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THE CONQUEST OF COMFORT
If the goal of humanity be still lacking,
is there not also lacking--humanity itself?
--Thus Spake Zarathustra.
THE MATERIAL ASPECT
That is the salvation from suffering,
and life's alleviation.
--Thus Spake Zarathustra.
IT is easy to see why we have come to believethat the unending increase in production which the factory makes possible must ultimatelymake all mankind comfortable.
Until the coming of the factory, population pressedupon subsistence. Malthus enunciated a law that seemed inexorable: mankind's capacityfor populating the earth was greater than mankind's capacity for producing the meansof subsistence. But with the coming of the factory, capacity for production beganto overtake capacity for consumption. Today it has reached the point where aggregateproduction presses upon aggregate consumption.
Our captains of industry have actually turnedto stimulating consumption in order to create a market for all that their factoriescan produce.
Is it any wonder that we have come to believethat the factory is destined not only to end the age of want but to usher in an eraof golden plenty?
If we assume that an insufficiency of creaturecomforts is the principal cause of our discomfort, then the factory does seem theanswer to our quest of comfort.
But comfort has qualitative as well as quantitativeaspects. It is not enough that we should be able to secure a sufficiency of the necessitiesand luxuries we desire.
There is no conquest of comfort if the thingsthat satisfy our wants are secured at the sacrifice of our capacity for enjoyingthem.
And the capacity for enjoyment seems inextricablyinterwoven with the methods by which we create what we consume.
It is not impossible for society to insure toall its members the essentials of normal living: food, shelter, clothing and othernecessaries; self-expressive work; a normal sex-life including parentage; an educationand a social environment in accord with its own aspirations.
Primitive societies often do it.
But the industrialized states, even with modernscience to assist them, seem unable to do so. They fail because they have consecratedthemselves to the production of wealth and not to the production of comfort.
That comfort is to be attained through an unendingincrease of production is a fallacy. It is more nearly true to say that it is tobe secured not by producing as much as possible but as little as possible. Comfortreally depends upon producing only as much as is compatible with enjoyment of thework of production itself.
It is because the factory production of food,clothing, shelter and the trivia of existence is being secured at a sacrifice ofself-expression in labor, of a normal sex-life and parentage, and a desirable educationaland social life that the quest of comfort through the factory is beginning to provedisappointing.
Mankind, by its too great devotion to the sheerincrease in the production of creature comforts, is making it impossible to attainthe comfort it has in view. It would be pathetic if it were not so tragic: mankindforever seeking to attain a comfort which it seems forever doomed to lose.
What is comfort?
Comfort is a condition of freedom from involuntary,unjust, or imposed pain, cold, hunger and other distresses of the body. Comfort isa state of moderate, temperate, stable physical well-being. It does not precludeactivity--even strenuous and adventurous activity. Activity and intense exertiondestroy comfort only when they become meaningless, purposeless and pointless.
But comfort is a condition of mental as wellas material well-being. We can hardly be comfortable when we are starving or shivering.But we may be warm and well fed and still uncomfortable if we are fearful, credulous,ignorant, insensitive and lack the capacity for discriminating use of the creaturecomforts which mankind has evolved.
Our present problem is: how can we secure thematerial essentials of comfort without, in the process of securing them, sacrificingour capacity for really enjoying them? And, is it possible for us to do so--to endour present slavish dependence upon the factory--in the face of the existing dominanceof our economic life by the factory and the factory system?
Suppose that my contention be granted--that theabolition of all non-essential and undesirable factories would ultimately not onlyadd to the real comfort of mankind but reduce the ugliness of civilization--isn'tit a waste of time to discuss an idea that is entirely outside the realm of the possible?Wouldn't it he wiser to accept the inevitable and adapt ourselves to a state of affairswhich cannot be changed? Wouldn't it, in short, be wiser to try to make factory productionless ugly and factory products more satisfying than to waste time discussing theirabolition?
I do not propose to shirk these questions, forwhile I am interested in the possibility of a civilization less ugly and more comfortablethan the one in which we find ourselves, I am equally interested in the practicalproblems which must be solved to make that civilization a reality, and in the personalproblem of individuals who have to live today, before that civilization has beenachieved, and while they may have to try individually to achieve comfort. In short,I do not propose to ignore the question of what it may be possible for us to do immediatelyto free ourselves from the factory.
The ugliness and the discomfort that the factoryhas brought into being can be almost entirely abolished by the simple expedient ofrefusing to buy the products of our undesirable and nonessential factories. Factorydomination of civilization would not very long survive a widespread refusal to patronizethese factories. The ugliness inflicted upon civilization and the discomforts imposedupon mankind by factories would disappear with the factories themselves.
True, if a mere handful of individuals were tocease buying the products of these factories, as is all that can at first be hopedfor, and very fortunately from a business standpoint, the factories would not bevery quickly eliminated. But those who abandoned the buying of these factory productswould be gainers in wealth, health and happiness.
