man would find an abiding strangeness on the Moon unless he were the sort of man who could find it in his own back garden.”

This, to me, is the problem. On the one hand, the isolation of interplanetary travel and pioneer life on an alien planet has a certain poverty to it that I would expect to evoke the most basic religious desires.

On the other hand — as Poulos rightly argued — if the people who go aren’t religious in the first place, I’m not so sure that even Mars will change that. But if so, then we must see how, even now, life on Earth still “invites us to contemplate … our deepest spiritual needs,” too.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: The Fruit of Toil

A recent comic at XKCD inspired me to reflect more on the toilsome aspect of work at the Acton PowerBlog today. Excerpt:

[E]verything we interact with is the fruit of the labor of others. It connects us to them and ought to inspire a deep gratitude for that fellowship.

But then there’s Sisyphus.

Sisyphus, for those who don’t know, forever pushes a boulder up a hill in Hades, only to have it roll back down on him, according to Greek mythology. He has thus historically served as a symbol of the toilsome aspect of life. I examine a variety of ways he’s been portrayed and what a Christian perspective on toil means for the interconnectedness of our economic lives in the full post here.

Public Discourse: No, Early Christians Did Not Think Wealth is Intrinsically Evil

Today at Public Discourse, I respond to a recent Commonweal article by Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart, in which he claims the New Testament and other early Christians believed wealth was intrinsically evil, that property is theft, and that Christ’s command to the rich young man to sell everything and possess nothing was meant to be applied to universally to all Christians.

I disagree. There is a lot more I could have said, but here is an excerpt:

As for what the desert fathers themselves taught, we may note the teaching of Abba Theodore, recorded in the Conferences of St. John Cassian: “Altogether there are three kinds of things in the world; viz., good, bad, and indifferent.” He identifies virtue as the only true good and sin as the only true evil. “But those things are indifferent,” he says, “which can be appropriated to either side according to the fancy or wish of their owner, as for instance riches…”

According to Hart, “it was … the Desert Fathers, who took the Gospel at its word.” Will he take Abba Theodore and St. John Cassian at their word? Or did they not understand the New Testament or ancient Christianity either?

Read the whole article here.

Everyday Asceticism: Some Pauline Beatitudes

In honor of St. Thecla, whose memory we commemorate today, I took the morning to reflect on some interesting beatitudes from the ancient Christian text of the Acts of Paul and Thecla. Excerpt:

[T]hink of all the things that stress people out. I remember being single and I know that singleness comes with a lot of stress of its own; please don’t mistake my meaning. But still, now I worry about keeping my job, paying my bills, maintaining my house, being a good husband, being a good father, and so on. These things are all wonderful and ascetic in their own ways (rightly done), but they are not the same as praying all day or helping the needy.

The chaste, by contrast, are empowered to devote far more time to these things that ought to hold a central place in life of all Christians. It is a life where one does not need to put oneself through the great ascetic exploit of going camping to notice the voice of God in the flowers or a stream or the clouds. Perhaps the statement “for unto them God shall speak” means audible words, but we need not read it that way. God is always speaking, but we are not always listening.

Read the whole post here.