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Does Automation Mean Leisure?

on Saturday, 01 October 1955. Posted in Social Credit

In the Financial Post, Sept. 3, 1955, on the front page of the second section there is quite an extensive article entitled "Automation Will Change Your Job and Your Life" by Jack McArthur. Many readers will have noted that Automation has come to the fore in the press recently. From Mr. McArthur's article it would appear that he might have had extensive draft or note material from which to draw.

The following excerpts are presented from Mr. McArthur's article.

"It (automation) is inevitable and, in the long run, good; it offers boundless opportunity to increase Canada's standard of living and Canadians 'time for leisure.'

"Over-emphasizing real or imaginary difficulties (by labor) may cause a resistance to change and a campaign for 'controlling' automation which may delay its growth. This could rob business of profits, labor of the shorter, higher-paid work week; consumers of cheaper, better-quality goods."

"The outstanding achievement — and problem of automation is that production per man is boosted tremendously.

"This is done by moving man another step away from the actual productive process.

"Instead of a man switching and braking a line of boxcars, electronic devices do the job...

"Instead of a man typing a purchase order when warehouse stocks are low, a machine takes a lightning-fast inventory, types the orders."

"A factory which automates and doesn't raise total production will lay off men. But automation will create more efficient production, higher wages for the workers, widening consumer demand.

"Although the percentage of people in the industrial work force may decline, labor's income and leisure time will increase. Demand will boom for services and activities to fill leisure hours. Service industries will employ more people. That is characteristic of anything which raises the standard of living."

"If automation is self-regulatory, then it can and should be given its head... People thrown out of work will find other and better jobs...

"But if automation isn't self-regulatory, then it must be regulated by some authority — government presumably. Its progress must be slowed by things like the guaranteed annual wage and bigger separation payments for employees.

"But progress in methods and volume of production are directly tied to everybody's standard of living. Without automation our progress will be slowed, and even relatively stopped. Without progress we're relatively going backwards. It's in progress across the whole range of technology and research that products, and new job's are created, that existing standards are maintained and that higher standards are brought within reach."

"Much of the greatest effect of the automation won't show in layoffs, but in growing companies not hiring new employees. Production will expand without adding to staff. And some workers, when they retire, will not be replaced.

"This trend is expected to be cushioned by the coming of the shorter work week which is the next big objective of unions."

"Automation is so costly, requires so much capital, so much investment in skilled and superskilled labor that production variations once taken for granted cannot be tolerated. Automated assembly lines don't lend themselves easily to major changes in production or model.

"The need will be for huge, steady markets. Management's job will be to provide them. This means that business forecasting and production scheduling techniques will be more highly refined."

"When managers of automated industry feel — as a result of the tremendous amount of analytical and statistical information they get — that consumer demand may be sagging, they must immediately begin a furious battle to keep it from doing so, to retain the big, steady markets required to make automation pay off."

"... When auto plants become automated — a few in the U. S. already are — their managers will be even less willing to face a sales decline.

"What is the implication of this line of reasoning? It's this: As investment increases, businesses and the nation can afford recessions less and less."

"With investment so high and production potential so great, as little as possible must be left to chance. Automated industry, so far as humanly possible, must be master of its fate."

In the same paper:

J. R. White, president, Imperial Oil:

"Automation doesn't take jobs; it makes them. In the last 15 years, which have seen some of the greatest progress in automation, the number of jobs at our Sarnia refinery has increased 41 % and its total payroll is up 252%."

E. H. Walker, president, McKinnon Industries, St. Catharines: "The program at our new engine plant has been referred to as automation... We produce more efficiently now than 26 years ago. We use less manpower units of work per unit of production. Yet we have put well over seven times as many people to work in our plants."

*  *  *

First, Mr. McArthur assumes that the substratum of the economic and financial system, upon which automation is to develop, is itself "self-regulatory," as he would suggest automation can be self-regulatory. If the substratum is not stable or self-regulatory, there can be no hope that what is built on it will be. The following indicates that the present economic system is not self-regulatory.

The U.S.A. National Debt is now approximately $300 billion, and is more than seven times as large as it was in 1939. In Great Britain it is rather more than three and a half times as large as, it was in 1939. Canada's National Debt has increased five times since 1939 (3,600,000,000 to 18,000,000,000).

