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Work is Becoming Obsolete

L.W. Nicholson  1996 Published in: The Northwest Technocrat, 1st quarter 1996, No. 342 

Why would politicians and economists ask North Americans to believe that technology makes more jobs for people when it so obviously doesn’t? Don’t they know any better, or do they deliberately distort the facts? The reality is that the facts concerning this subject can be verified quite easily by anyone who can read and is willing to do a small amount of research in the local public library. Technology displaces many of the man-hours of human labor required per unit of production, and even in the service industry, typewriters, adding machines, computers, etc. are reducing man-hours at an ever increasing rate.

When one considers the thousands of items produced, the thousands of services now available and the ability to produce them so much faster then in pre-technological days, the only conclusion possible is that much more can be produced per man-hour than ever before.

Such an increase in efficiency could never have occurred except by the use of technology. What would be the point in using technology if this wasn’t so?

Anyone, even politicians and economists, can simply consult the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. and the Historical Statistics of the U.S. to find the trends showing the increasing efficiency of man-hours and see the obvious difference between the ability to produce in pre-technological days compared to that of today. Anyone who can’t understand this subject certainly shouldn’t try to be a source of information for anyone.

Many North Americans are old enough to remember farmers working from sun-up to sunset than doing barnyard chores until full dark. They can remember working 66 hours per week at a payroll job before the NRA required the 40 hour work-week in an attempt to “spread the work” to reduce unemployment. More technology was installed and unemployment persisted until WWII took many out of the regular job market thus allowing unemployment to decline, and still we produced more than ever before.

According to Historical Statistics of the U.S., people working for pay worked 12 hours per day in 1640, (72 hours for a 6 day week). From the same source one finds that, in 1934, the work-week was 34.6 hours; this would be less than 1/2 the pre-technological level. Since 1934, (depression days) the average working hours per week for full-time jobs has been kept at higher levels than necessary for some, creating unemployment or part-time work for others.

Just when did the technological age begin anyway? Few records were kept in those days, so we must use what we have. In 1790, only 3 patents were issued, so one must conclude that the technological age began after that — perhaps in 1800 when 41 were issued. In 1970, 64,427 were issued and, in 1992, the number was 107,400. With the widespread use of computer controlled technology, now in use and increasing rapidly, working hours per unit of production will continue to decline at a faster pace than ever before. The “downsizing” will continue as more efficient technology is applied.

In 1790, farming was the only industry that was widespread across the Continent with an estimated 95 percent of the population living on farms. So, in order to compare present efficiency with that of 1790, we must be concerned with farming efficiency. Farm productivity or the number of persons who could be supplied by one farmer, according to Historical Statistics was 4.1 persons in 1820. By 1970, that number had increased to 47.1 persons supplied by one farmer. By 1990, U.S. farm employment had dropped to 2,891,000 and the total population had increased to 248.8 million. Therefore, it would appear that one farmer could, in 1990, supply 86 people (assuming that as much was exported as was imported). At this rate of increase, if extended backward from 1820 to 1790 the number supplied by one farmer would be about 2. One can only conclude that the ability to produce on the farm has increased by 40 times and this would seem to be a conservative figure. This idea is further authenticated by the population increase from 3.9 million in 1790 to 248.8 million in 1990 at the same time the number of farm workers decreased from 12,146,000 in 1910 to 2,891,000 in 1990. To put it another way, the population has INCREASED by 63.8 times since 1790 while the number of farmers has DECREASED by 4.18 times since 1910.

Just where did all the people working in non-farm industries come from when 71.8 percent of the labor force lived on farms in 1820? They came from farms by the thousand as technology eliminated the need for them on farms. That is why an industrial society became possible. And as industrial production became more efficient as a result of technology, the service industry became possible. Does one need the statistics concerning the increased efficiency due to technology in the production and service industries to understand that technology replaces human labor per unit of production? These statistics can also be found in Historical Statistics and the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. Help yourself; they are in your local public library.

Statistics prove the increasing ability to produce was a result of technology beyond even the smallest doubt. For example: The total horsepower of all prime movers in the U.S. has increased from 8.5 million in 1950 to 34,958.0 million in 1990 — an increase of 4,115 times.

(See Historical Statistics of the U.S. Colonial Times to 1970, page 818 and the Statistical

Abstract of the U.S. 1993 edition, page 572). With a 1995 total of more than 35 billion horsepower, the U.S. has the extraneous energy available to produce as much as 350 billion people working at a rate of 1/10 horsepower. This means that 61.4 times the world’s present population of 5.7 billion would be required to produce as much as the U.S. alone.

For all practical purposes, no prime-movers existed before the technological age except for farm animals, a few crude water wheels, and humans themselves. A strong man working several hours per day could, at best, provide 1/10 horsepower. Very few working farm animals even exist today in the U.S. and the water wheels are certainly no longer crude.

Since the population increased from 152.7 million in 1950 to 263.2 million in 1995, the per capita increase in the horsepower of prime-movers was 38.46 times. However, 1950 was long after the beginning of the technological age, so the increase from colonial times has to be far more than 40 times.