As far as the individual is concerned, this isa program which does not have to wait upon a nation-wide "agitation" and"education" and "organization" of great masses of people. Nolegislation needs to be secured. No political parties need to be formed. It is dependentmerely upon individual self-education and self-discipline. The men and women whoenter upon this way to comfort begin the conquest of comfort for themselves eventhough they are too few in number to conquer comfort for all mankind.
Nation-wide agitation, and organization--dangerousmethods in the hands of narrow, fanatic, quantity-minded individuals to whom theymake an irresistible appeal--might speed the day when the great masses would adoptthis way to comfort. They might hasten the day when people in large numbers wouldstop buying factory products; when lack of patronage would begin to force non-essentialfactories to close their doors; when the number of factories in the nation wouldbegin to shrink to a more tolerable total. The legions of rain and snow, beat andfrost, rust and rot, fungi and vegetation would a little sooner begin the work ofreabsorbing the buildings and machinery which the factory workers had been forcedto leave.
The process of reducing abandoned factories topicturesque ruins and of returning them to the integral soil and landscape from whichthey should never have been evoked, might be hastened by the usual methods of organizedreformers. But so far as the individual family is concerned it does not have to be.
The question is, how can we today abandon anyof our buying of factory products and still live? Or, abandon factory products asI believe we can in large part, and live more comfortably than we do today--as weare certainly entitled to live in this age of scientifically possible abundance?
The buying of factory products can be reducedby us to the degree in which we equip and organize our homes to produce what we needand desire for ourselves.
The organized, creative and productive home canfree us from our dependence upon the factory. The home of today, as the factory hasfashioned it for the factory world's better functioning, cannot.
The home of today usually houses a "natural"family consisting of parents and their unmarried children. It is built around twoindividuals, often both working outside the home, whom an imperious biologic impulsehas trapped into marriage. Because the home of this small family has come to functioneconomically only as a consuming center it is an economic rudiment--a rudiment inthe same sense that the os coccyx is a biological rudiment.
Like all rudiments, the modern home tends toshrink and shrivel. It persists in rudimentary form long after it no longer functionsas it was originally designed to function.
To be able to abandon the buying of the productsof our nonessential and undesirable factories, and still be comfortable, the homemust be reorganized--it must be made into an economically creative institution. Itmust cease being a mere consumption unit. It must become a production unit as well.It must be as nearly as possible an organic home--house, land, machines, materialsand a group of individuals organized not for mere consumption but for creative andproductive living.
To the degree in which families, large or small,and even single individuals organize homes of this sort, to that degree they canfree themselves from the factory.
While all families today are consuming factoryproducts, all of the families of the country are by no means equally dependent uponthem. Rural and urban families both patronize the factory, but differ greatly intheir degree of dependence upon it.
The urban family, confined in small space, andtending more and more to live in a kitchenette apartment, is wholly dependent uponthe factory. Everything that enters the urban home must be bought. Most of the commoditiesconsumed in it are subjected to factory processing of some sort. But the rural familystill produces many of the things it consumes. It produces its own milk and butter,for instance, where the urban family buys canned milk and dairy-made butter. True,it is the tendency of the age for the rural family to imitate the urban family'shabits of living more and more. But as long as the rural family remains close tothe soil, its dependence upon the factory will be less than that of its city cousin's.
As industrialization progresses, the number ofrural families declines, the number of urban families increases. In 1900 only 40per cent of the population of the United States was urban. By 1920 the urban populationhad become 51.4 per cent. In twenty years the rural population--the population onfarms or in towns of less than 2,500 population--had declined nearly one-fifth. Theproportion of the population almost entirely dependent upon the functioning of thefactory is constantly increasing; the proportion which can live independent of thefactory, more or less, is constantly decreasing.
The rural family is generally a farming family.In 1920, 61.5 percent of the population classed as rural by the census lived on farms.The farm home, because it is equipped with large kitchens, barns, cellars, shedsand work rooms, and all sorts of tools and equipment, makes a large amount of domesticproduction practicable. But even when not farming, the rural family usually liveson a plot of land upon which vegetables, fruit and poultry may be raised. It livesnearly always in a house--not a flat. It therefore has much more in the way of storageroom and space for domestic productive effort than the city family.
The urban family usually lives in rented quartersand to an increasing extent in flats and not in houses. Only 37.4 percent of theurban population owns homes; 62.6 percent consists of renters. Of the rural populationthe reverse is true; only 45.1 percent rents its home, and these rural renters livemainly in houses, while the urban renters tend to live in flats.
These facts make it plain that only the ruralpopulation of this industrialized country is capable of any wide-spread action uponmy proposal that the public should ref use to patronize the non-essential and undesirablefactories. The urban population, before it can act upon it to any considerable extent,will have to provide itself with some of the facilities for domestic production whichthe rural population already possesses.
But if a considerable number of the farmers,who form so large a part of the rural population of the country, acted upon my proposal,this would be sufficient to precipitate an industrial counter-revolution. The wholecitadel of undesirable industrialism would collapse. A withdrawal of the buying powerrepresented by this immense group of consumers would make it plain that present dayover-industrialization is supported upon the flimsiest of economic foundations.
