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CHAPTER XIV

FOOD, CLOTHING AND SHELTER: THE ESSENTIALS OF COMFORT

 

   No conquest of comfort is possible if we haveto procure the essentials of comfort--food, clothing and shelter up to the standardof living to which mankind's progress entitles us--by excessive labor or by inexpressiveand uninteresting labor. Because it is possible in industrialized America to securethese essentials with relative ease, we overlook the fact that the way in which weprocure them is as important to our comfort as the food, clothing, and shelter areimportant to our survival.

   What is more, we tend to believe that becauseAmerica is producing creature comforts in greater quantities than ever before thatthe quest of comfort will end when it is impossible to further develop the systemof production to which we now seem irretrievably committed. We have come to believethat comfort is increased to the degree in which production is increased. But whenwe increase production at the sacrifice of significance in our daily labor, thenwhat we gain through the increase in the quantity of our so-called comforts is overbalancedby the decrease in our capacity for enjoying them.

   We accept the sacrifice of comfort which ourfactory economy imposes upon us because it does not occur to us to ask whether somebetter method of procuring the necessaries of life might exist.

   Yet a method does exist which makes it possibleto attain a material well-being equal to that which we now enjoy with less unpleasanteffort and greater security than is the rule today.

   The necessaries of life can be procured not onlywithout excessive and unpleasant labor but without fear and uncertainty. For no conquestof comfort is possible if we live fearful of our ability to secure these essentialsof comfort; if we live menaced by the pervasive spectre of want; if unemployment,illness and old age mean not only misfortune but economic disaster.

   We must feel as certain of our ability to procurethe material essentials of comfort as we must feel certain that we shall inhale airwhen we breathe.

   Under our factory economy the sequence by whichthose of us who have not inherited wealth* secure what we need and desire is as follows:

   1. We earn money.

   2. But as we cannot eat the money, wear the money, nor house ourselves in the money, we have to buy the things we need and desire with the money we earn.

   3. These things we buy, generally from retailers, who in turn buy them from manufacturers who make them in factories.

(* It should not be forgotten that we have developed a folkway which demands that even those who inherit wealth should work precisely the same as if they had to earn the necessaries of life.)

   Under the economy which I am advocating the sequencewould be as follows:

   1. We acquire the means for the production of comfort; the four factors in the quest of comfort. (This is difficult in the United States today, but fortunately not impossible. Some of us can overcome the difficulties, but most of us cannot and will not. In some parts of the world, where land is prohibitively high or some system of caste or inheritance makes it impossible to acquire it, it is virtually impossible to secure the means for the production of comfort without a social revolution.)

   2. We then make for ourselves all the things we need and desire which we can produce for ourselves in less time than we should have to spend earning the money to buy them.

   3. We devote the remainder of our time to our crafts and professions, or to mere work in essential factories if we are fit for nothing else, and with the money earned during this time we pay taxes, interest, and similar overhead expenses and buy the factory-made products which we cannot make advantageously for ourselves.

   Under this economy we achieve an immediate two-foldgain:

   1. The time we devote to work is spent more pleasantly.

   2. We reduce the time which we have to devote to securing the material essentials of comfort and thus release time for art and science, for education and play.

   Food, clothing and shelter absorb about sixty-fivepercent of the income of the average well-to-do American family of today. If we addfuel and light, approximately seventy percent of the budget of a family consideredcomfortable according to the present standards of value is devoted to the purchaseof the basic essentials of comfort.

   Sundries and savings absorb the remaining thirtypercent. While this part of the budget provides the family with its luxuries, manyessential expenditures, such as those for medicine and medical treatment, would haveto be deducted from the sundry expenditures and added to the seventy percent previouslymentioned if the amount devoted to producing every essential of comfort were to beestablished.

   Upon this basis the following table* is constructed.It gives us a very rough idea of how large a part of the time we spend in gainfullabor has really to be devoted to earning money to buy the essentials of a comfortablelife.

