The Scientific Outlook, Part 8 – Free Trade and Labor in a Scientific Society

Free Trade and Labor in a Scientific Society

Originally posted August 17, 2008

“In the old days it was expected that about half the children in a family would die before they grew up; this involved pain, illness, and sorrow to the mother, often great suffering to the children, and a waste of natural resources in the care of children who never lived to become productive.” – Bertrand Russell, 1931 (p196)

The Scientific Society and the Enlargement of Organization

From The Scientific Outlook:

[Italicised text is original emphasis and bolded text is added by author.]

“Such a state of affairs will have both merits and demerits; more important than either, however, is the fact that nothing less will enable a society imbued with scientific technique to survive. Scientific technique demands organization, and the more it becomes perfected, the larger are the organizations that it demands. Quite apart from war, the present depression has made it evident that an international organization of credit and banking is necessary to the prosperity not only of some countries, but of all. The international organization of industrial production is being rendered necessary by the efficiency of modern methods. Modern industrial plants can easily supply, in many directions, much more than the total needs of the world. The result of this, which should be wealth, is in fact poverty, owing to competition. In the absence of competition, the immensely enhanced productivity of labour would enable men to arrive at a just compromise between leisure and goods: they could choose whether they would work six hours a day and be rich, or four hours a day and enjoy only moderate comfort. The advantages of world-wide organization, both in preventing the waste of economic competition and in removing the danger of war, are so great as to be becoming an essential condition for the survival of societies possessing scientific technique. This argument is overwhelming in comparison with all counterarguments, and renders almost unimportant the question whether life in an organized world State will be more or less satisfactory than life at the present day. For it is only in the direction of an organized world State that the human race can develop unless it abandons scientific technique, and it will not do this except as the result of a cataclysm so severe as to lower the whole level of civilization.

The advantages to be derived from an organized world State are great and obvious. There will be, in the first place, security against war and a saving of almost the whole effort and expense now devoted to competitive armaments: there will be, one must suppose, a single, highly efficient fighting machine, employing mainly aeroplanes and chemical methods of warfare, which will be quite obviously irresistible, and will therefore not be resisted. The central government may be changed from time to time by a palace revolution, but this will only alter the personnel of the figure-heads, not the essential organization of government. The central government will, of course, forbid the propaganda of nationalism, by means of which at present anarchy is maintained, and will put in its place a propaganda of loyalty to the world State.” – 212

Free Trade

“We have seen that scientific civilization demands world-wide organization if it is to be stable. We have considered the possibility of such an organization in matters of government. We shall now consider it in the economic sphere. At present, production is organized as far as possible nationally be means of tariff walls; every nation tries to produce at home as much as possible of the goods that it consumes. This tendency is on the increase, and even Great Britain, which has hitherto aimed at maximizing its exports by means of Free Trade, appears to be on the point of abandoning this policy in favour of comparative economic isolation.

It is, of course, clear that, from a purely economic point of view, it is wasteful to organize production nationally rather than internationally. It would be an economy if all the motorcars used throughout the world were manufactured in Detroit. That is to say, a car of given excellence could be produced with less expense of human labour in that case than it can at present. In a world scientifically organized most industrial products would be thus localized. There would be one place for making pins and needles, another place for making scissors and knives, another place for making aeroplanes, and yet another for agricultural machinery. When, if ever, the world government that we have considered comes into being, one of its first tasks will be the international organization of production. Production will no longer be left, as at present, to private enterprise, but will be undertaken solely in accordance with government orders. This is already the case with such things as battleships, because in regard to war efficiency is thought to be important; but in most matters production is left to the chaotic impulses of private manufacturers, who make too much of some things and too little of others, with the result that there is poverty in the midst of unused plenty. The industrial plant at present existing in the world is in many directions far in excess of the world’s needs. By eliminating competition and concentrating production in a single concern, all this waste could be avoided.