If farmers but knew it, they would realize thatthey have everything to gain, and little to lose by insuring that collapse.
The farmer of our pioneer period was economicallyas well as politically free. The land policy of the early republic, with its liberalhomestead laws, served temporarily, at least, to destroy feudal land ownership, whichhad kept the agriculturists of previous epochs in a condition of slavery and serfdomand which is still the principal factor in keeping the farmers of most of the worldin a condition of peasantry.
Land was free to the homesteader. The pioneershad only to occupy it, build houses upon it, fence it, cultivate it--they had, inshort, only to use it and it was theirs. Free land made it possible for every pioneerfamily to be economically self-sufficient. For land furnished them nearly everythingthat they needed. It furnished them stone and lumber for their buildings; grain,fruit and meat for their table; wood for fuel; flax, wool, furs and hides for theirclothing; while the trees, minerals, clay and stone of their neighborhood furnishedthem raw materials out of which they fashioned nearly every implement which theyused.
Theirs was a hard and a primitive life, it istrue. Yet hard as it was; primitive as it was; it still furnished something--perhapsa crude plenty combined with self-sufficiency--which made pioneering attractive tothe great masses of the more settled sections of the country. In spite of the ampleknowledge of the hardships, the privations, and the dangers of the life, men andwomen of all kinds answered the call of the free land.
It is not necessary to go over the process, stepby step, by which the hard and crude life of the self-sufficient farmers of our pioneerperiod evolved into the hard but much less crude life of the utterly dependent farmersof today. The life of the pioneer farmer was little affected by the rise and fallof the prices in volatile produce markets. A bounteous crop, instead of bringinga small return for the greater labor involved in harvesting it, meant to the self-sufficientpioneer farmers a winter of plenty and content. Today, the farmers are gamblers whomay be ruined by a bounteous crop. They live well when the market quotations on cotton,corn, wheat, eggs, milk are high and live poorly when they are low. A sharp fallin prices wipes out their capital; reduces them to pov erty; drives them to the city.It transforms them from dependent farmers into even more dependent urban factoryworkers.
The responsibility for the destruction of theindependence of our American farmers can be attributed largely to the applicationof the factory system to our agriculture. Specialization upon the production of onecrop destroyed the diversified agriculture of the past and replaced it with the factoryagriculture of today. The diversified agriculture in which each farmer produced grain,fruit, and garden crops, livestock and animal products for his own use as well asfor sale has been replaced by the present factory agriculture in which each farmerproduces for the market one crop, such as cotton or wheat, or one kind of livestock(perhaps also raising feed for the stock) as in dairying and poultry farming. Withfarming by the factory system, farmers tend to sell all that they produce and tobuy all that they consume.
Specialization enables the farmers to effectall the economies of factory production. But it involves their selling what theyproduce at wholesale in the primary market and their buying what they consume atretail in the consumer market.
The enormous quantities of each crop which haveto be marketed yearly create distribution costs which the farmers themselves haveto absorb because they are unable to shift them to the consuming public. Manufacturerscan add freight, sales and advertising costs to the prices they receive for theirmanufactured products. But the freights, commissions, shrinkages and spoilages onthe cotton, wheat, corn, hogs, cattle, fruit which farmers produce for the marketare deducted from the prices which they secure. The farmers have to be content withwhat is left after these costs have been deducted from the market quotations. Whatthey gain through factory methods in lower costs of production, they lose in thehazards of marketing and in the higher prices which they pay for what they buy.
But in making themselves into "manufacturinganimals," to use the expressive phrase of Adam Smith, they have also had tomake themselves into "selling animals" and "buying animals."Wheat farmers produce wheat, and often nothing else. They sell wheat, and with themoney received for their wheat they buy flour, condensed milk, canned vegetables,packing-house meat and packaged cereals.
Cattlemen, producing steers for slaughter, thoughthey must have herds of cows to produce their calves, milk none of them. They sellbeef and they buy canned milk.
Dairymen, on the other hand, produce nothingbut milk and cream. With the money received for their products they buy feed fortheir stock and beef for their table, both often raised thousands of miles away fromthe farms on which they are consumed.
Specialization, it is true, enables farmers touse machinery to lighten their labor, and to increase the total amount of their production.But it puts the farmers in the same unenviable position in which our manufacturersfind themselves: able to produce much more than the market will absorb at a profit.Specialization tends to force them to go on producing without adequate return forthe risk, the capital and the labor involved.
As a result farmers generally have been relegatedto a situation in which they labor for a smaller return than that of the lowest andpoorest paid unskilled laborers. They get less than the unskilled laborers, yet theyrisk their capital, take grave responsibilities and assume the burden of solvingdifficult administrative problems. And in addition their work includes much manuallabor more arduous than that of the average industrial laborer.
More specialization and more buying of factoryproducts can only result in increasing the supply of what they have to sell and increasingthe demand for what they buy. Ile prices they would receive for the wheat, corn,cotton, hogs and all the other produce they raise would be still further depressed;the prices on the products they buy would be still further raised.
