The robots are coming to increase the ranks of the unemployed
Much is being discussed in the wider media today about the increasing presence of robots. These, we are told, will soon take over most of our jobs so that we will have a lot more leisure time. People like Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Gareth Morgan and his new political party (TOP) are all promoting the idea of a universal wage as a response to the massive unemployment likely to ensue.
The theory of a universal wage is that if everyone of a working age in society is given enough to live on without needing to work, the non-workers will not have their dignity undermined, as everyone, even those in work, will receive this universal wage. The other benefit, according to Branson, will be the increasing number of entrepreneurs who won’t be held back by the need to work to make ends meet, and so will be able to devote their time to creating new businesses. Others think that the unemployed will find fulfilment in being volunteers in society.
Such proposed ‘solutions’ to the problem of robot induced unemployment will prove to be inadequate and even dangerous. Utopia will not be the result.
1. The Secularist misunderstands the nature of reality
Politicians, businessmen and social scientists lack the necessary tools and ability to prevent the breakdown of society and economic collapse.
The social cost of such extreme unemployment will be massive, and humanist ‘solutions’ will fail for one very important reason. Secularists and atheists do not understand the nature of man and the nature of reality. They live in a little bubble of their own design and are incapable of resolving or preventing the serious issues that will face us. They ignore what God says about His own creation, and especially man, the apogee of His creative efforts.
The Bible teaches that we live in a reality created and governed by God. He has not only created all things ex nihilo, but governs the activities of this world by His sovereign power, a government we call providence. Instead of the world functioning according to fixed laws, economic principles and environmental factors, God controls it. This means that He governs through the physical laws He has created, but He can also bypass them or overrule them. Thus when secularists ignore God and His power, they are only seeing a small amount of reality. Or more accurately, the ‘reality’ they perceive is not real at all.
God also intrudes His judgements into the world. The Bible demonstrates that truth in many places. Not only does God govern the lives of individuals, but He also governs the nations and punishes them and rewards them according to their faithfulness to Him. So if this, rather than the ideas of secularism, represents reality and the rulers and powerbrokers of the world do not recognise and acknowledge God and His providence, then patently they are only reasoning with very limited ideas, many of which are not facts, but are speculations based on atheistic presuppositions about the nature of reality. The secularist, in other words, is driving blind, even if it is in an autonomous car.
2. The secularists misunderstand sinful man’s nature
Will the unemployed be happy with a universal wage, which will be little more than a basic pension? Will they find fulfilment in working as volunteers and embarking on new hobbies?
To suggest that they will is to misunderstand the basic nature of man. Man is sinful by nature, and unredeemed man lacks the moral restraint to forbear a violent response to suffering. This means that when many are given leisure time, and yet lack the financial resources to fill up the day with distractions, many will become frustrated to the point where that frustration will be directed to those perceived to be responsible for their lot. Crime, social unrest and ultimately revolution will characterise such societies, something already seen in microcosm in criminal gangs. When the wealthy and the rulers of a nation are plainly enjoying a quality of life unobtainable by the permanently unemployed, this will be perceived as unjust and many will be open to taking matters into their own hands. Disenfranchised citizens, without the restraint of spiritual sanctification, are not going to meekly acquiesce to such a world order where the robots of the rich have taken away the dignity, livelihood and sense of purpose of the working man.
3. The secularists misunderstand the nature of work
Work is a divine institution: ‘And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it (Gen.2:15)’ Like monogamous heterosexual marriage, work was instituted by God at creation, and so is a right we have from the Creator Himself. God, therefore, has an interest in men working, and this is evident in a number of ways.
Man was made for work as an end in itself, not merely as a means of production, another cost to a business: When God made man, He gave him a task to do.
And God’s pattern for man’s employment was summed up in the fourth Commandment: ‘Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:’ Because man was made in God’s image, his pattern of work and rest was to follow that of his Creator. God therefore gives man this reason in the same Commandment why he is to rest one day in seven: ‘For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day:’
And the Bible also recognises that true wealth comes through hard work. Money easily obtained will, for many, soon be spent: ‘An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed (Provs.20:21)’.
