This node is the second part of some thoughts of mine after
reading Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness (which I insist that
you read, it is very easy to understand and interesting). When I first read In
Praise of Idleness, I immediately realized how tiny and confined
and full of stress is the room that everyday work leaves for
other activities in our life. That was exactly my feeling about it, but as
we all know, sometimes feelings can be very misleading. So I decided to
do the maths, and the result was overwhelming... indeed, too damn tiny...
Here's the node: Working 9 to 5: The modern slavery.
So, discussing the issue of overworking with a friend,
I explained to him some obvious things, like why Bertrand Russell thinks
that with current advances in technology, industrialization, automatization
etc, working 8 hours a day is way too much, and that a cut to 4 hours of working
per day, increasing leisure time, would be very reviving for civilization,
culture, etc (see Russell's essay for details). So, hearing this, my friend
ruined my dreams and brought me back to earth, asking me, how the
heck would people live with half their wages...
I froze. Nowhere in his essay had Russell referred to wages
and what would happen to them if we would cut the working hours by half.
On first thought, it seemed quite natural that half the working... half
the payment. It is logical. But... is it?
Please excuse me for two things: I do not claim
to be either an economics master, or a Marx's economic theory master.
And second, my english terminology is poor as far as economical issues
are concerned. So, if you have any suggestions either about terminology
or about ideas, please /msg me.
One would say that using the marxistic approach for
defining the relation "wage"-"working quantity (i.e. hours)", half the
working would mean half the payment, since Marx says that "wage" is what
the employer is charged for buying the employee's working potential.
So, it follows that since the employer will be using the employee's working
potential for half the time he used to, he shall pay to the employee half
of the former payment.
But I will say NO. This is the employer's point
of view (sorry Marx ;-)1
1 Actually, no need to be sorry. Marx
was just describing what is going on and not how he would like
it to be.
Leaving apart the big boss at his office having a nice
time with his secretary, and regarding the technical production details
(i.e. the production per se) as a black box, meaning that the boss, say,
Mr. John Pinhead, is only concerned with management stuff and has
no idea what actually is going on in the production line and what exactly
is the procedure that produces the pins (yeap, it's an industry that makes
pins, to use Russell's example), let's consider the following scenario:
Suppose that one cold and stormy night, the industry's workers gather,
and secretly install some new technology, brand-new shining elaborate machines,
replacing some ancient ones, which are able to produce pins twice as fast
as the former ones. And beginning from the next day, they produce the
same quantity of pins as always, but leave the factory having completed only
four hours of work. Now, outside the production's black box (which includes
the workers), everything looks the same as always: The boss observes no
decline in the production of pin quantities, no decline in profit, continues
to pay the workers the same as usual and everybody is happy! And additionally,
our beloved economical system has it's gain: Much more free
time for the workers, means much more leisure activities, which by it's turn
means more money circulation, et voila!
Of course, I hear people saying: "Oh, c'mon dogganos,
you must be joking. These things can't happen!". Yes, I know. It was
just that I was sitting and relaxing in the beautiful Parc del Buen Retiro
in Madrid and everything just seemed so utopic... But, anyway, the above
was just a symbolic example and as such must be considered. It was just
to demonstrate potential and not course of acting to achieve such a result.
I mean that if for example the Great Big Boss had a visit from God himself,
who told him that either you will show extreme love for your employees and
care for them as you care for your profits or "I'll give you the ticket
to meet Me" (i.e. a heart attack), then OK, the Boss could install these
machines and have the same profits as before and have the workers work half
as much. But without God's personal intervention, leaving it to the Kantian
Good Will of the Boss... just won't do.
Everybody knows that these new technology machines of
our example, did not just fall from the blue skies. A (vast) amount of effort
and research and money was put together to develop them.
Ingredients that only the employer possesses... And just for a moment suppose
that he, John Pinhead, had the Good Will to make the lives of his employees
as good as they get. Suppose he was ready to sacrifice
extra profit gained by putting the new machines into work, in order to have
his employees working half time. Will our beloved economical
system let him get away so easy? Of course not. Capitalism has the
ability, like living organisms, to preserve itself (why do I have the
feeling that the writeup will end up in a rant?).
This is what will happen: Natasha Pintits, CEO of the
MicroPins Corp. will propose a strategy to invest money in research and
will also come up with some more effective scheme of producing pins. She will
put that in work, lower her costs and drive John Pinhead bankrupt, leaving
all his employees jobless... Except if Mr. Pinhead reconsiders the situation
and... here we are at the 8 hours again...
Why do corporations do research? Is it because they
want to advance civilization, technology etc, or is it because they want
to keep up with the research done by other corporations so as to continue
producing competitive products and stay in business? I would bet for the seconds. Competitive Products...
The quintessence of capitalism... Our Paradise and Hell... IMHO,
guys and girls, our non-anthropocentric economical system
is the source of all evil...
PS. I had a dream last night. There were not 25 different
kinds of pins, just one: The "state pin". Produced by The State. The State
did some research so that it would find more effective ways to produce pins,
and that way, while the production remained constant (to the population's
pin needs), the employees at the State's factories had to work less and less,
spending their free time in exhibitions, concerts, excursions, reading,
writing etc. New technologies emerging from research would be applied directed
to human's needs and not directed to impersonal profits... And then the alarm
clock went off. Time to go to work.