There are 6,448,343 farms of all kinds in theUnited States. Of these 3,925,090 are operated by farmers who own their farms and68,449 by managers who operate them for the owners. Approximately 2,454,804 are operatedby tenant-farmers. Of the farm-owning farmers about 2,074,325 own their farms freefrom debt; 1,461,306 are mortgaged on an average far $3,356.
We have thus three classes of farmers, all ofwhom can take some steps toward economic freedom, but who are differently situatedas to the extent to which they can do so.
First, the tenant-farmers who have to producea cash crop large enough to pay the rental for the farm they occupy.
Second, the mortgaged farm-owners who have toproduce a cash crop large enough to pay interest averaging from $200 to $250 peryear and often something on the principal of their indebtedness.
Third, the free and clear farm-owners who arein position to reduce their cash crops to a size which will earn them just enoughfor taxes, and to pay for those things which they cannot make for themselves andwhich they must buy from the factories.
If any considerable proportion of these threeclasses of farmers were to make even a partial step toward economic freedom the industrialcounter-revolution would cease to be a mere figure of speech. It would become anactuality.
Why shouldn't farmers reduce their productionof cash crops to the barest minimum that will enable them to get enough cash fortheir fixed expenses and for the factory products they absolutely must buy? If greatnumbers of them were to cut down production in this way, there would be a reversalof the customary excess of supply over demand in the various farm produce markets.There would be smaller supplies of grain, of hogs, of steers, of eggs, of poultry,of vegetables and of fruit. Demand, however, would be the same. Prices would soar.The farmers might actually get a greater cash return for the little that they wouldproduce than they now get for producing as bountifully as hard work and modern agriculturalmethods and machinery make it possible for them to produce.
That this would inevitably follow has been demonstratedover and over again.
Taking most of the important crops produced inthe years 1926 and 1924 for comparative purposes because in those two years the purchasingpower of the dollar was almost exactly equal, we find that the farmers generallyreceived a larger return for the smaller of the crops they produced.
In 1926, the farmers produced 2,645,031 bushelsof corn; in 1924, they produced 2,309,414 bushels--which is 335,617 bushels lessthan in 1926. Yet they received $2,266,771,000 for the smaller crop and only $1,703,430,000for the larger one. They were paid $563,341,000 more for producing 335,617 bushelsless of corn. When they brought a large crop of corn to market they received 64.4cents for each bushel, but when they brought a small one, they received 98.2 cents!A comparison of yields and prices of twenty-three of the most important crops inthese two years shows that in the case of twenty of them the farmers received a higheraggregate money return in the year in which they brought the smallest crop to market.But for the coincidence of a large wheat crop in the United States in the same yearwhen all the other wheat growing countries produced small ones, the money returnin 1926, when they raised the smaller wheat crop, would also have been larger thanin 1924, when they raised a larger one.
Let farmers produce primarily for their own consumptionand cease to produce bountiful surpluses which benefit only city dwellers, and eachindividual farm family will receive more for the little surplus it sells than ifit had specialized on one crop and produced a superabundance of it.
Let the farmers of the country devote the timewhich the cutting down of cash crops would leave on their hands to the productionon their own farms and in their own homes of everything for their own consumptionthat it is practicable for them to produce.
Let them raise everything that the regions inwhich they are located and the particular pieces of land they cultivate make it possiblefor them to raise for their own table, and store and preserve what they will needfor winter when the growing season is over.
Let them frankly recognize that farming is naturallya part-time occupation. There are certain seasons of the year when it makes relativelylittle demand upon them. At such times the members of the farm family should turnto crafts of various kinds with which to earn the money to buy the products theyfeel necessary to their comfort which it is impractical for them to make themselves.They should be crafts which can be carried on at home or in its neighborhood.
Let them go back for their principles of operatingto the pioneers, though not back to the primitive methods which the pioneers used.For they can use the methods and the machines which the past century and a half ofscientific progress have developed to make themselves as independent as were thepioneers while yet avoiding the heartbreaking and backbreaking hardships and hardwork of pioneer life.
That they would cut down their buying of factoryproducts is obvious. But in addition they would greatly lower the prices which theywould have to pay for the factory products which they did buy. For while they werecutting down the total demand for factory products, the factory's production of themwould go on for some time at the same pace, and for a long time at a pace far inexcess of demand. Prices of factory products would go down, because supply wouldso greatly exceed demand.
If enough farmers did these things, or all farmersdid them to some extent, they would bring about a farmers' millennium: high pricesfor the limited quantities of farm produce that they brought into the wholesale market,and low prices for the limited numbers of factory products that they bought in theretail market. Even if only a few farmers were to act upon these proposals, and themillennium did not for that reason develop, each of these independent souls and theirfamilies would be economically more free than they are today. They would live morecomfortably than they do today, without a bit harder work, and without the risksand responsibilities of factory farming.
What a gorgeous prospect this possible declarationof independence by the farmers of the world presents to the speculative imagination!
For any considerable movement of this sort wouldproduce far reaching dislocations in the delicate economic machinery of present dayindustrial civilization. Hard times would plague the cities: bankruptcies, financialpanics and bread lines would become chronic.
