Progress but for Whom and Why ?

Written by Louis Even on Wednesday, 01 March 2023. Posted in Social Credit

Progress in Production

We wonder who is served by technological progress? Who benefits? Does everyone gain, or only a few, and are some people punished and others rewarded by technological progress?

These questions are addressed here. We define progress as the enhanced methods and processes which permits the production of more goods in the same number of hours or realizing the same number of operations in less time and/or accomplishing more operations in the same time.

Such progress certainly exists. Every day we hear of a new system which will now do the work of ten men or 50 men and even more.

What are the fruits of such progress? What are its effects upon you, me, your neighbour, on families and individuals?

To "Save Work"

Automation has become very real and quite general these days. It is the latest and biggest step in the march toward the replacement of men by machines. Tools are constantly being refined and perfected, and with these tools, new and fantastic machines are made which aid enormously in production. Automation gives us machines which work by themselves, obeying the commands of a few men stationed in front of control panels, pressing buttons while finished goods emerge from these robot-like inventions.

Electronics, the new science of yesterday, is commonplace in today's industry. It is replacing men on all sides. In the coming decades, there is no doubt that, if it is permitted to do so, it will entirely replace human labour, while tripling and quadrupling production of all materials.

This is considered progress, that is, if progress consists in freeing man from time spent in material production. This is what man has always longed for and is the goal which scientists and inventors apply themselves to.

We call such inventions, "labour-saving" devices and, in fact, this is just what they are. They save men much labour.

Everyone wants to save time and labour. But, and this is a very strange thing in view of our last remark, when someone invents a machine which spares some men work and gives them leisure time, ask yourself whether these men will be thrilled. No, not at all. Instead, they will bewail the fact that they have been put out of work and forced into unsought leisure.

It would seem that, in spite of man's aspirations for more leisure time and less work, progress, which enables this, has less pleasant aspects. Why?

An Idiotic Proposal

Let us take, for example, a woman who has a large house to look after. She must spend most of her time doing housework because she does not have help; nor does she enjoy the benefits of mechanical contrivances to help her. If we said to her:

"Madam, we see that you are required to sweep the house with this crude broom made of straw; you must do all your sewing and mending with needle and thread by hand; when you want to wash the family clothing you have to make do with a tin tub, a scrub board and lots of elbow grease [in 1955]. Now, we are going to do away with all of this. From now on, you are going to clean the floor with an electric vacuum cleaner. You will do all your sewing and mending with this fine electric sewing machine. Here is a beautiful electric washing machine and dryer with which to do the laundry. Now, this is going to save you a great deal of time, is it not? Very well! To safeguard the principle of universal and full employment, which is so sacred and inviolable in our society, we must therefore keep you occupied with other things. So from now on, the time that you have saved in sweeping, sewing and washing for your household, you will, instead spend in doing tasks for your neighbours, or by working in a factory — preferably one making munitions or arms for war."

What do you think that lady will say? She will probably sum up all that ought to be said in one word:  "idiotic"!

And yet, this is what modern society has been doing, more or less, ever since the arrival of new automated machines with their improved techniques. These improvements have made it possible for the production line to put out more and more goods with less and less human labour.

In order to compensate for the  "time saved", production has been increased and everyone is informed that if they do not participate in some way in this expanded program, they will have no share in the goods which are flowing forth more rapidly than they ever did before.

You could say "Is this not a cause for rejoicing in the fact that production can be increased? There will now be more goods at the disposal of consumers!"

Yes, up to a certain point — as long as there are still the usual needs that exist that have not yet been filled. But if this expanded program of production is conditioned by the creation of needs which are either unnecessary or even downright harmful, we are being driven into pure materialism. We are being driven to a desperate scramble for new production and the acquisition of new products, when we should be profiting from this new, increased leisure granted to us by progress to develop our minds and characters, and to devote ourselves to pursuits of our own choosing.

A Short Lesson of an Arabian Sage

During the course of a conference which was given to a society of women engineers in London, England, on July 19, 1938, by Scottish engineer, Major C. H. Douglas, founder of Social Credit, he told the following story.

One day, a very competent and efficient air force pilot, who was stationed at Suez, was sent on a special mission to a sheik who dwelt in a remote spot in the interior of the continent. The trip only took the pilot about 30 hours but one of the purposes of his mission was to impress upon the sheik the efficiency of European techniques. The young pilot went to considerable pains conveying to the sheik that the trip from Suez by plane had taken him only 30 hours, whereas, if he had trekked in on the back of a camel, he would have been lucky to have completed the trip in six weeks. He concluded, therefore, that through modern travel methods, he had saved six weeks of time.

The sheik replied to this demonstration with the simple question:  "What are you going to do with the six weeks you saved?"

There is quite a lesson in this question. What is our modern world doing with all the time saved by the immense number of labour-saving devices which have been introduced into production?

Victim Instead of Beneficiary

Suppose that you worked in a factory. A machine is installed which will now do the work formerly done by you and you are given a holiday. What are you going to do with the free time now at your disposal?

