εἴ τις οὐ θ έλει ἐργάζεσθαι μηδὲ ἐσθι έτω
eí tis ou thélei ergázesthai mēdè esthiétō
(He who does not work, neither shall he eat.)
– Attributed to St. Paul
BARCELONA – Errata: This will come as a shock to many Dear Readers, but occasionally, we make errors here at the Diary.
Most of them don’t make much difference… but let’s correct one of them.
Obviously, our date for the end of the Peloponnesian War that we mentioned last week was just a dumb mistake. It was 404 BC, not 404 AD.
But let’s put our past errors behind us… and move on to new ones!
Money Without Strings
Last Thursday came news that Finland has given up.
The idea – which was “experimental” – was to give people money without conditions attached. If you were jobless, for whatever reason, the program entitled you to $685 a month.
Not much. But it came with no strings attached. Free money, in other words.
No need to look for a job. No need to be retrained. No need to do anything.
“He who does not work, neither shall he eat,” wrote Paul to the Thessalonians.
It was an old idea, another of the precious insights, condensed and hardened – like diamonds – by time and experience. It takes work to produce food. A society that doesn’t work will soon go hungry.
But since it now takes fewer and fewer people to produce the food we eat, many people have come to the conclusion that this gem of wisdom has been rendered obsolete by technology. Maybe we don’t all have to work, after all.
So it was that Finland provided a “basic income” to those in need. Similar experiments are underway in San Francisco, Toronto, Kenya, and the Netherlands.
And now, after only a few months, Finland has given its judgment; it has dropped the program.
The New York Times, however, was quick to explain that this was not a verdict against a “basic income:”
In much of the world, the concept of basic income retains appeal as a potential way to more justly spread the bounty of global capitalism while cushioning workers against the threat of robots and artificial intelligence taking their jobs…
The Finns’ decision, said The New York Times, was merely a recognition that the country already has plenty of programs for poor people.
Healthcare is free. University education is free. Unemployed people get benefits (though they have to look for a job in order to receive them). Another program seemed redundant.
We began last week by describing how tradition – often expressed in aphorisms, adages, and proverbs – distills the lessons of centuries. The idea took shape as we visited the Sagrada Família cathedral here in Barcelona.
The building rejects traditional architecture in favor of bold new shapes and imaginative designs.
The Sagrada Família is breathtaking… and exhilarating, like meeting an attractive lunatic. But our guess is that it is an evolutionary dead end.
Language, art, architecture, manners, economics, and morals – all evolved with human beings themselves. Those innovations that helped us survive and prosper endured. Those that did not were discarded.
Why do men and women still marry each other? No law requires it. Nobody invented it. There is no proof that it is better than any other domestic arrangement. And many people who have tried it complain about it.
But most people give it a shot anyway, often more than once.
Of course, many people think they can dispense with the formality of it.
“We’re not married,” said a young friend recently. “We just live together. It’s got to work for us both. And when it doesn’t work, well, we don’t want to be stuck with one another.”
“Well,” we replied, speaking from much experience, “it doesn’t work every day!”
People often chafe against the rules and restraints of tradition. Why should they be bound by old wives’ tales and silly old conventions, they wonder?
Aren’t they smart enough to figure things out for themselves, they ask?
In a word: No.
Turn your back on tradition and you court disaster. At least, that is the idea on the table. And yesterday, we looked at how rejecting the old wisdom – live by the sword, die by the sword – is a dangerous way to conduct foreign policy.
“Put your sword back in its place,” said Jesus.
Instead, the U.S. is swinging its big Claymore all over the Middle East and Africa. Our guess is that this will pay off – but only for people who make swords! Everyone else will lose.
People don’t get what they want. They don’t get what they expect. But the gods make sure that, sooner or later, they generally get what they deserve.