The control of raw materials is a matter which in any scientific society would be governed by a central authority. At present the important raw materials are controlled by military power. The weak nation possessed of oil soon finds itself under suzerainty of some stronger nation. The Transvaal lost its independence because it contained gold. Raw material ought not to belong to those who, by conquest or diplomacy, have happened to acquire the territory in which they are; they ought to belong to a world authority which would ration them to those who had the most skill in utilizing them. Moreover, our present economic system causes everybody to be wasteful of raw materials, since there is no motive for foresight. In a scientific world the supply of any vital raw material will be carefully estimated, and as the moment of its exhaustion approaches scientific research will be directed to the discovery of a substitute.

Agriculture, for reasons which we considered in an earlier chapter, may have less importance in the future than it has at present, and has had in the past. We shall have not only artificial silk but artificial wool and artificial timber and artificial rubber. In time we may have artificial food. But in the meantime agriculture will become more and more industrialized, both in its methods and in the mentality of those who practise it. American and Canadian agriculturists have already the industrial mentality, not the mentality of the patient peasant. Machinery will, of course, be increasingly employed. In the neighbourhood of large urban markets intensive cultivation with artificial methods of warming the soil will yield many crops every year. Here and there throughout the country-side there will be large power stations forming the nucleus around which the population will cluster. Of agricultural mentality, as it has been known since ancient times, nothing will survive, since the soil and even the climate will be subject to human control.” – 239

Labour in a Scientific Society

“The gain from an economic point of view will be enormous: there will be no waste in competitive production, no uncertainty as to employment, no poverty, no sudden alternations of good and bad times; every man willing to work will be kept in comfort, and every man unwilling to work will be kept in prison. When owing to any circumstances the work upon which a man has hitherto been employed is no longer required, he will be taught some new kind of work, and will be adequately maintained while he is learning his new trade. Economic motives will be employed to regulate population, which will probably be kept stationary. Almost all that is tragic in human life will be eliminated, and even death will seldom come before old age.” – 213

“It may be assumed that every man and woman will be obliged to work, and will be taught a new trade if for any reason work at the old trade is no longer required. The pleasantest work, of course, will be that which gives the most control over the mechanism. The posts giving most power will presumably be awarded to the ablest men as a result of intelligence tests. For entirely inferior work negroes will be employed wherever possible. One may, I suppose, assume that the most desirable kinds of work will be more highly paid than the less desirable kinds, since they require more skill. The society will not be one in which there is equality, although I doubt whether the inequalities will be hereditary except as between different races, i.e., between white and coloured labour. Everybody will be comfortable, and those who occupy the better-paid posts will be able to enjoy considerable luxury. There will not be, as at present, fluctuations of good and bad times, for these are merely the result of our anarchic economic system. Nobody will starve, and nobody will suffer the economic anxieties which at present beset rich and poor alike. On the other hand, life will be destitute of adventure except for the most highly paid experts. Ever since civilization began men have been seeking security more avidly than they have sough anything else. In such a world they will have it, but I am not quite sure whether they will think it worth the price that they will have paid for it.” – 242

“Take again the question of work, both the kind of work and the method of performing it. At present young people choose their own trade or profession, usually because at the moment of their choice it seems to afford a good opening. A well-informed person possessed of foresight might know that the particular line in question was going to be much less profitable a few years hence. In such a case some public guidance to the young might prove extremely useful. And as regards technical methods, it is seldom in the public interest that an antiquated or wasteful technique should be allowed to persist when a more economical technique is known. At present, owning to the irrational character of the capitalist system, the interest of the individual wage-earner is very often opposed to the interest of the community, since economical methods may cause him to lose his job. This is due to the survival of capitalistic principles in a society which has grown so organic that it ought not to tolerate them. It is obvious that in a well-organized community it should be impossible for a large body of individuals to profit by preserving an inefficient technique. It is clear that the use of the most efficient technique should be enforced, and no wage-earner should be allowed to suffer by its enforcement.” – 220


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