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The dividend — the answer to "featherbedding”

on Sunday, 01 November 1959. Posted in Dividends

Make-work policy the result of a vicious financial system

Towards the end of September the International Longshoremens' Association, which loads and unloads ships, closed the ports of the east and the southeast United States with a wildcat strike. The real issue of this sudden blow struck by the crime-ridden union was not basically wagęs; it was what unions fear most, namely, automation.

Most shippers want to replace antiquated loading and unloading devices with new equipment — belt-conveyors for the obsolescent cargo slings of sailing-boat days, electronic gantry cranes, and huge container vans with detachable wheels and chassis. The union men, however, fearful that this new equipment would put many union men out of work demanded a contract clause that would give the International Longshoremens' Association the right to approve all new equipment. In this way the union could bar any new devices which would threaten mass layoff for its members.

Technical progress is inevitable

Technical progress in the production system is as inevitable and irresistable as the tides of the ocean. Progress cannot be halted nor can the times be turned back. The progress in methods and means is part of man's cultural inheritance.

Each generation makes its contribution and then passes this contribution on with all that the previous generations have passed down, to be worked on and brought to still greater perfection by the next generation. The marvels of steam, electricity and now of the atom are not the products of one generation nor of any one individual or group of individuals in each generation. All men contribute in some measure to these advances made in the producing of ways, and means of bettering man's life. It is a far cry from the first wheel to the swift jet transports of the air which can stride across continents and oceans in a matter of hours. How many centuries, how many generations, what multitudes of men were involved in this evolution! Could any one man or any group of men at any time have put a halt to such progress? Most decidedly not.

The wonderful machines and techniques which we so admire today are already made obsolete by the newer and still more marvellous devices which are on the drafting boards of the inventors and scientists.

Logically these new inventions are applied to our industrial and commercial system. Mining companies, now have huge, powerful boring machines, each one doing the work previously accomplished by scores of miners. A new, automatic mail cancelling machine can cancel 27 thousand letters an hour with a six-man crew as compared with 16 thousand letters an hour done manually by ten-man crew. National Cash Register Co. has come up with an automated billing system which will speed up by 25 times the customer-account billing of the great Macy's departmental store in Manhattan. Operators push a few buttons and each of Macy's 40,000 daily charge sales are registered on a tape which is later fed into a computer. The computer then sorts the bills, tots them up, prepares the bills for the customer and registers the return payment. How many clerical hands will this machine render idle?

And so the story goes. Man's progress, with the machine displacing the human hands. This is the tale of progress. And this is the story of "featherbedding".


Featherbedding might loosely be defined as the purposeful slowing down or spreading out of work in order to make jobs. The term is supposed to have sprung into existence when some trainmen about a half century ago complained of their corncob-filled mattresses and were answered by the trainmaster: "What do you want — featherbeds?"

Featherbedding today is estimated to cost the United States almost $1 billion dollars a year in labor costs. The American Oil Co. used to pay $8 million a year for featherbedding practices which practices were ended only after a month long strike. U.S. railroads pay about $500 million a year for featherbedding; e.g. each train crew draws a full days pay for every 100 miles it covers, because that is the way it was done back in 1919. One railroad president remarked: "We could solve all our financial problems if we had no featherbedding." Featherbedding has helped to break entire companies. The major factor behind the demise of Hudson, Kaiser and Packard cars has been featherbedding, according to TIME magazine.

Fear of unemployment

The basic reason for featherbedding is fear of being unemployed. Man's greatest struggle has always been against scarcity and want. In the early stages of society's development this was a very real fear. Every hand had to be employed in the work of providing food and shelter for the family or the tribe. Useless, or unwilling hands were ruthlessly disposed of, for they consumed without contributing. A man did not eat if he were not "employed".

However, as man progressed, the production machine became capable of supplying the needs of men with less and less human labor. The cultural inberitance enriched by each generation became a marvellous instrument for supplying the needs of men with a minimum of human toil.

