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Full-Time: Why We Need More Creative Productivity, Not Less

A new book shows how we lost the meaning of work and the ways we can get back on track.

There are a handful of books that I can safely say served as vital paradigm shifters in my own life, and David Bahnsen’s Full-Time: Work and the Meaning of Life makes the cut without hesitation.

Bahnsen is an economist and head of a wealth management firm and is also a prolific author and speaker who appears often on outlets like Fox Business, CNBC, and Bloomberg to discuss the market economy and wealth management. He is also a firm believer that human beings were created to work and that we omit an essential part of our nature when we devalue the place of work in our lives.

Bahnsen subscribes to the classical view of economics that prizes production over consumption. In order for an economy to thrive, its constituents must be committed to producing goods and services that meet the needs of human beings. Contra the thought of economist John Maynard Keynes, who thought that consumption superseded production, valuing work staves off economic stagnation and honors the dignity and creativity of the worker. My home state of Oklahoma puts it this way in its state motto: “Labor Omnia Vincit.” (Labor conquers all.)

Bahnsen notes that a number of leaders, particularly in many churches, decry the “idolatry of work” but generally do not put as much effort into calling out what he regards as a more serious crisis: sloth, laziness, and resignation. He cites statistics showing how every age group, and specifically prime working-age men 25-65, have significantly dropped out of the workforce. Young men are now less likely to attend college and additionally less likely to enter into trade school as an alternative to a formal education. The failure to work, argues Bahnsen, does not just lead to a loss of contribution for the common good, but represents a lost opportunity to be fully human. We were designed for creative productivity. Work, although often seen as the obstacle to happiness, is one of the four pillars that comprise a happy life, alongside family, faith, and friends. Bahnsen borrows this list from author and columnist Arthur Brooks, and further articulates,

The inner feeling of not just receiving something, but earning it, meaningfully forms the basis for self-wroth and deserved recognition. The concept transcends time diversion and becomes a source of purpose. Importantly, it does this through the service of others, not the vanity of only serving oneself. This basic market reality is at the heart of the concept of earned success — we become valuable in the marketplace, and achieve this inner satisfaction, only when we are valuable to others through our service and work (p. 35).

Bahnsen is careful to clarify that this does not mean some people are “better” than others. We are all equal in dignity and worth. However, the thirty-year-old playing video games in his mother’s basement is not contributing the same value to society as the project manager for a construction company, or the waitress who responsibly serves food to her customers.

Mind and Matter

So much of Bahnsen’s book agrees with the thesis of the groundbreaking book Superabundance by Gale L. Pooley of the Discovery Institute and Marian L. Tupy of the Cato Institute. These authors resist the mainstream notion that population growth necessarily entails a diminishment of resources, and that the solution for the continuation of the human race is to curb the fertility rate (which is already falling in the U.S). Instead, they show that human innovation and creativity is what drives economic growth, and that the more humans on earth we have, the more sophisticated, smart, and effective our solutions will be for generating wealth and creating a web of goods and services. Applying mind to matter is what leads to economic prosperity. That’s why we need free and virtuous societies that honor the entrepreneurial spirit. This is also what Bahnsen argues. Human-generated production fuels the economy. In order to have something to consume, we must first produce. He writes,

Production is not just a physical matter. It happens only when one combines physical material or activity with mental exertion. We combine knowledge, ideas, and experimentation with physical materials to create output. This is the production process, and it drives a market economy….Commodities and materials are vital, but so is the human being’s immaterial contribution (p. 122).

Humans are not the problem. They are the solution. We were made to work on behalf of the common good and for our own edification while never neglecting the importance of rest (Sabbath, in biblical language).

Bahnsen’s book affirms the goodness of work, and renewed my excitement and vision for creatively producing work that others will hopefully find valuable and helpful.

Peter Biles

Writer and Editor, Center for Science & Culture
Peter Biles graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois and went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories and has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and serves as Managing Editor of Mind Matters.

Full-Time: Why We Need More Creative Productivity, Not Less