Therefore, a sense of worthlessness arising from an inability to provide for the family will affect all of society negatively: A man feels a responsibility to be a provider: ‘But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel’ (1 Tim.5:8). If he is unable to provide for his family a man will feel worthless, thereby increasing the tension in the household and in wider society.
Without work, the joy and fulfilment of enjoying the fruit of one’s labour will be lost: Without work, man will lose his right to the fruit of work of his hands, and hence lose a feeling of accomplishment and joy: ‘The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits (2 Tim.2:6).’ For those not spiritually equipped to handle the loss of this right and joy, will soon lapse into despair, antisocial behaviour, an increasing reliance on drink and drugs; and the contemplation and act of suicide will be more dark forces that will further undermine the fragile fabric of such a society.
4. Secularists misunderstand the nature and path to true success
Governments and employers who deprive man of the right to work will not be successful: God will punish harshly those who attack the working man and the vulnerable: ‘Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy… At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it: lest he cry against thee unto the LORD, and it be sin unto thee (Deut. 24:15-15).’ The power-brokers of the society who deny the citizens of any country meaningful work by granting incentives and tax advantages to employers to prefer robots over men, will be under God’s condemnation. James warns those who defraud the labourer: ‘Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth’.
To replace the labourer with a robot and so deny the labourer his work and therefore his pay (– a labourer who has helped create the wealth of the business, but who will now no longer be able to save for his retirement) is to defraud him. Equally, a failed government under God’s judgement will more than likely mean a failed state, with the attendant poverty and social distress and possible anarchy which will ensue.
God presupposes that successful societies will be so ordered that work is available to all: ‘For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat…Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread’ (2 Thess:10ff). Even in the ancient Roman world, it was possible to find work. Of course men are not condemned if there is no work to be found, but a society with a biblical world view will always ensure that meaningful work is available for all.
5. The secularist denies the reality of God’s righteous judgement
Instead, it is a fiction to him. He laughs at the idea that there is a God, let alone one who will punish his secular ambition. But read Psalm 2, to learn the sobering reality which will face such who reject the Lordship of Christ over creation and history.
How might God’s judgement be seen in a society where the power-brokers deliberately undermine the social fabric?
Social unrest: In England in the early nineteenth century industrial revolution, labour saving inventions were destroyed by the Luddites to gain a better bargaining position with mill owners. New machines meant that less skilled labourers could do the work of the highly skilled artisans, but the Luddites were not opposed to the new technology as such. After all, as products could be produced at far less cost, new markets opened up for the goods and even more employment was the outcome. Today’s situation is very different. It is the unskilled and often less academically able workers who will be first affected by the flood of robots replacing them in a wide range of industries.
Driverless trucks, for example, could destroy jobs for thousands of truck drivers in this nation alone, and potentially hundreds of thousands world-wide. And that is just one industry. There will always be a significant portion of the labour force who will not be able to become computer programmers or robot engineers. If hundreds of thousands of workers lose their employment across the land, mortgagee house sales will find few buyers and hundreds of millions of home owners around the world will be forced to forfeit their properties to the banks. The banks, in turn, will claim the savings ordinary people have placed with the banks and so the savers will lose their nest eggs. Eventually the banks themselves will go out of business and Governments will have no tax base to bail them out this time. Governments too will go into default and the falling confidence undergirding the international economic system will no longer sustain it. The New Zealand government, and therefore the taxpayers of a country of only four million people, now owes close to 65 billion dollars to foreign lending institutions.
Lawless mobs and gangs will take out their frustration on the rich in their estates, and the police will be powerless to suppress widespread anarchy.
This could be one way God brings His judgement upon governments and employers and societies who elect such governments. There will, of course, initially be no winners. Yet God may well, as He has done throughout history, open the eyes of nations to see that this judgement has come from God, and that secularist atheist man has no ability to fight any longer against God and His Law. By God’s grace many may cry out to God and many may respond to the promise of the Gospel, which is redemption in Christ. Only then can we expect to see a re-establishment of order and hope in societies. Even now, anyone with eyes to see that man left to his own resources, while denying the glory and honour due to God, cannot establish a safe and secure society which lives in hope not just for this present life, but for eternity. God’s judgement may open the eyes of many more.
We must pray and hope that God will be merciful upon us as a society, and that our nation will repent and return to God, before it is too late. This much Christians can and must do.