The self-sufficient farmers could reciprocatethe indifference with which their city cousins view the present plight of agriculture.
The railroads, confronted by the great shrinkageof freight, both of agricultural and industrial products, would be at their wit'sends to meet even essential operating expenses: they would have to raise freightrates over and over again in order to keep any trains running at all. This mightprove a blessing in the long run. For with higher freight rates, neighborhood factorieswould have restored to them the natural economic advantages of location. The bigfactories would find it almost impossible to compete with them because of the freightdifferential which would be operating against them as distant producers. The neighborhoodmarket would revive, and the farmers would again gain because the cost of the longhauls and of the complicated system of middlemen now needed to distribute their producein distant markets would no longer be deducted from the prices paid them.
The machines in most of the factories would bestilled. The ugly factory buildings which house them would turn first into picturesqueruins and then dissolve into the elemental earth from which they were originallyevoked. The great masses of laborers and white-collar workers now in them would beforced out of their city rabbit-warrens. They would be left with the alternativeof going back to the land themselves and doing what the farmers were doing, or ofsubmitting to a process of pauperization followed within a few generations by extinction.The subways, elevateds, street cars would no longer carry stifling, sweating crowds.The beautiful green grass would slowly reclaim the stone and concrete deserts ofcity streets.
There would be incidental suffering, of course.Unemployment on a vast scale spells starvation. Starvation on a vast scale spellsrevolution. But revolutions, fortunately, tend always to bring about a re-baptismthrough land and a re-birth through self-help.
This is a melancholy vision. It should not, however,agitate sensitive souls overmuch. There is little probability that enough farm familieswould ever make so sensible a change in their manners of life to really stay theconquering course of the factory and the factory system.
But some of the farm families might cut downwhat they bought of factory products by producing as much as is practicable for theirown consumption. Some laborers and office workers' families might follow their example.Some business men's families might; some professional men's families, sick of theirparlous position in a factory dominated world, might. Individually each family wouldgain by such a change in their manner of living. And collectively all would gainif a large enough proportion of the entire population joined in the movement.
Today the farm family is farming too much. Theindustrial, commercial and professional family is farming hardly at all. The farmfamily should cut down its farming to its own needs; the non-farming family shouldfarm enough to supply itself with the essentials of life. This is the road to economicfreedom and economic freedom is essential to the conquest of comfort. For the farmerthis is still a comparatively easy road to follow. For the industrial laborer andthe office worker, it is a difficult, though not entirely impossible road to follow.For the successful businessman it is more difficult because there is no compellingneed for him to follow it. But for the quality-minded individual, it is often theonly road to comfort. And if he has some sort of craft or profession, it is almostas easy for him to follow as it is for the farmer.
Unfortunately for the millions of city dwellers,who need economic independence just as much as do the farmers, generations of dependenceupon the factory have well nigh destroyed their ability to fend for themselves. Mostcity dwellers, even after years of schooling which includes all that pedagogy hasto offer in the way of biology, botany, chemistry, physics and economics, can beput down in an uninhabited but fertile countryside and starve and freeze to deathbecause they have been deprived of any access to dairies, bakeries, delicatessensand to all the stores which contain the factory products to which they are accustomed.They could be furnished with all the tools and implements which the Swiss FamilyRobinson providentially found, but before they could use them to provide themselveswith shelter, clothing, and sustenance, they would die of exposure, of sickness,and of hunger. Their pathetic dependence upon the factory-made necessaries and luxuriesof life; the superiority which they feel because they buy things "ready-made,"and the sense of inferiority which they feel about what is "home-made";the pride which many of them display in their inability to use tools--because oftheir inability "even to drive a nail straight"--renders very remote theprospect that many of them could make themselves economically free.
Generations of dependence upon factory work andfactory. made products have destroyed their ability to turn to self-sufficiency asa means to the conquest of comfort. The atrophy of the attributes which make manthe supremely adaptable animal, makes a further and ever further specialization oftheir productive and home life both easy and necessary. Any effort to take a considerablestep in the other direction, toward independence and individualism, would spell theirdoom. Only farmers and the more adaptable non-farmer would survive a movement towardindividual economic freedom. The rest would all disappear, as did the Roman patriciansand their parasitic clients, before the onrush of the more adaptable Germanic tribes.They would disappear, not because there is not ample useful work in the world forthem to do, but solely and simply because our industrial civilization has turnedthem into semi-automatons incapable of the readjustments which would make self-reliantbeings of them.
There is arable land enough in the state of NewYork alone, and New York is by no means a banner agricultural region, to furnishreal homes to all the workers in its undesirable factories, and to the city workerswho are engaged in distributing their products. Yet New York probably has more undesirablefactories, and more cities in proportion to available arable land, than any otherstate in the union. There is land enough to furnish each family in the state withgardens, orchards, yards for vegetables, for fruits, for chickens, for pigs, forgoats.