What are you going to do? You will join the ranks of the unemployed. You will go home to your family, greatly troubled in mind and heart, and they too will be plunged into gloom. You are now going to have to live off of a fraction of your former income. You will have to cut costs everywhere and practice the strictest economy. After your unemployment insurance benefits are exhausted, there will be nothing left. Your life will be a daily torment. As a result of your forced idleness, you will tear your hair out as you ache for the day when you can finally persuade someone to hire you back.

The progress which has liberated you from labour has been a malediction for you. A provocation of newly created needs, a sudden demand for armaments, some happy destruction of goods or utilities, or a misfortune to befall someone, making it necessary you take their place — surely, you will look upon any one of these situations as a blessing from Providence.

The woman to whom you have offered all the electrical contrivances so that she may be employed elsewhere by someone else, will most certainly not appreciate your proposition. She will tell you instead,  "I want nothing of such a program!" She will determine that, if she can now do her work in four hours instead of ten, then she ought to be free to employ the six hours that she has gained in activities of her own choosing. Instead of cleaning for neighbours, she will have no trouble finding ways in which to spend the time that she has gained, both profitably and agreeably, for herself and for those close to her. (Always exempting the case, more or less general in our times, where the woman is obligated to take up employment outside her home in order to pay for the appliances which have saved her so much time at home!)

If she finds this proposition idiotic, it is because the proposal is, in fact, idiotic. She knows that she is in no way obligated to accept such a proposition because she does not need it in order to survive. She still retains the freedom of choice. The salaried worker, on the other hand, who has no other source of income outside of his paycheck, has no such freedom of choice. When a machine replaces him, he has no alternative but to find work elsewhere or, failing to do so, go hungry along with his family.

To the man working for a wage or salary, progress does not appear beneficial. For him, progress only makes his position, in regard to employment, all the more precarious. The fact that he is somewhat older, that other employers also have installed machines, that they have sufficient staff, etc., can only guarantee him a cold welcome when he goes around seeking other work. What should he do? Try to get along without eating until he reaches an age where he will be eligible for a miserable pittance of Old Age Pension? And what about his family?

Who set up such a system which has resulted in such a sorry plight for this individual? Who keeps such regulations active? Who is responsible for a system that brings so much misery down upon so many, and in an age when man is capable of incredible inventions that multiply, over and over again, the flood of goods, products and services, which are more than sufficient for all men living today? And all this, without the employment of even a small percentage of the human labour available!

A Common Heritage

Progress is not the result of one individual's efforts — nor of one generation's work. Today's generation did not start from zero. The men of today did not have to start from scratch — not even the most brilliant minds of our era. Progress is for humanity what a farm is to a family that has held on to it for many generations — something that was started by the first members and has since been improved and made more valuable and more useful by each generation that came along, right down to the members of today who enjoy a farm that is much easier to work and is worth immeasurably more than it was when the first sod was broken by the original settlers.

Progress is a common heritage. It is a common good, something owned by all men and consequently, all should profit from it. But this progress cannot profit everyone as long as the conditions necessary for sharing in its benefits remain as they are today. Progress, under such conditions, in the measure that it eliminates the necessity of human intervention in the maintenance and increase of flow of production, can only make victims of the citizens.

Progress vs. Full Employment

  Obviously, there is a contradiction between the progress which replaces the work of men with the work of machines, and the policy which calls for full employment. The inventor sets himself to work and is duly rewarded for being able to diminish the need for labour in any field of production. On the other hand, the policy of full employment requires that every man capable of working should be set to work.

  Progress is something that is in conformity with the natural aspirations of all men. Full employment is only made necessary by the financial system which governs the distribution of production.

The Proper Function of Industry

Industry has as its goal the furnishing of products of the best quality possible, in sufficient quantity and with the least possible expenditure of material, human energy, and energy supplied by the forces of nature. When it achieves this result, it has reached its goal and has accomplished its proper function to perfection.

Industry's goal should never be to provide employment for men. Its goal is to provide men with products. The more goods and products it offers, with the least possible use of resources, the more perfect it is.

 It is reaching this ideal. Each day sees production outputs increasing more and more with less and less manpower. But for this, the industry is being condemned. A great cry goes up against private industry, not because it is incapable of supplying all the goods needed by men, but because it does not supply employment to everyone capable of working.

  Such condemnation is absurd. Absurd because it disregards or turns a blind eye to the true goal of industry: to supply goods — nothing else.

The Fault is in the Financial System

 It is obvious then that, as long as it remains necessary to have purchasing power in order to procure the goods put on the market by agriculture and industry, and as long as it remains necessary to be employed in order to get this purchasing power, then the battle will continue between progress, which results in unemployed men, and the policy of full employment, which is now the sole means of obtaining purchasing power.

 But in getting down to the real heart of the problem, we find that we are getting away from reality — of goods produced for man's needs. We find ourselves preoccupied with money and finance, which, in the ultimate analysis, are not true realities. Money is nothing more than a symbol representing goods; it is a conventional sign, accepted by all, which was instituted primarily to facilitate the movement and distribution of real wealth, namely, the goods and services necessary to meet man's needs.