Logically, then, men should have more and more products for less and less work. Lack of security and, fear for tomorrow's necessities should long ago have vanished. Every human being, by reason of his being a child of God and an heir to all the good things that earth provides, should be guaranteed the minimum of a decent living without his being obliged to enroll in the ranks of the "employed". This at least is the aim of man's progress, and it has been voiced time and time again by industry's leaders when they speak of the marvels of science giving man the leisure to develop himself to his fullest.

That such is not the case at present is amply proved by the fantastic practices of featherbedding; as illustrated by a few of the examples given above. featherbedding... the forcing of the production system to pay wages and salaries to so-called "employed" men for doing nothing. Why has the production system not been able to deliver man from want and scarcity and from the spectre of insecurity? The answer is quite simple. It is not because Divine law has laid down a rule of want; it is not because the earth with the sun and the rain is no longer capable of filling man's needs. The answer is a man-made obstacle: the financial system.

The financial system, a man-made thing, has ordained that a man may not eat, or have food and clothing, unless he is employed. For only through employment, under the existing financial system, can a man get money or purchasing power with which to lay hold of the fruits of the production system.

The consequence of such an ordinance is that man fights for employment as he would for a scrap of bread if he were starving. The union leaders, whose income and position depend upon their keeping union members happy, fight to keep every member of their organization employed at a good rates of pay. The result of this fight is the practice of featherbedding. And who can blame men for using any means within their power to insure that they shall continue to have wages and salaries with which to keep alive, even though the lengths to which they go may seem ludicrous and unjust to others not in the same precarious position.

We might say that featherbedding is labors answer to automation; and automation in nothing more than a manifestation of man's irrestistible march forward. And walling man off from the inexhaustible benefits of this progress is the financial system.

The dividend is the solution

Major Douglas in his book "Social Credit", says that we are faced with a definite alternative. If we support the system as it exists today then we are logically and of neccessity driven to the extreme where:

"...everyone capable of any sort of work should, by some powerful organization, be set working for eight or any other suitable number of hours a day. To achieve this end, the use of labour-saving machinery should be discouraged, all scientific effort should be removed from industry and, in particular, modern tools, processes, and the application of solar energy in its various forms should be vigorously suppressed. Failing an alternative, one should dig holes and fill them up again." (Page 20)

In other words, in the face of man's progress, the system established upon the necessity of "employment", will be driven to such extremes as set down above.

"The other alternative... surveys the facts, finds an inherent incompatability between the substitution of solar energy for human energy, on the one hand, the retention of a financial and industrial system based on the assumption that work is the only claim to goods, on the other in hand, and takes as its objective the delivery of goods, making the objective always subordinate to human individuality". (Page. 21).

That is to say, the system advocated by Major Douglas and all who support Social Credit doctrine, is that we cannot continue to displace man by automation and still try to use the existing "employment system as a means of getting products from the production line to the consumer. Either we are going to have to dig holes and fill them up again, or we are going to have to institute the dividend.

There is nothing unjust about the dividend. It is simply giving to the individual what is his by right of being an heir to all the cultural inheritance handed down from previous generaitions, and inheritance which has as its end the delivery of goods to man with the minimum expenditure of time and labour by man in the work of production.

Every human being has a right to a decent living. Every human being has a right to share in the superabundance of goods being poured forth by the production system. No man should be denied this right simply because he cannot find "employment". Progress is rendering "unemployment" on a universal scale inevitable, so long as progress is allowed to continue. What then? Shall we allow all men to starve simply because no "employment" can be found for them.

No. The dividend is inevitable. It is the only just solution to the problem of disposing of production's surpluses and of guaranteeing to each man security and comfort.

Let us not try to hide the issue by resorting to such ridiculous measures as those used in "featherbedding". Let the leaders of labor and of industry face the facts squarely: no solution is possible unless the dividend, the universal dividend, is made a part of our social system.


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