The work on these small homesteads would not,of course, be sufficient to occupy all their time, nor could they produce enoughon them to furnish themselves with the domestic machinery and equipment which wouldbe essential to their comfort. But there is work enough for the spare time of allof them in the building crafts alone, if the miserable painted wooden shacks whichnow house the greater part of the people of the state were to be replaced by beautifuland substantial structures of stone, brick, and concrete. In this one field alone,there is work enough to utilize all the time of the millions now engaged in producingand distributing the products of our undesirable and non-essential factories. Insteadof devoting themselves to the semi-automatic labor in these factories, let them devotethemselves to stone-cutting, masonry, bricklaying, carpentry, joining, iron-working,and all the other crafts essential in the building of beautiful and substantial homes.Let them support themselves partly on the produce of the land, and partly out oftheir earnings as craftsmen. They would then be able to work for less in the wayof wages and yet live far more comfortably than they do today.
If even a small proportion of the workers nowengaged by non-essential factories were really directed towards the huge task ofhousing the population comfortably and beautifully in individual homes, the collateraldevelopment of all sorts of neighborhood industries would bring about a revival ofrural social life of revolutionary cultural significance. The villages would ceaseto be mere trading centers. They would become social and industrial centers, in whichthe sharp distinction between working in a factory and working on a farm, which isone of the worst aspects of our factory dominated civilization, would be absent.
A major change in the direction in which capitalis invested is essential if such a transformation of our economic life is to becomepossible. Instead of the present ingenious and highly efficient system for directingcapital into industrial channels, there must be developed an even more ingeniousand more efficient system for directing capital into home-making and home-producingchannels. Building and loan associations, land and agricultural banks, installmentfinance corporations must be developed so that ample capital is available for thebuilding of substantial and beautiful homes, for equipping them with modern domesticmachinery, and for purchasing whatever is needed to enable the home to shelter anindependent unit of society comfortably and beautifully.
If existing agencies for procuring and furnishingcapital for these purposes were developed, capital would be made available at reasonablerates of interest and on an amortization basis. It would become possible to buildmillions of homes of the best of materials and with the best workmanship, and toequip them with modern, scientific machinery for domestic production. A market wouldbe created for the producers of building materials, of domestic machinery, of toolsand equipment, of furniture and furnishings so much larger than the existing marketthat there need be no concern about what would have to be done with the millionsof workers whom my proposal would seem to leave without the means for supportingthemselves. They would be able to devote themselves, when not working their own homesteads,to useful instead of useless occupations. The notion that useless occupations aredesirable and that more and more of them have to be invented in order to make itpossible for the entire population to work, is a delusion.
Those who console themselves with the thoughtthat the consumption of luxuries and the waste of necessities has a useful aspectbecause they thus "make" work are consoling themselves with an economicdelusion. There are enough essential and desirable things to be done--of which thebuilding of beautiful homes is only one--to furnish work to every person today engagedin the production and distribution of the goods made by our undesirable and non-essentialfactories. The trouble is that today society has accepted a pattern of living basedupon a set of financial and economic ideas which makes the direction of labor intothe factory and away from the home seem desirable and rational. The same ingenuityin organization and the same perseverance in operation which have filled the landwith factories, can fill the land with beautiful homes and comfortable families.
What is needed is a more intelligent economicideology.
The really superior types in society must imposenew and better values upon the ruthless, acquisitive and powerful types which delightin forcing the masses to cater to their wishes. Just as Watt, Stephenson, Faraday,Morse slowly imposed their ideas upon the whole of mankind by showing the quantity-mindedminority the possibilities of power and profit in bringing about the industrial revolution,so this new economic ideology will have to be imposed upon society by showing thequantity-minded minority that domestic production furnishes great opportunities forpower and profit to those who first exploit its possibilities.
In the eighteenth century an entirely new groupof men acquired power by seizing upon the discoveries of science and exploiting themthrough the factory. They acquired wealth and climbed into the seats of power formerlyreserved only for the landed aristocracy, the military, and the clergy, because theydirected their ingenuity, their perseverance, and their ruthlessness to the developmentof the factory.
The self-same type of men exists today. Suchmen can be made to impose a better social and economic ideology upon the masses bythe simple expedient of showing them how they can acquire wealth and power by developinginstallment credit, domestic machinery, and electrical power.
Fortunes are now being made out of the exploitationof electrical power. Slowly but surely the quantity-minded masters of the electricalindustry are being driven by a small number of men who are doing some real thinkingabout electric power into the development of the latent possibilities of the industry.If the Duponts, the Mellons, the Insulls really begin to develop the industry theycontrol, the stage will be set for a real battle between the two systems of productionwhich we have been studying, and in this battle domestic production will find itselffor the first time assisted by talent of a type which up to the present has beenalmost exclusively on the side of factory production.
Students of the electric industry like Mr. MorrisL. Cooke, whose monograph "What Price Electricity for Our Homes?" makesthe existing situation in the industry clear, are plainly aware of the social implicationsof a greater use of electricity in the home even though they do not dwell upon therevolutionary cultural potentialities of cheap, flexible, and small unit power.