July's Reader's Digest carries an article entitled "What Price Too Much Food?" in which it shows that the U.S.A. Government has stockpiled a tremendous amount of food and is giving it away at bargain-basement prices. "Congress has also cut 1955 U.S. wheat-acreage allotment to 55 million acres. But scientific research makes it possible to grow more wheat per acre than ever before. The U.S. doesn't need 55 million acres to produce a normal supply of wheat. With the present surplus, it needs only 19 million."

It has been admitted in the press that the U.S.A.'s economic system would be in difficulty if exports to aid other countries suddenly stopped.

In other words, the circumstantial evidence is all in favour of Douglas's analysis of the financial system — which finds it is arithmetically at fault and not self-regulatory.

The other angle is that the concentration of financial control has grown immensely. All money is issued as a debt to the banking institutions. Some years ago it was shown that the holdings of Kuhn-Loeb Co. in U.S.A. were tremendous. No less a person than the Pope has drawn attention to the great and increasing power of financial institutions in the modern world.

This being so, how could automation be "self-regulatory"?

*  *  *

Where do the signposts point?

A statement of Donald R. Richberg, Professor of Law, University of Virginia, and one-time General Counsel and later head of NRA in the U.S., may throw some light on the direction of the signposts. His statement is regarding the Guaranteed Annual Wage. "It appears to be another combination of Big Business and Big Labor to establish an economic system which bodes ill for competitive businessmen, for small and medium business, and in the last analysis for the consumer, who will — of course — have to foot the bill."

What is the reasoning? Automation builds up a demand from labor for the guaranteed annual wage. With the guaranteed annual wage, cartelized industry, with Big Labor, controls a labor force composed of individuals who are in, feel they are lucky to be in, and now owe it to themselves to keep the poor devils out who are out. Cartelized industry with the financial institutions, with one big labor union, will egg on the government, with the accompanying call of full-employment to obscure the situation, to give greater unemployment insurance and create jobs for those who are out. A huge and steady market must be kept up.

The fact will be obliterated that the only purpose of production is consumption, not employment; the cost of production is consumption; and the cultural inheritance demands a basic dividend, which would guarantee unforced, unpropagandized consumption.

*  *  *

Mr. McArthur holds out two circumstances which he thinks will alleviate the situation. One is the promise that a smaller band of labor will have increased income and increased leisure time (with the shorter work week). That might be all right, and we have no quarrel with it, if the situation were stable. But is it likely to be stable? If labor opposes having its task force cut, working conditions will be unhealthy, as they must be when any make-work policy is put into force. If labor's task force is cut, employment still remains the only means of empayment — bitter feeling arising between those who are in and those who are out.

The other alleviating circumstance held out is that "demand will boom for services and activities to fill leisure hours." In other words, multiplication of gadgets, rackets, bingos, prize fights, cheap magazines, and what have you. Some of us are heartilly sick of most of these now. But unless we proliferate them, we won't get the wherewithall to live.

Too few of us are able at the present time to stop and say: Regardless of money, what is a job worth doing, a building worth building for itself, a work that will really satisfy me and mine? Regardless of certificates, credits, and attendance at an institution, what is a true education: Dare I pull out from what is said to be good for me and to live and act on something that is in my own mind?

Who would be a mite less rich without television, without radio, without wall-type ovens, without a modern car, without the multitude of cheap publications which flood into the home, and without three-quarters of those also which might not be called cheap?

Who is to say that "services and activities to fill leisure hours" might not be cut to a minimum but the individual would be happy on his acre lot feeding goats?

Yet Mr. McArthur says: "Without automation our progress will be slowed and even relatirely stopped." We do not oppose automation — with true leisure — but we do not think we care too much for this idea of progress (if, indeed, it is clear). And we must be clear as to what we are working for.

*  *  *

"Automated industry, so far as humanly possible, must be master of its fate." That is what we are afraid of. Industry is a service and should not be master of anyone's fate. It should be subject to consumer demand, freely expressed. Otherwise, we would be better without automation, progress or no progress. "To establish every man in his own right."

D. H.

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