Re: The decline of leisure in america - technology, work, etc.

Dan Sullivan (
Tue, 22 Aug 1995 21:25:51 GMT (Xochi Zen) wrote:

> I'm looking for references of books that are critical of technology -
>books that ask the question (and others like it), "Are we happier now than
>we were, say, in the late 1800's/early 1900's?" - say, have the "labor
>saving" devices that came into vogue in the 1950's actually given housewives
>_more_ work to do (in that housewives were brainwashed into conforming with
>some new, neurotic standard of cleanliness).

You might check out books by Henry George, who wrote just before the
turn of the century. His magnum opus, Progress and Poverty, studies
just the question you raise.

He starts with the classical components of production, land, labor and
capital, and their rewards, rent, wages and interest. The share taken
by each depends on the scarcity of each. For example, European rents
dropped as a share of the take when the New World was discovered,
because people left Europe to escape those rents. As land in the New
World eventually became monopolized, the share going to rent returned.

Wages were relatively high in the new world, as were returns to
capital, precisely because rents were relatively low. As rents
increased, returns to labor and capital decreased.

Although some inventions (such as skyscrapers) enabled more wealth to
occupy less land, most inventions are primarily "labor saving." That
is, they enable the capitalist to reduce his dependence on labor.
However, he still depends on land and natural resources.

Labor saving advances are of no benefit to the landless, for their
very existence depends on their being able to market their labor in
order to earn rent to pay to landlords.

George's solution was to shift the tax burdens off labor (or, more
precisely, off productivity) and onto land and natural resource
values. This would prevent the hoarding of land by people who had no
desire to use it, enabling people to settle on land and withdraw from
the wage market.

He is not anti-technology. He is against mechanisms in the economic
system that turn the blessings of technology into a curse for those
dispossessed from the earth.

Dan Sullivan

The only time my education was interrupted was when I was in school.
--George Bernard Shaw