Mr. Cooke's study was designed to show the fallacy,both from the standpoint of the consumers of electricity and the producers of electricity,of the present large differentials between home consumers' rates and industrial powerrates. When the first electric companies were organized, electricity was used almostexclusively for lighting purposes. Current was wanted only when light was used. Itwas used in the evening and not the daytime. Equipment large enough to supply themaximum demand had to be installed and then had to remain idle most of the day. Lightingconsumers naturally had to be charged the cost of producing current while it wasbeing consumed and also the cost of maintaining the plant even when practically nocurrent was being produced. The companies had to secure an ample return on the investmentin their entire plant from the sale of lighting current only.
It was not long before the electric companiesdiscovered that stimulating consumption of current during the daytime, even if ithad to be sold without charging the day-time power user anything for the maintenanceof the plant, produced an added clear profit. Factories were therefore persuadedto abandon the use of steam power by offering them electrical power at rates lowerthan they could produce power from steam. The process of stimulating the consumptionof power in the "slack hours" in this way has been continued down to thisday. Industrial rates are often only one-tenth of the domestic rates. As a matterof fact, the differential in favor of the factory seems to be increasing: in 1923,lighting consumers paid on the average 4.8 times as much as the power consumers;by 1926, this had been increased to 5.7 times as much.
The conditions which originally justified thisdiscrepancy no longer exist. So much power is now used for industrial purposes that"slack hours" are practically non-existent and there is no longer any needof selling current to the factory at less than cost in order to create a market forcurrent throughout the entire day. Yet the differential in favor of the factory isbeing continued, partly because of the stupidity and partly because of the cupidityof the electric companies.
On the subject of the social value of lower ratesto domestic consumers, I can do nothing better than to quote rather fully what Mr.Cooke says:
It is not generally realized how important, from the standpoint of public welfare, the lowering of domestic electric rates really is. It is not so much that the lowering of electric rates would save the consumer money. The main gain would rise out of the increased use of electric current. The consumer may spend more for electricity at low rates than at high ones; but be will have gained the very material advantages which can be derived from an abundant use of low priced light, power, and heat.
Our limited use of electricity in the home and on the farm constitutes a serious ground for national self-reproach. In the factory machinery has already largely displaced man power, and in the mine it is, doing so, rapidly. It has relieved men of heavy muscular strain, and it is constantly making inroads on the hand performance of monotonous and uninteresting jobs. It has shortened hours. But in the home, machinery has not as yet been generally introduced. In 1920, only 10 per cent of the farms had running water in the house. Consider what this meant in the way of carrying water, as well as in the lack of sanitary conveniences. Urban homes are better equipped in this respect; but of more than 5,000,000 urban families for which the General Federation of Women's Clubs obtained reports in 1925-1926, only 35 per cent had electric vacuum cleaners; only 23 per cent electric washing machines; only 4 per cent electric sewing machines, and less than 2 per cent electric flat work ironers. Only 2.1 per cent had electric ranges and 1.3 per cent electric refrigerators. Yet, of more than 7,000,000 families reported upon 80 per cent had electricity in the house, as evidenced by the fact that they had electric lights. Sixty-four per cent had electric irons. While some of the household equipment mentioned is expensive, evidence which has been submitted suggests that a very important factor in limiting its more general introduction and use is the cost of current. The housewife who would use additional electric current for operating a sweeper or ironing machine is charged five or ten times as much as is the factory where her husband works, this though the current is identical. It would seem that considerations of ordinary fairness and chivalry would condemn a rate discrimination which retards the introduction of mechanical equipment which would relieve the strain and save the time of the busy housekeeper and mother while the use of machinery is so encouraged in men's work. The importance of the home in the whole scheme of national economy is hardly realized. In the not far distant future the home maker will be listed and tabulated with other occupations by the Census. When we see the great numbers of individuals--mostly women, of course--so engaged we will recognize a national incentive for surrounding the occupation of home making with every possible facility for making it efficient.
Taking up specifically some of the lines along which more and more electricity can be used in the home as rates are lowered, the following table estimates the number of kilowatt hours of electricity which tend to be consumed by various types of electrical apparatus. The table is based on an analysis of energy consumption data made by the Home Economics Division of the Iowa State College. Although methods of manipulation, personal habits, and the individual abilities of electrical users vary, those who prepared these figures consider that they give a fair idea of the energy consumption under normal conditions.DEVICE KILOWATT HOURS PER MONTH Per family Per personElectric range 102 25Refrigerator 28-45 11-15Ironing machine 2.8 0.46Iron used with it 3 0.5Electric cooker 5.5 0.9Waffle iron 2 0.5Washing machine 2 0.5Percolator 6 1.5Toaster 1.2 0.3Glow heater 5 0.7Water pumping (shallow) 795 gallons per kilowatt hourWater pumping (deep) 576 gallons per kilowatt hourIncubators (79 per cent hatch) 370 watt hours per chickenWater heater (60-70 degrees inlet,128 degrees outlet) 4.5 gallons per kilowatt hour
The above tabulation does not include fans, vacuum cleaners, warming pads, or electrically operated farm machinery (except pumps); nor does it make much allowance for the use in spring and fall (or in winter in poorly heated corners of the house) of a number of electric heaters. If there are some homes where, as respects some uses, the cost of current is not considered, this is not true of other and potentially larger uses.
