MUCH IS BEING WRITTEN about the new world “automation” is creating. There is brave talk about the many new jobs this will create and the additional jobs an ever-expanding demand and growth will require. I suspect there is a great deal of delusion in such talk. The fact is, the chief purpose of automation, and most other technological changes, is to further dispense with human labor, human skill, human fallibility. As the use of these innovations proceeds, they will have the result for which they were intendedabolishing a certain amount of human work. Of course, there will be new jobs created, new skills ‘ required, and changes in the work force. But I fear these are unlikely to void the net effect of all the jobs canceled by a process whose purpose it is to cancel more jobs than it creates. There are those who argue that this result can be avoided by constantly expanding the economy, thus staying ahead of the process by ever-increasing demands for more goods and services. There is certainly much of this that needs to be done, but, here again, consider the nature of this beast whose growing appetite we are to feed. When tax concessions are given, as was recently done, to encourage the enlargement or replacement of our productive facilities, there is some increase in demand as those facilities are built. Yet, when we look at the particular facilities that are built, we find they are of the largest type technically possible, computer controlled refineries, plate glass mills that require no polishing of the product, steel furnaces that pour a continuous stream of steel, and so on. All of them are designed to produce more with less labor ; all result in presSure on competitors to junk existing obsolete equipment using more labor. This, too, is a consequence of growth. It is a truly wonderful process. It is progress; it is efficiency; it is the not-so-brave new world the Sunday supplement writers have dangled before us. It is here now. If we are all to share in the thrill of machines doing more of the work of men, and if we are to have access to the essential * * An Acknowledgement Fred Schmidt advanced these relevant comments in association with the article that is published here: “Nothing said here is either new or original. It has all been known for a long time. At least 25 years ago, Clarence Ayres at the University of Texas was urging students to gain an understanding of these technological forces that were shaping our industrial society. He taught economics in terms of the interplay between institutions and a changing technology, thereby stripping it of the astrological trappings some teachers endeavor to give it. In my opinion, ‘ he is a Texan who has come to very thoughtful terms with our history and the products and services this creates, wp must provide income for those whose work capacity is not utilized. The economy cannot abide non-consumers, for they defeat its purpose. Already we have broken the direct workincome relationship for groups in our society. We have done it for most of our chilit for many students; we have done it for many disabled; we have done it for many elderly retired; we have done it for many persons who hold only ceremonial positions in society; and finally, we have done it for all those who have a claim on income by right of property, rather than the work they do. In each instance we have settled on some socially acceptable form of activity or nonactivity to justify the payment of income. This we must continue to do as we broaden the list, for the ghost of old John Calvin still lives among us, and unless we pay our obeisance to the wisdom of his concepts, we are thwarted before we start. I CONFESS to a despondency about the general failure to sense the urgency of the situation. A government that * * to Dr. Clarence Ayres swirl of forces that obscure our understanding of the world. He has long been one of the free voices, yet the Observer, which has excelled in so many areas and been so alert to contemporary thought and forces, has been neglectful in this. Of his several books, only one, to my knowledge, has come from the University of Texas Press. The last came from the University of California Press, being his remarks on the U.C.L.A. campus earlier this year. I would not presume to associate him with either my understanding or my interpretation of the present situation, for Dr. Ayres himself has spoken and written very clearly for many years on how he feels we might shape a more reasonable society.” has too few plans to deal with what the President described in his election campaign as the “number one domestic problem,” a labor movement that cannot make up its mind about a shorter work week, and what seems to be a rising force of political reaction against what most needs doing all these give cause for despondency. Yet, a hopeful development has thrust itself on the scenethe civil rights demonstrations. These are not only hopeful for what they gain and what they represent in terms of a struggle for human dignity, but also because, if they continue, they can force our confrontation with this question of whether we continue to divide up scarcity or really begin a plan of sharing abundance. Once in motion, the Negro who wants a job, so he can have the dignity of sharing more fully in the wealth of America, is not likely to be deterred by our explanation that if he is given a job, another man must lose one. I doubt if he will be put off with a statistic, especially a statistic that says six percent of our work force is unnecessary. The Negro demands come with a moral suasion that can shatter some of the ancient concepts of how scarcity is to be divided. His case weighs heavily on the national conscience, and there are strong forces seeking to rectify his long-standing grievances. But it defies our imagination to settle on a means of doing this without also addressing ourselves to the broader question of how an abundant industrial society can be made to serve the essential needs of all who live in it. The Negro demands are being presented at a time when the slack is gone and the reserves are depleted for meeting this insistence on a job with sufficient status to qualify for respectable income. Thus, the Negro movement itself may be the new, added force necessary to effect general adjustments in our system of income distribution. If so, it will have served the purposes not only of those who compose that movement but the growing number of others who stand rejected and unused and unwanted by the world in which they were born. In this sense, the demonstrations of the Negroes can go further toward revising our means of income distribution than did the last great series of massed personal protests: the sit-down strikes and the great organizing movement of workers which swept through American industry in the ’30’s. The jails were filled then too, and there were National Guardsmen and tear gas and brutality and dead left in the field. But it all helped change the economic and political means for sharing the produce of America. Perhaps the civil rights demonstrations will serve America in ways few thought likely. Certainly if they help bring the American people to a sense of urgency about dealing . with its rising productivity, this will be good. November 15, 1963 7
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