   (*If the reader will substitute his own actual budget for the budget used in this table, he will be able to better test the validity of the argument so far as his own situation is concerned.)

   Items.                Days of labor per year32.5 percent of income devoted to Food					91 days 17.5 percent of income devoted to Clothing				49 days16 percent of income devoted to Shelter          			44.8 days 4 percent of income devoted to Fuel and Light			11.2 days 
70 percent of income devoted to Basic Essentials of Comfort	196 days 30 percent of income devoted to Sundries and savings		84 days         Total time spent in gainful labor* 				280 days

   * The figure of 280 labor-days per year was arrived at as follows: 365 days per year less 52 Sundays; 8 holidays--New Year's, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Christmas and 12 days for vacation. Vacation in the type of family which we are trying to picture usually consisting of two weeks but from this the two Sundays which have already been counted have to be deducted. This makes the net result up to this time 293 labor days per year. This could be further reduced by 25 days to 268 if Saturdays were reckoned as half-days. But this figure would he a rank misrepresentation of the working time of not only the vast majority of the population but even of the more prosperous classes. In very few states are all eight holidays actually observed; two-week vacations are by no means universal; neither are half-day Saturdays. On the whole, a figure midway between 268 and 293 would probably be a fair one. This makes the number of labor-days per year the 290 used in the table. It would no doubt be better to use labor-hours instead of labor-days. But to make a fair estimate of hours devoted to labor per year would be even more difficult. On a basis of labor-hours, the time spent earning a living would probably represent a greater proportion of the total year than on the basis of labor-days.

   If this table means anything, it means that morethan two-thirds of the time which we spend earning money--more than four out of thesix days of the working week--is really devoted to securing the basic necessariesof a comfortable existence.

   The question which has now to be considered iswhether we would save time and enjoy equal or greater comfort if we were to substitutea large measure of making-and-consuming at home for much of our present well nighcomplete dependence upon earning-and-buying.

   In short, can we produce the material essentialsof comfort for ourselves more economically than we can buy them?

   That most of us, having become habituated tothe present earning-and-buying economy may not like the proposed making-and-consumingeconomy, does not prove its inferiority. Habit simply has perverted the modern tasteand rendered the conventional judgment worthless. The fact that paupers cease tolike work, does not prove that a life of pauperization is superior to a life of work.

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   Earning the money with which to buy food absorbsnearly two days of each week's work-approximately 91 days out of the entire year'slabor. Yet there are good grounds for believing that much more than a third of thistime could be freed for other activities by turning to a make-and-consume economy.

   If we divide the food budget of today into itscomponent parts, the fact that the great bulk of the foods we consume can be raisedin an organic home at once becomes apparent.

   PERCENTAGE OF FOOD EXPENDITURES 43

   Meat, fish and eggs represent one-third of ourfood requirements. A poultry yard, a pig or two, and a herd of sheep and goats canfurnish us the great bulk of our requirements for these proteid foodstuffs. The careand feeding of these animals, if proper houses, yards and equipment are used, wouldnot take up more than a few hours per week of our time, since many of the tasks inconnection with their care could be entrusted to the young and the members of thefamily too old to work outside of the home.

   Producing the next largest item, vegetables andfruit, for ourselves is, if anything, an even easier task for us if we are anxiousto procure the essentials of a comfortable existence with the minimum of labor-time.An adequate vegetable garden, which will furnish us all of our vegetables and smallfruits, need not be very large, and it requires considerable time and attention onlyin the early spring. The garden tractor and the wheel hoe have so lightened the labor,that gardening when confined to the growing of our own needs only, requires nothingmuch more in the way of time than would furnish us the moderately vigorous exercisewhich every man needs. With a vegetable cellar for storage and the kitchen properlyequipped to dehydrate and to can vegetables and fruits for the winter, a year-roundsupply can be produced in much less time than is needed to earn the money with whichto buy them.

