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.

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.

Everyday Asceticism: Racism and Asceticism

Today is the feast day of St. Moses the Black. In his honor, I wrote a post about one of the many stories about him from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers where it records his response to a few other “old men” (monks) who sneered at him with racist insults to test his character. Excerpt:

Abba Moses is named, these monks are not. Abba Moses is held up as an example, these monks are not. Abba Moses is depicted in icons, these monks are not. Abba Moses is venerated today, these monks are not venerated on any day, so far as we know. We sing hymns praising Abba Moses, but these monks have been forgotten. We ask for his prayers, but these monks may yet need ours.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Pokémon GO and the Success of Failure

Last week at Acton, I examined the economic (and spiritual) insights of Pokemon GO:

What Nintendo does is a microcosm of what successful markets in general do: They fail all the time. And they are able to fail all the time because they have sufficiently diversified their product offering without overextending themselves. So if one product, despite huge investments of time and money, fails, Nintendo still has two or three other big ideas just waiting to explode. And all they need is for one to catch on to completely make up for the losses inherent to the innovative process.

Read the whole post here.

PowerBlog: Spiritual and Economic Lessons from the N64

Today at Acton, I tease out some economic and — by way of analogy — spiritual lessons from the success of the Japanese company Nintendo, in honor of the Nintendo 64 gaming system’s 20th birthday:

Nintendo is an example of capitalism at its best. And its success (and failures) ought to remind us of what the spiritual life requires of us. Praying a prayer every now and then or reading one’s Bible from time to time may be enough. But a plurality (to the point of redundancy) of spiritual practices makes a person far better prepared for the unpredictable challenges of real life.

By contrast, cronyistic and protectionist measures seek to preserve a company’s or market’s current state, rather than being open to development. It may work for a while, but eventually creative destruction will displace a company or industry ill-equipped to adapt. Similarly, an over-confident spirituality sets one up to fall into unexpected temptation or to be unable to bear unexpected tragedy.

Read the whole post here.

Everyday Asceticism: On Impure Prayer

Today at Everyday Asceticism, I examine the virtues of impure prayer:

I do not know how to explain even the lightly mystical experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit in prayer. Some days I kick myself at night, wondering (often, upon reflection, unfoundedly) whether my evening prayer is the first time I’ve prayed all day since my morning prayer. Whether justly or not, thoughts and ideas can circle about, planting doubts as to my piety and tainting the purity of my mind and heart. But yet, I pray anyway, and he’s there. He’s always there.

Read the rest here.

PowerBlog: How to Have a Great and Holy Council

Today at Acton, I have a post that combines Church politics, spirituality, economics, history, and theology (oh my!). Excerpt:

Put in spiritual terms, we know that the path to sainthood is not instant perfection but a long and dedicated repentance. Like a healthy market economy, “Successes in life often come at the end of a long road of many failures.” So too with sainthood. If that is what it takes for individuals to be holy, why should Church councils be any different?

Read the whole post here.