Friday, December 4, 2009

An Economic Rumination: The Curse of the Ground and the Division of Labor

To grow rich is glorious.
--Deng Xiaoping Chinese Communist Party Leader
The Book of Genesis teaches that the fall of man was accompanied by a series of curses:
Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.”
--Genesis 3:9-19
Though man was already a limited being before the fall, these curses acted to further limit him. Of particular interest is the curse of the ground. No longer were mankind's material provisions to be freely available as they had been in Paradise. Man would have to expend a great deal of toil and effort to make the ground productive, and it would rebel against his efforts. Even with extreme effort, man could expect to eke out a marginal living at best, and this would consume a great deal of his already limited time and energies available here on earth. In addition, the forces of erosion and decay were unleashed. With the fall man lost physical immortality and began to experience aging and death. He would forever have to fight back the thorns and weeds or else they would overgrow and choke his fields and destroy his efforts. These are yet more forces of limitation, for now energies and effort must be expended to simply maintain what man has already brought to fruition. What anybody with an economic inkling in him should see is that the fall introduces several new elements of scarcity into the picture of man and his relationships with his fellow man, God, and the physical universe. It is particularly noteworthy that these elements of scarcity are introduced in connection with the emergence of sin and rebellion against the commandments of God. Most of us have a difficult time comprehending what it would be like to sustain a household in a middle-eastern desert with first-millennial technology. That is because we no longer live in this kind of world. Many new technologies are available to us, and we work as much more specialized individuals as part of a vast and complex economic structure called the division of labor, which I discussed a few weeks ago. To quote the relevant information:
In almost every way, humans are limited beings. Their limitations are numerous: intelligence, physical capacities, and time on earth to accomplish their goals, just to name a handful. To produce wealth in greater abundance requires greater capital and other economic gobbledygook, of course, but thanks to human limitation it also requires specialization. Few people can become a jack-of-all trades, and nobody can become a master of them all. We must excel to increase our productivity, and we must specialize in order to excel. In doing so, however, we become dependent on others to meet our varied needs as a direct result of specializing on one or a few modes of production. On top of capital formation, and far more fundamental to the central problem of economics, increased wealth generation requires the ability of individuals to come together to form productive associations with one another. This is the division of labor, and its extension and ever increasing complexity is the true central problem of wealth generation. Viewed in this light, certain demands of individual behavior far external to the mechanical world of the accountant and the engineer are brought to bear on aspirations of wealth that are no less laws of the universe than the laws of physics. Complex systems with a great number of individual actors come with a number of requirements if they are to function properly: coordination of behavior, communication, and most importantly, the expectation and practical realization of fair play. Complex economic systems capable of generating substantial wealth require that economic actors abstain from self-serving activities that inflict harm on others and erode the incentives to interact and cooperate in a productive manner.
In many ways we have partially overcome the curse of the ground through the modern division of labor, which has been made possible through the embrace of Biblical ethics and the broader Western ethos. For the price of a forty-hour work week, we now have available to us a standard of living comparable to the kings of antiquity. Come to think of it, several of the other curses have been partially overcome as well. I, for one, would much rather give birth today than in the first century, supposing I had to do such a thing. It seems that this curse of God may have been more than just a punishment. It acts to limit the progress of those who rebel against Him, and the partial restoration of Paradise is a reward to those who choose to respond properly to both His curse and His teachings. The faithful society expands and progresses while the society in rebellion withers and contracts. The modern division of labor is more than just a modern convenience. It is more than a miracle. It is a moral triumph, possibly the greatest in the history of mankind. To grow rich is glorious, not primarily to those who accumulate the wealth, but to God. It is a testament to the miracle that He has worked in His fallen little creations in spite of every dark influence of the Prince of This World. Its unraveling will be a tragedy.

1 comment:

  1. More on how to become Immortal... can physical immortality be gained in human form... how dominating kundalini shakti and practicing celibacy human beings finally reached stage of enlightenment (kaivalya jnana)... became immortal... gained omniscience for all practical purposes!

    Who becomes immortal? One who after intense meditation is able to live longer compared to a normal human being or one, who does not have to manifest a body again and again and rests in peace in kingdom of god (termed Baikuntha in Hinduism)... not kingdom of heaven! Negating karma forever is reaching stage of immortality in human form!