   The bread and cereal bill can be materially loweredby domestic milling of cereals and flour, and by home-baking of bread and pastry,and can be almost entirely eliminated in the case of a large family where there area considerable number of adults by undertaking grain farming on a modest scale. Ifthe family is small, however, it would be better to buy wheat, corn and the othercereals and be content with the saving in labor-time which domestic milling and homemakepossible.

   Milk and cheese need hardly be purchased at allbecause they can be produced on a relatively small scale without excessive labor.The cow is the dairy animal for the large family only; the goat is better adaptedto the needs of the small family. Goat's milk is richer in fat and easier to digestthan cow's milk while the goat itself is cleaner and easier to care for than thecow. It is not, however, suitable for butter making. With either goat's or cow'smilk, cheese, (which is one of the most nutritious and tasty items in the dietary),can be produced at a fraction of the time required to earn money for buying it.

   Fats today consist mainly of two items: butterand lard, and their synthetic imitations--oleomargarine, crisco, cottolene, etc.If the family is large enough to have a cow, the butter problem is solved and ifit has pigs the lard problem is solved. The fats are thus procured with smaller sacrificesof time than are necessary if they are purchased. The synthetic imitations so widelyadvertised are not only inferior in nutritive value to the organic fats, but sometimespositively harmful and we can therefore afford to dispense with them entirely.

   There remains the sugar bill--white sugar, cornsyrups, and similar sweets--the buying of which can be largely eliminated if we willuse the products of the honey-bee, the sugar-maple and the sorghums as nature makesit easy to use them. Surely honey, maple sugar and genuine molasses, (not the dregsof sugar which now go by that name), furnish sugars which are superior to the desiccatedproducts bought from the modern sugar refinery and glucose factory.

   Such a program would not entirely eliminate thebuying of factory-made foodstuffs, but it would reduce the time which had to be spentearning money to buy food to probably a quarter of that necessary at present. Insteadof having to spend nearly two days a week earning money with which to pay the weeklyfood bill, only half a day of our time would be needed--the other one and one-halfdays would be freed for food production on the family homestead. But a day and ahalf per week would not be needed for this purpose fifty days per year, an averageof less than a day a week throughout the year, would suffice. And of these fiftydays' time, a full third would be furnished by other members of the home.

   This would mean that we, (speaking of the money-earningmembers of the home), would be called upon to contribute only 33 days per year tothe domestic production of foodstuffs. Add the 23 days which we would spend earningmoney to buy foods not produced at home and we would be devoting a total of 56 daysper year, instead of 91, to the task of providing ourselves with food. This is aclear gain of 35 days, in addition to the gain of spending the time at work whichis far more healthful, more interesting, more expressive than that of most of therepetitive "jobs" open to us in this factory-dominated civilization.

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   We come now to housing, water, light, and fuel--bothfor heating and cooking. Today the work of securing these items absorbs about twentyper cent of our time. For those who live in the city this figure is much too low.In New York City, and in many of the growing cities of the country, rent often representsmore than twenty-five per cent of the budget, with gas for cooking and electric currentfor lighting still to be added. In such cities, it is hardly an understatement ofthe situation to say that over one-quarter of the time we spend at work is devotedto earning the money for the sheer shell of existence.

   The question is, can we furnish ourselves withshelter, fuel and light with less effort than these figures indicate? Taking theaverage figure, rather than the high New York figure, it now takes a little lessthan one day's time per week to earn the money for these necessities of life--about44.7 days per year. Can they be provided at any reduction of this time?

   If we assume that we have our own home; thatthe home is equipped with a well and an automatic water pumping system; that it hasa hygienic sewage system; that it has a wood lot which can at least furnish fuelfor that source of great joy in the home, an open fireplace, and that it has itsown automatic electric lighting system; thus reducing to the minimum the necessityfor buying shelter, fuel, light, water and sewage disposal facilities, then all thatthese things will cost us is the time: we spend caring for the home plus, the timewe shall have to devote to earning money to buy what cannot be produced in the homeitself. We shall have only to buy such supplies as oil and gasoline, and paint andvarnish. The care of such a home with a "janitor" service fully equal tothat of the average rented home today, will require less than one and one-half days'time per month. Add the time necessary to earn the money for maintenance, supplies,replacements, taxes, insurance and interest--probably a trifle more than one dayper month--and the total time required to provide shelter and the shelter items willstill be less by half than now has to be spent in earning the money for rent, fueland light.