 In our world of progress, this financial system is no longer adequate to live up to its original role.

Finance, which is not a reality, has unjustly usurped the role of dictating to realities. If certain distinguished men in the field of business refuse to admit this, then let them give answers to these two questions:

Why are there financial problems when there are no problems with production? (There is not a public institution which is not familiar with this situation.)

Why are there financial obstacles to the distribution of products, when there exists a plethora of physical means for distributing them?

Natural Fruit of Progress: Leisure

Since the first result of progress is to replace or diminish the necessity of human labour, the first fruit of progress should be to give men more free time. We say "free time » in the true sense, not the enforced idleness of unemployment as we know it today, with all the misery and heartache which accompany it. Man should enjoy free time without losing his right to a proper share of the fruits of progress. The products of the machine, which are the fruits of progress, are the common heritage of all men, the common good of all society and of all individuals.

Such free time is called "leisure ». Unfortunately, this word is often confused, deliberately or otherwise, with laziness, dissipation or idleness.

True leisure is freedom from forced occupation; from work that is not of one's choice. Freedom allows the individual to participate in the activities of his own choosing, whether material, cultural, or spiritual.

We do not speak here, either, of commercialized leisure where one's purchasing power is squandered without any return to the individual. Nor are we speaking for those various kinds of collectivized leisure where the individual is only one of many. We are thinking of leisure in one's own home. We are thinking of the various most profitable and pleasurable ways one can be occupied, where the individual is supreme, where the individual chooses, discriminates, assimilates and makes part of himself those pursuits which leisure has given him the opportunity of following. (Unfortunately today, the pursuit of leisure occupations in one's own home is not always easy since, in most cases, one does not own his own home.)

Leisure time is the time one can use in pursuing what is a treasure for oneself; not something that everyone follows as a matter of fashion, habit, or even mindlessly, like unthinking sheep. For one person, it might be the beautifying and embellishment of their surroundings. For another, the enrichment of the mind. For a third, it might be a combination of both. For a fourth, it might be work for society or educational pursuits. For a fifth, it might be the production of things needed for less developed countries. The very diversity and multiplicity of possibilities is proof of the wealth of activities that can be followed in leisure.

A Financial Change is Necessary

That such conditions prevail make it obviously necessary that the financial problem be overcome to the same extent that the production problem has to be conquered. It becomes necessary that, as progress liberates men from the necessity of working at production, a source of revenue, not linked in any way whatsoever with employment, be made available to each and every citizen. Each and every citizen is a co-heir in the common capital which is progress handed down from generation to generation. A source of income not linked to employment is called a "'Dividend". A Dividend will be for every citizen since it results from the great common capital which all have inherited and which we call "progress". Those who will continue to work in production will, of course, continue to receive, apart from a Dividend, remuneration for their efforts in the form of salaries and wages.

Such a Dividend will have no adverse effect on private property and private enterprise. There is no need for collectivizing or nationalizing. It will be sufficient to correct the financial system and set it on the right track to perform the function which is proper and natural to it: the automatic financing of the production which is necessary to meet existing needs. This constitutes a social sharing of the right to production, not in the spirit prescribed by socialism, but rather, a sharing which will leave out no one and will continue providing for the basic needs of all.

Through Economic Democracy

Such a practicable and realizable system has been proposed under the name of Economic Democracy (developed by Scottish engineer Clifford Hugh Douglas, also known as Social Credit which, although carrying the same name, has nothing to do with the system of surveillance and control currently in use in Communist China). The establishment of Economic Democracy will not, of course, result in miracles but it would remove purely financial obstacles which stand in the way of realizing so many of the natural and legitimate desires of man.

Economic Democracy will not change the nature of man. It will not take the place of religion or education but it will facilitate the exercise of religion and the formation of education with greater efficacy without the obstacles of today's financial system..

It is becoming increasingly evident in our day that, through the sheer, never­ ceasing pressure exerted by automation, the perfecting of techniques of production, the wonders that are constantly flowing forth from the laboratories of pure research, and the applications of the principles resulting from such research, the time is not far off when society must seek a method of distributing to individuals a revenue which is in no way tied to labour force participation.

But why wait until we are on the brink of universal catastrophe or chaos before seeking a remedy? Today, as in the past, many individuals and families have spent a great part of their lives in misery and anguish for lack of money. How many homes, acquired and maintained at the expenditure of much money and toil, have been lost for lack of such a measure! Are men to be debased to the level of animals and driven to act like wild beasts before those charged with the care of society adopt such a solution?

Economic Democracy would at once abolish the financial paralysis which renders impossible the production of those things which we are physically capable of having. It would immediately finance distribution, based on the facts of the economy, which would keep the fruits of production flowing forth to the consumer. Immediately, progress would liberate man more and more from the necessity of human labour, while making it easier for him to secure the goods necessary to meet his needs.

 No other formula besides Economic Democracy has presented to the world a means for distributing to all men the natural fruits of progress.

About the Author

Louis Even

Louis Even

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