With 35 billion horsepower of prime-movers in the U.S., and with 263.2 million people, the number of horsepower available per capita would be 133. That would be equal to 1,330 slaves working for each U.S. citizen. We note here that a study of Canadian statistics would reveal a similar condition.

Note: A prime-mover, according to Webster, “is a machine, such as a water-wheel or steam engine, which receives and modifies energy as supplied by some natural source.”

Therefore, prime-movers are the “engines” which convert all the energy that supplies all the power needed to operate all the technology. Prime-movers, and the energy they convert, are the basis of all technological activity.

Very few modern industries even existed in pre-technological days; the automobile, radio, TV, airplanes, computers, are examples. So, the totals produced in these industries are 100 percent greater than before technology. In fact, without technology they wouldn’t have been possible.

Just what is the significance of all this?

First: It means that with one-half the working hours and with more than 40 times the ability to produce, the North American social mechanism is capable of providing plenty of everything produced to every citizen on this Continent. We have omitted a discussion of all the planned obsolescence and shoddy goods produced to increase sales, the duplication of effort, loans and “gifts” to foreign countries, payments to farmers to produce less, etc. With all this ability to produce, we must ask why more than 30 million Americans live in poverty and at least another 30 million live only slightly better? We, the citizens of this Continent, have failed to educate ourselves concerning our own ability to produce. Poverty in the midst of plenty on this Continent can only be the result of our unwillingness to do a little research in order to understand our own condition.

Second: It means that people who say that technology makes more jobs for people are passing out information which couldn’t be further from the facts. The increase in jobs that has occurred in the past century, or so, has been due to an expanding economy resulting from an increase in population and debt — plus having started this expansion from a condition of extreme scarcity with an expanding economy that could never have grown so fast, and so far, without the rapidly increasing technology.

Third: As more and better technology is installed, an ever faster growing economy is necessary to maintain employment, and working hours must be reduced, or some combinations of both are required. In today’s economy, purchasing power is distributed chiefly as a reward for human labor. In recent history, unemployment insurance, welfare, food stamps and subsidies of various kinds have been added as the need for human labor per-unit-of-production has declined. Otherwise, enough purchasing power couldn’t have been distributed to keep the economy going, and a depression would have been the result.

Fourth: In order to maintain growth, an ever-increasing use of natural resources with a resulting deterioration of the environment must occur. As resources decline, living standards will also decline and the population will be reduced, or both.

Fifth: Since the population growth in the U.S. and Canada is already slowing, and since we no longer have the extreme scarcity of previous centuries, the expansion of the economy must slow down, or a faster increase of the debt will be required to finance a faster growth of the economy.

When we are willing, and able, to admit that all these things can’t be done, we must also then admit that we must make the necessary effort to design and install an entirely new economic system, with a new economic control technique. This can’t be done without the research that should have been a major effort for at least the past 50 years.

The most notable aspect of this technological age is that it allows us to produce the greatest quantity of goods and services in all of human history. But this creates an overwhelming problem, the inability to distribute the plenty we can already produce with an economic system designed for an age of scarcity.

We keep trying to maintain scarcity, because the Price System demands that goods and services remain scarce. Our vain efforts to preserve this failing system can only result in social deterioration, and these problems can only grow in intensity and danger until events hurt us enough to force us to make a change. When that time comes, and if it’s not too late to save the environment, we can then have an age of both peace and plenty.

If, and as, economic problems are solved, we can learn to live, with a reduction of man-hours to less than one-half of present levels, rather than spending so much time learning to make a living in a cruelly competitive system.

There are events which have and are occurring at an increasing rate since technology became an important factor in our physical operations. They are physical events, occurring in the physical world, and are subject to the same laws of nature as any other physical event; they must be understood and controlled as such. They certainly can’t be controlled on the basis of a system of beliefs and opinions about things and events which can’t be understood and are unknowable. Beliefs, opinions, traditions and prejudice are irrelevant in the operation of technology. Technology MUST be operated in a physical world by the use of factual information. The only alternative is chaos. Our physical world is changing rapidly, and if we can’t change our economic world, which is based on beliefs and opinions, then we must accept the results of our choice, a world of unprecedented hardship. If we are able to make the necessary mental changes we can have a world of peace and plenty, at least on this Continent — and it is on this Continent that this change must occur first.

Economic problems already developing are demanding a new age, an age which can’t exist with present political-economic methods. Work, human work, is becoming obsolete and we must change our methods of distribution to match the new conditions. We are not prepared for such an age due to the misinformation being presented to this Continent’s citizens — misinformation such as that stupid myth about technology making more jobs for people. To be prepared we must understand the situation we face, and to understand it sufficiently we must be willing to do the research required. This new age will not be possible until we make it possible. The incentive to do so is being provided by the increasing problems that are resulting from our inability to understand them. We suggest that the fastest method for understanding is a study of Technocracy’s Technological Social Design, a design resulting from 75 years of research and study of the subject. It is long past the time for the citizens of this Continent to do their own thinking; and if we have the intelligence, then we should use it. However, the facts are needed for accurate thinking, and those facts can only be obtained from research. We can do it now, or wish we had later.

 

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One Response to “Work is Becoming Obsolete”

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