Monday, 24 January 2011

Law of the Jungle

In Praise of Idleness

By Bertrand Russell

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: 'Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.' Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. this traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people's mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people's mouths in spending as he takes out of other people's mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man's economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface card in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.

All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

Sloth was a sin? And still is. I've always found that diffcult to understand. Also, why do so many people believe it? I find it amusing how pervasive and insidious the idea is, even as every empirical fact seems to scream otherwise.

Why not take-up self-flagellation instead? It surely beats overtime?

We have plenty of labour - a surfeit of labour - yet being idle can be a curse of poverty. Unemployment seems a major problem and yet full-employment could be relatively easily achieved through reducing the hours worked by every individual. I guess it's already happening and we call it casualisation, or whatever - people working part-time, "flexibly". However, this isn't really being met appropiately by the wages/salary side : pay-rates are staying the same per hour, which forces people to work as many hours as they can get, and reasonably do. Antagonistic forces, whilst at the top, everything just gets ever better by ever greater amounts. Compounding luxury.

But when there are people starving for food and employment, let alone luxuries, it just doesn't make sense to have any unemployment. It's a dreadful failure to have mass unemployment. Especially in a culture that claims sloth is a sin.

A completely "free" market will never get us there. Yes, it has its laws and logic - the law of the jungle. It works .... as it does. But why shouldn't we intercede? Why must we accept it as it is? Like we should have accepted we could never fly? Well, why can't we have full employment? Why should we accept the law of the jungle instead? We tend not to accept it in any other sphere other than the most basic of economic relationships.

I don't see how precious-metal based currencies can address full employment either. The supposed strength of precious metals as currency is its weakness - there's a limited amount of it. How do you expand the economy? Discover more gold? Oh brilliant! Everything now depends on how much gold there is. What a success!

[Ron Paul has substantial investments in precious-metal mining corporations. Ron Paul does very well out of high demand for and gold and silver, presumably, eh? Ron Paul appears on Alex Jones' show, which drives fear about the collapse of the American currency and advises people to invest in gold - for their 'security'. Because he cares, right? Alex Jones' show is of course sponsored by a gold salesman, Ted Anderson, and his show appears on the radio station owned by....the gold salesperson, Ted Anderson. Small world?]

And people all across America are storing their little nuggets of precious metal?

Yup - that's obviously really helpful. Certainly helps full employment, doesn't it?


socrates said...

Great entry. The expenditures that have killed our economy in America have been given to corporate welfare and the military industrial complex, not to the so-called idle. It's the hoarding that hurts the most, not poor folks who are putting every penny they have back into the economy.

There simply isn't enough fair play to justify capitalism. I think it could work if it was based on ethics and a love for humanity. Thus I admit I'm not a pure socialist. A professor got through to me with his idea of mixing the best of each system.

I just googled Andrew Ostroy. He has an interesting background.

Unless I'm confusing him with someone else, he had a wife actress who was murdered during a robbery. Andrew's been on some of the American political shows. He has also been a corporate dude, so I don't get where he can be called a lefty. Maybe liberal. And right wingers into conspiracy theory who hate Bush and Cheney are still right wingers. Alex Jones is a right winger.

What Larry and many don't understand is that lefty does not equal liberal. They are two distinct political views.

I'm not trying to mix it up with Larry either. He's fixated on someone I too had never heard of.

It sounds similar to when Bill O'Reilly went after Markos Moulitsas for running a so-called lefty hate site. Sure, Daily Kos is a nasty place, but it is not leftist. It is a backer of the DLC and blue dog democrat status quo.

Too bad Larry has such a gutter mouth. That probably has pushed him to the fringe even more than his cospiracy theory freakdom. I'm also not saying Ostroy is a hater. I don't know anything about him.

Larry said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

larry wins again.

the_last_name_left said...

S: There simply isn't enough fair play to justify capitalism. I think it could work if it was based on ethics and a love for humanity. Thus I admit I'm not a pure socialist.

You're a leftwing liberal? I think that's what I'd call my minimum position, as even that would be a great step forward....and it's seemingly realisable.

Hell, even a capitalism that lived up to its promises would be a great step forward.

I certainly don't want anything worse than liberal capitalism and social democracy. :D

In lots of ways it is all going along very well.

And I simply have no wish to impose "my socialism" upon anyone. The abolition of class implies force, maybe. But I'd like to think not.

S: I think it could work if it was based on ethics and a love for humanity.

But the best argument for capitalism - and one of its earliest? - is that it exploits man's selfishness for the greater good of man.

Personally I think the entire premises are wrong - because it means mankind is best served by allowing all sorts of abuses and immoral acts - and that the moral and ethical POV which puts the victims up-front can be ignored and the victims tolerated, even if painfully. All because it serves the greater good? It also implies a properly ethical position is incapable of providing motivation to drive a society and that "it's just too expensive anyway..."

woof woof

Anonymous said...

larry owns this site.

sabuki said...

Verrrrry interesting...

the_last_name_left said...

Larry does not "own" this site. I do.