   But with such a home we should be furnishingourselves much more than the equivalent of rented and purchased shelter, fuel andlight. We should cease to be cave dwellers in a city and would no longer crawl aboutin the canyons that are called streets. We should be abandoning the noisy, crowded,treeless, grassless cement desert of the city for the quiet, the privacy and theblue and green of the countryside. We should be furnishing ourselves not only a homebut also a homestead--with land for flowers and vegetables, for shrubs and for fruit,for pets and for domestic animals. And time formerly necessary to earn money forrent would be released to be used productively, creatively, healthfully in the developmentof the homestead.

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   We come now to that very difficult subject, clothing.Clothing represents sixteen percent of the expenditures of the average American family.It requires forty-nine days of labor per year 'to earn the money to meet the costof procuring this item of the average budget.

   As long as men and women--but men especially--insistupon wearing the style of clothing which they wear today, domestic production canprobably cut this item less than any other part of the budget. Men's clothing willhave to be made by skilled tailors as long as they insist upon the hideous garmentswhich they now wear. Women's clothing, however, is fortunately still simple enoughto lend itself to home sewing. A very material saving could be made in the time whichnow has to be devoted to earning money if, as far as possible, it were made in thehome.

    While no revolutionary savings are probableon clothing in the immediate future, a very great reduction in the economic "sacrifice"needed for clothing ourselves is possible if we were to take into our own bands thewhole subject of costuming. Today this is in the hands of a caste of "designers"--designersworking for textile mills which have to keep thousands of spindles and hundreds oflooms busy, and designers working for the garment manufacturers who have to keeptheir serried ranks of sewing machines busy. Naturally the fabrics and garments theydesign have little relationship either to the physiological or the esthetic needsof human beings. Whether a new style is healthy or unhealthy, ugly or beautiful,is a matter of no consequence to the designer, provided it possesses the one essentialvirtue of persuading consumers to buy new garments and discard their old ones. Newstyles are produced not because they are more beautiful or more useful than the oldbut because they keep the wheels of industry turning.

   If the designing of clothing were to be takenover by the wearers of clothing, the costumes would probably be simpler than theyare today; they would probably exploit the sense of beauty more intelligently; theywould attain a dignity entirely absent from the machine-dominated products of ourfactories. And it is quite possible that if the designing of clothes became an outletfor the creativity of the individual, a revival of home spinning and weaving mightaccompany the new interest in home, garment making. A renaissance in sewing, embroidering,knitting and the kindred arts might mean a revival of weaving, the craft which furnishesa form for the expression of the creative abilities of every individual, from individualsof minimum artistic endowment to those endowed with real genius. This revival mightbe further helped by the fact that weaving, if it were developed into a domesticartistic craft, would have economic utility for other things than clothing. It wouldprovide the home with fabrics for hangings and curtains, for robes and bedding, forrugs and carpets.

   With scientifically designed domestic machinesand equally scientific methods for operating them, we could provide ourselves moreabundantly with more beautiful clothing, and supply the home with many of its textilesat an actual reduction of the time which now has to be spent earning the money withwhich to buy factory-made products. Without waiting for any revolutionary changeof costume we could cut down the time now needed to earn money for clothing morethan a third, especially since sewing time would be contributed largely by thosenot now engaged in working outside the home. Ultimately, by displacing the costumevalues which prevail today with a better set of values, and making our costumes andtextiles both more beautiful and more durable, the time now devoted to securing themcould be cut in half. Perhaps a quarter of the forty-nine days' time now needed wouldbe devoted to earning money to buy what we cannot produce for ourselves, and anotherquarter to making clothing and textiles in the home.

   We would be the gainers by fully twenty-fourdays' time per year.

