Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

August 3, 2008

In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

Filed under: capitalism, culture — Tags: , — codesmithy @ 9:07 am

Bertrand Russell wrote an essay called “In Praise of Idleness.”  Maybe it is a tad presumptuous to claim there  are threads of anarcho-syndicalist thought in it, but it certainly fits into the critique that Russell prescribed.   The Internet and computers have dramatically changed the landscape in terms of the manufacture of physical things.  Do we really need to manufacture books, CDs, DVDs, newspapers?  Do we really need to build movie theatres?  Do we really need the broadcast towers, the telephones, the bulk of mail delivery?

The Internet also presents the potential for immense benefits hardly imaginable in Russell’s time.  Leisure time can be used to make artifacts that are available the world over at virtually no charge.  The information age is revolutionizing industries.  The question is simple, do we split the world into haves and have-nots?  Do some people get to tenuously keep their jobs as another segment of society struggles to get by, while the capitalists see the bulk of the benefit?  Or do we split, and give all people more leisure?

There is no good reason why the arduous tasks are left to a certain class of people.  It isn’t about the whole society going idle, but rather, redistributing the work between those currently with, and without jobs in addition to ensuring the labor surplus is used for the benefit of the society as a whole instead of into the pockets of the capitalist.  If we really think about the resources that are just wasted (for example building nuclear weapons that should never be used), imagine what the nation would look like if those resources were used to improve the well-being of the members in society, including a shorter working day for arduous tasks.

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3 Comments »

  1. man i hate this essay is soo long i mean geeessss

    Comment by ablah — December 28, 2008 @ 4:29 pm

  2. But isn’t what you are saying that employers should not be able to hire and let go whom they please, and that some government board should be in charge of assigning people into jobs?

    Equity is a good idea, but the problem is that some are better at doing certain things than others. Distrbuting work by committee means that people would be assigned jobs by government officials who lack the relevant data.

    And who gets to decide what channels are productive and which are wasted? If nuclear weapons aren’t productive, what about employing people to create abstract art? Or play classical music that most people do not want to hear? Capitalism works because it lets people decide which channels they want to use their money for and, hence, which are productive. (The reason nuclear arms are being created and money is being spent there is by government fiat, not by voluntary contracts by producers and private consumers.) How would your ‘committee on economic productiveness’ be different from that which chooses to spend money on nuclear weapons?

    Comment by KevinCK — July 11, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

  3. But isn’t what you are saying that employers should not be able to hire and let go whom they please, and that some government board should be in charge of assigning people into jobs?

    No. It is about giving people more choice and opportunity not less. The fundamental problem is that rises in productivity tend to benefit a small class of people, not the society as a whole, even though it tends to be the society that enables the productivity increases, not just the few individuals who benefit the most (i.e. the people who own the capital). The challenge is to find a way push productivity forward without the positive feedback effects it induces between the owners and the workers. Yes, the government has to be involved in any solution along these lines, but it takes a rather severe blindness not to recognize how the government enables the current inequitable system.

    Equity is a good idea, but the problem is that some are better at doing certain things than others. Distrbuting work by committee means that people would be assigned jobs by government officials who lack the relevant data.
    And who gets to decide what channels are productive and which are wasted? If nuclear weapons aren’t productive, what about employing people to create abstract art? Or play classical music that most people do not want to hear? Capitalism works because it lets people decide which channels they want to use their money for and, hence, which are productive. (The reason nuclear arms are being created and money is being spent there is by government fiat, not by voluntary contracts by producers and private consumers.) How would your ‘committee on economic productiveness’ be different from that which chooses to spend money on nuclear weapons?

    I agree, having a work committee would not be practically different than serfdom. However, there are a few things that I believe should be subsidized because they yield enormous benefits to people who can’t possibly pay for them yet. Basic scientific research would be a good example. The point about nuclear weapons was just as an example of military-Keynesianism gone awry. And I do believe building a nuclear weapon is worse than doing nothing. The only productive thing to do with a nuclear weapon is to dismantle it. Yes, funding artists would be better, but it isn’t like I strongly endorse that either. I would like to see more people free to become artists instead of funding a select few who happen have the right connections.

    So my question to you is: can you really think of no other way of tweaking the rules of our economy so that greater equity is achieved as productivity increases besides creating a totalitarian work board?

    Comment by codesmithy — July 12, 2009 @ 10:35 am


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