Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The war proved one thing

In his 1932 essay, "In Praise of Idleness," Bertrand Russell argues that the Great War, WWI, provided valuable evidence about meeting the material needs of society.

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world. If, at the end of the war, the scientific organization, which had been created in order to liberate men for fighting and munition work, had been preserved, and the hours of the week had been cut down to four, all would have been well. Instead of that the old chaos was restored, those whose work was demanded were made to work long hours, and the rest were left to starve as unemployed. Why? Because work is a duty, and a man should not receive wages in proportion to what he has produced, but in proportion to his virtue as exemplified by his industry.

Imagine, then, this excess potential utilized not for the profit of one company or country, but given instead to meet the material needs of the world.

Thanks to M for pointing me to this essay.



  1. Dude, you're such a hippie. :-P I think you need to quote Walden Pond next.

    Personally, I think people like (in a perverse masochistic sort of way) the oppression of the 50 hour work week. You know, if I didn't drag myself out of bed every morning, strap my shoes on and head out to face the world, well then it would all just fall apart. There's so much drama there. "Look how tough I've got it! I'm holding it all together. ME!"

    Almost makes me want to smoke marijuana and start babbling about "love". Almost. Ok, not really.

  2. I suppose because that's the only thing they've got left to hold on to, something that makes the struggle meaningful. Most of us gave up on drugs long ago.