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   We come now to the possibilities of economy inthe eighty-four days we now devote to earning money for sundries and savings.

   When we consider the vast number of things comprisedin the category of "sundries" which the factories make for us but whichwe could make for ourselves, I am convinced that if I have erred in these estimates,I have erred wholly on the side of under-estimating the net savings possible undersuch a making-and-consuming economy as is here proposed. Soaps, cleaners, floor wax,furniture polish, paints, medicines, germicides, cosmetics, baking powders, beveragesof all kinds--both alcoholic and nonalcoholic--are only a few of the innumerablethings which we can make for ourselves of better qualities and at a large savingof time, if the time necessary to make them be compared with the time necessary toearn the money to buy them. A considerable part of the time now devoted to earningmoney for these "sundries" can therefore be saved.

   When we come to the time devoted to earning moneyfor saving and investment, a making-and-consuming economy would mean an even greatereconomy of time than is possible with regard to any of the items of the budget whichwe have up to the present time considered. For we save and invest today at the highrate here estimated--10 per cent of the total time devoted to gainful labor--in largepart because of the economic insecurity imposed upon us by our factory dominatedcivilization. We have to save, when saving has not become a pathological habit, becausewe must provide against illness, unemployment and old age. But under a regime suchas that which I advocate this insecurity would almost entirely disappear. We shouldlive with almost absolute security as to the basic essentials of life. We shouldbe certain of food, clothing, and shelter so long as any of the members of the homewere able to get about at all. Saving of money would not therefore be so urgent.The mere possession of a productive home and homestead doubly reduces the need ofsaving because it provides the essentials of comfort for dependents in case of ourdeath. It is no accidental coincidence that the great growth of life insurance has,been an accompaniment of the great growth of the factory. With the factory came insecurity,and with insecurity came life insurance.

   With saving not nearly so urgent, it could bespread over fully twice the number of years now given to the task of providing againstthe future. And if we devoted five per cent of our yearly time, instead of ten percent, to earning money for this purpose-, there would be a clear gain of fourteendays' time per year.

   Even if we disregard entirely the economies possibleon the item classed as sundries, and add merely these fourteen days to the economiespreviously enumerated, it is plain that more than one.third of the time we nowdevote to gainful employment is unnecessary.

   At least four months of each year might be releasedfor play, for education, for artistic, literary and scientific endeavor.

   I say "at least" deliberately becausethe following table represents, I am sure, a very conservative statement of the possibilitiesof time-saving under a making-and-consuming economy.

 
(All figures represent labor-days)

Item

Time Needed Under Factory Economy

Time Needed Under New Economy

Time Needed Under New Economy

Time Needed Under New Economy

Net Saving Under New Economy

 

 

For Domestic Production

For Earning Money

Total Time Needed

 

Food

91

33

23

56

35

Shelter 44.8

 

 

 

 

Fuel &Light 11.2        
 

56

18

15

33

23

Clothing

49

13

12

25

24

Sundries

56

(*)

56

56

 

Savings

28

 

 

 

 

Total

280

64

120

184

96

   *Omitted because of the difficulty of making any estimate. Theprobable saving is very large--perhaps as much as one-third of the time at presentdevoted to earning the money for sundries.

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   If we can persuade ourselves to devote to thequest of comfort some of the concentrated energy which we now devote to the questof wealth, we shall find that the domestic production of the essentials of comfortmakes it possible to furnish ourselves with food, clothing and shelter not only inthe qualities and the quantities to which we are now accustomed, but in qualitiesfar superior to the factory products which we now consume, and in quantities so abundantthat hospitality might again become one of the graces in which we could indulge oursouls.

   The thought and the time which we now give tothe four factors which govern the production of wealth must be transferred to thefour factors which govern the production of comfort.

   For just as land, labor, capital and managementare the factors which govern the production of wealth, so the homestead, time, machinesand wisdom are the factors which govern the production of comfort.

   The substitution of these four categories forthe customary categories of classic political economy will make both the practicabilityand the desirability of the economy I advocate self-evident.


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