‘Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins. Pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralising.
The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in the making of the pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way it is ensured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all around instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?’
The words of the late, great Bertrand Russell from In Praise of Idleness (1932) on a society which seems to prize keeping people down above all else. One might argue it applies even more today, where, despite chronic overpopulation, people are still overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. In a recent poll on the average worker in the UK, it stated that over 22% of men (without children) work unpaid overtime, while over 24% of childless women worked extra unpaid hours. This is a somewhat sober riposte to the oft-lamented statistics of staff absence records ‘costing the country’.
Why do we put up with this exploitation? Is it just a dutiful national character that keeps us stretching ourselves to the limit for little or no compensation? Or is it something more sinister? Unfortunately, particularly in these times of recession, employers are able to enjoy extra labour on the premise that it will influence them to spare the people involved when the time comes for redundancies. And, as we are all aware, there is the other demoralising effect of employers being able to justify a reduction in wages, because of course workers should just be grateful to have any income at all.
Could this be why immigration and overpopulation never seems to be curbed by governments? Because big businesses suggest they would rather drive down wages in a supply-demand headlock than pay their ‘ungrateful’ employees what they are actually worth. Immigrants are then tagged as easy scapegoats for having the temerity to want to work hard for a better wage than in their home nation. This overpopulation in tandem with a recession has left us with the ridiculous situation of having to jump through hoops for the most menial of positions.
But how can we remedy this? Alas, as most social problems seem to be, it is a complex issue which usually leads eventually up to the rich exploiting the poor. Overpopulation does not really affect the wealthiest among us, because they can use cheap labour and hole themselves away on private estates rather than be crammed into bloated urban ghettos where poverty, noise and antisocial behaviour breeds resentment, racial disharmony and gang violence.
Redistribution of wealth? How about businesses paying someone what they are worth instead of what you can get away with, and taking it from there.
Apologies for the Marxism, it’s not a regular thing.