The use of electricity for lighting has by no means reached its maximum. Under lower rates the present 25- and 40-watt lamps will tend to give place to 50-, 60- and in parts of the house to 100-watt lamps; or the smaller powered lamps will be used in greater number. Houses will also, be lighted more fully, and for longer periods. The generous lighting of stores, theatres, streets, and public monuments and buildings which is revolutionizing the appearance of our cities at night will have its counterpart in the illumination and beautification of the home, as reasonable rates make this possible.
In the rural areas present electric rates discriminate not only against the housekeeper but against the farmer. The following is a more extensive list of electrical appliances which may be used on the farm, including farm machinery as well as household equipment;
A. GENERAL FARM APPLICATIONS
Corn ear crusher
Fodder cutter and crusher
Ensilage cutter and blower
Treatment of ensilage
Plowing (Germany and Sweden)
Portable storage battery
B. DAIRY APPLICATIONS
Ice cream freezer
Pipe line milker
Babcock milk tester
Filler and capper
Forewarmer and mixer
Electropurification of milk
Churn and butter worker
C. POULTRY APPLICATIONS
Oyster shell crusher
Poultry feed mixer
Electric lighted chicken house (to stimulate winter laying)
Stimulation of growth
D. HORTICULTURAL APPLICATIONS
Destruction of insects
E. RESIDENCE APPLICATIONS
Clothes dryer, centrifugal
Bell ringing transformer
Sewing machine motor
Grinder and buffer
Ice cream freezer
Other uses might be added. For how many of these operations it will be worth while to have special equipment, and in how many cases electricity affords the best means of applying power, we do not as yet know. The whole development is in its infancy. That there are highly important uses for electricity on the farm cannot, however, be questioned.
Service to industry has been the main concern of the electrical industry for over thirty years. It has been a full sized undertaking involving not only the solution of innumerable technical problems and the development of public relations on an entirely new order but the creation of vast credits with which to pay for a stupendous construction program. No small part of the credit for our present industrial prosperity and supremacy must be given to the electrical industry for the part it has had in providing our mines and manufactures with cheap and plentiful and widely distributed power. It is pertinent to the discussion to recall that the result would never have been achieved if--especially in the early days--special consideration had not been shown, and even concessions made, to power customers. The thought is now beginning to grip the imagination of the leaders of the industry that in the home and on the farm is to be found the next big area of electrical development. The key to the solution of the problem lies in breaking the vicious circle of high rates and the restricted use which they induce. If, as every indication suggests, low rates--even rates so low as to be based on cost plus a reasonable profit--will bring about what amounts to a revolutionary increase in the normal use, then the quicker the industry gets to the new basis of Charges the better it will be for all concerned.
Home life and especially life on the farm are after all fundamental to the well-being of the American State. Electricity can play a master-rôle in their upbuilding. Therefore the question as to whether or not the electrical industry should inaugurate rate schedules designed to bring about the largest possible domestic use of electricity becomes one of national policy. In this matter happily the interest of the nation, of the consumer and of the security holders of the electrical industry are the same. We appear to be on the eve of a period of radical reductions in the charges for domestic current.
Plainly Mr. Cooke is very conservative in whatbe says about the social revolution which "radical reduction in the chargesfor domestic current" may bring about. Yet it is not unreasonable to assumethat if cheap power and the application of power to factory machines helped the factoryto destroy domestic production, the coming of cheap power in a form suitable forapplication to domestic machines may help to redress the present adverse balancebetween the home and the factory.
When we shall have become sufficiently civilizedto create a demand for small generating plants driven by windmills and watermills,they will be developed and placed on sale at even lower prices than the very ingeniousplants driven by gasoline engines, which are now on the market. The domestic producerwill then have power, heat, and light at no cost in money except for lubricants andmaintenance.
In that day, no factory will be able to producethe essentials of comfort cheaply enough to compete with the productive home.
In all probability neither the farmers nor thegreat masses of non-farmers will try the road to the conquest of comfort which hasbeen here outlined, even though modern science and modern machinery offer means toeconomic independence which do not entail the hard work and the harder deprivationsof pioneer life. The masses of farmers have been led to believe that specialization,instead of diversification, offers them economic salvation. The masses of non-farmers,deprived of both the facilities and the personal attributes essential to domesticproduction, have been reduced to a state in which they dare not consider any suchradical departures from their present ways of living.
Here and there individual families which havesomehow managed to retain the initiative and fortitude that distinguished the pioneers,may take this road to the conquest of comfort. For them what follows may point theway to a richer life than that which they now lead. And if by some miracle a sufficientnumber of them were to try this way to comfort and so effectively boycott the productsof our non-essential and undesirable factories, it would ultimately result in thecreation of a much more beautiful civilization than the one in which we now findourselves.
GO TO CHAPTER XIV