Friday, June 6, 2014

Adam and Eve Visit Vienna

Occasionally it helps to suspend the prejudices of belief and unbelief to see what insights the ancient scriptures may offer on contemporary concerns.  In this instance, the topic is work.

Human work, or “toil” as it is referred to in my Bible, is first mentioned when God ejects Adam and Eve from the Garden. “Through painful toil you will eat…..By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground”.  (NIV)

Here is the story up until that moment.  Adam and Eve are new to the world.  They are essentially children in adult bodies.  Today we call them adolescents.  Like most adolescents, they have no clue.  They live in a home that their Father provided, eat his food, swim in his ponds and play with his animals.

Upon eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge, they were rudely thrust into adulthood and sent out into the harsh world to work at jobs for which they were ill prepared.  

Thus it is embedded in our deepest traditions to regard work as a curse. 

Austrian economists call this the “disutility of labor”.  Put quite simply, “Men prefer the absence of labor, i.e., leisure, to labor, or as the economists put it: they attach disutility to labor…….They are eager to stop working at the point at which the mediate gratification expected no longer outweighs the disutility involved in the performance of additional work.” (Mises: Human Action).

Returning to Scripture for a moment, the actual word “work” first appears at the beginning of Genesis 2 when God, rested from all the work he had done in creation.  In this sense, work is a blessing and not a curse.  Work need not always be tedious toil.  Rather, it can be rewarding participation in the continuing process of creation.

When God expelled the first couple from Paradise, he did not leave them helpless. They still had their arms, legs, hands and feet.  They still had “dominion” over the things of nature.  Most importantly, they retained their brains, their ability to reason.  The Creator never said that his children should remain poor and miserable.  Mankind could mix his hard work and reason with the abundant resources of this world to lift himself out of destitution and to create prosperity, peace and abundance.  This is the essence of “production”.

Murray Rothbard observes that, “Power over nature is the sort of power on which civilization must be built; the record of man's history is the record of the advance or attempted advance of that power.”
Mankind’s ability to sublimate nature to his own ends stems from his power to think and reason.  Ayn Rand states that “The action required to sustain human life is primarily intellectual: everything man needs has to be discovered by his mind and produced by his effort. Production is the application of reason to the problem of survival.”

A great many of our world’s problems, however; stem from the fact that so few people link work with production.  Those who see labor as purely a curse will often demand compensation for their toil that exceeds their production.  They think that their pay is merely compensation for suffering drudgery, not a reflection of value created for others.  This lies at the heart of the minimum wage fallacy.

And though God may have given mankind dominion over nature, he never gave one man or women dominion over another.  All God’s children are free and equal in his eyes as our Declaration of Independence asserts.  Yet there are those who prefer a shortcut to abundance by attaining power over others as opposed to power over nature.

Rothbard explains: “Power over men, on the other hand, does not raise the general standard of living or promote the satisfactions of all, as does power over nature. By its very essence, only some men in society can wield power over men. Where power over man exists, some must be the powerful, and others must be objects of power….. Power of one man over another cannot contribute to the advance of mankind; it can only bring about a society in which plunder has replaced production”.

This is the mode of the corporatist welfare / warfare state that expropriates lawful productivity for the benefit of elites and their clientele.  This is a model for a society that is unstable and unsustainable

The legal plunder of the all powerful state threatens to tear down the American Dream that was built upon respect for individual liberty and property rights.  It portends a return to the harsh days of humanity’s first parents who were sentenced to a life of hardship on account of their hubris.


In the following graphic, Professor Rothbard neatly sums up the differences between the ways of peace, liberty and productivity (The Market Principle) versus the ways of violence and legalized plunder (The Hegemonic Principle).

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