Rescuing Disposable Time from Oblivion
Two hundred years ago this February, Charles Wentworth Dilke anonymously published a pamphlet titled The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, deduced from principles of political economy. Four decades later, Karl Marx would describe the pamphlet in his notes as an “important advance on Ricardo.” In his preface to volume two of Capital, Friedrich Engels described the pamphlet as the “farthest outpost of an entire literature which in the twenties turned the Ricardian theory of value and surplus value against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat” and credited Marx with having saved the pamphlet from “falling into oblivion.”
In the 1960s and 70s, Marx’s notebooks from 1857 to 58 were published in translation as the Grundrisse, a section of which – known as the “fragment on machines” – became the subject of much enthusiastic commentary and theoretical controversy. Some of the most evocative and heralded passages of the fragment dealt with the concept of “disposable time,” which Marx had adopted, with citation, from the anonymous pamphlet. But Marx’s rescue of the pamphlet from oblivion was far from convincing. With few exceptions, the discourse on Marx’s fragment on machines ignored The Source (pun intended) of Marx’s category of disposable time.
For Marx, disposable time referred not only to time off work for rest and recreation but more crucially to an explosive contradiction at the heart of the capital accumulation process. Continued accumulation required both the continuous creation and appropriation by capital of ever more disposable time. Marx’s fragment on machines was received as prophetic when the translations appeared. It was as if Marx had been anticipating precisely this time — when automation, computerization, and robotization seemed to either herald “the end of work” or threaten universal precarity. Nevertheless, The Source and Remedy continued to languish in obscurity – if not total oblivion. Few copies and no translation of the pamphlet were to be found in the archives of libraries. Eventually, a microfilm copy of the pamphlet became available in the 1970s as part of the Goldsmiths’-Kress Library of Economic Literature. The full collection of old documents cost around $200,000 in 1980 dollars – the equivalent of $3,000,000 in current dollars.
In 1999, I posted the first 6 pages of the pamphlet to the TimeWork Web. Five years later, I uploaded a PDF of the full pamphlet to the website of B.C.’s Work Less Party. By 2010 a copy was available on the Marxists Internet Archive. Regardless, Marx scholars continued to ignore the pamphlet, aside from the occasional mention that it was cited by Marx. In 2019, however, the journal Contributions to Political Economy reprinted the pamphlet along with a descriptive essay by Giancarlo de Vivo. This year, my essay commemorating the bicentennial of the pamphlet’s publication, “The Ambivalence of Disposable Time: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties at Two Hundred,” is forthcoming in that journal. I am hopeful that the scholarly neglect of the pamphlet will soon end.
In my essay, I document specific links between the pamphlet’s advocacy on behalf of disposable time and William Godwin’s exaltation of leisure in his An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and its influence on morals and happiness and especially in his 1797 book, The Enquirer: reflections on education, manners and literature. In a later book, Thoughts on Man: his nature, productions and discoveries, Godwin confirmed and clarified his earlier ideas about leisure.
While documenting the connections between Godwin’s writings about leisure and Dilke’s disposable time, an intriguing thought occurred to me. Godwin had been trained as a minister in a strict Calvinist sect and had retained his intellectual orientation as a “Rational Dissenter” long after leaving the church. His discourses on leisure and on occupations (“vocations”) can plausibly be regarded as a secular and modernizing reformulation of Calvin’s doctrine of the calling. I ran this conjecture by a leading Godwin scholar who found it entirely plausible and consistent with his own writing on Godwin’s secularization of religious motifs. “The Calvinist doctrine of the calling,” observed William Stafford in 1980, “can be discerned just below the surface of Political Justice.”
The continuity between Godwin, Dilke, and Marx raises startling questions about the elective affinities between Marx’s class struggle, Godwin’s perfectibility of private judgment, and ultimately Calvin’s doctrine of Grace. In terms of political activism, the Marx-Dilke-Godwin-Calvin connection suggests possibilities of immanent critique and direct challenge to the proverbial “work ethic” and its deviations: Carlyle’s “gospel of work,” Carnegie’s “gospel of wealth” and, finally, the blasphemous “prosperity gospel” of latter-day television evangelism. One of my long-running frustrations with ecological economics and the degrowth movement has been its default treatment of work-time reduction as primarily a work-sharing strategy. I have nothing against work-sharing, but my complaint is that it is about the fourth best reason for reducing working time. The top priority is emancipation from social domination through taking back disposable time. Second is the elimination of uncompensated overwork. Third is elimination of the bargaining disadvantage that long hours of work impose on labour. Instead of contesting growth economics on the tilted playing field of the quantity of GDP, attention to the redemptive doctrine of disposable time could help us, in the words of Artemy Magun, to “understand rationally the crucial elements of the religious world-view that have been ignored by modern science, but which nevertheless are highly relevant to orientation in the contemporary world.”
I doubt many workers would understand “emancipation from social domination through taking back disposable time” for various reasons. Many male workers find escape from the demands of family via work hours. Other workers gain much of their individual pride and status from their work, but not nearly so many as when skilled workers and artisans made up far more of the US work force. OTOH, white collar workers, especially knowledge workers such as my wife, would heartily embrace “the elimination of uncompensated overwork.”
Nonetheless, Charles Hobbes established that elite order must be preserved according to the interests and understanding of experienced businessmen rather than scholars. Leisure was reserved for elites, part of the rewards for their exceptionalism. Which elites should have the decision making capability is a matter of opinion among elites, but rarely does elite decision making consider the actual interests of the working class. To do such would require asking workers, rather than telling workers what to do. Elites have never intended for society to be constructed to support such a ludicrous notion.
very interesting. makes me wish i had time and guidance to read Marx and Calvin and everything when i had time.
i would be very glad to see more detailed explanations of the thoughts alluded to here. very hard to tell anything by the very brief allusions here.
same thing as comment to Sammich. i’ll have to add Charles Hobbes to my list.
Worth noting (to me) that the meritocracy has been alive and well for centuries. of course there is no point in educating the masses. that would be like teaching colored folks to read.
on the other hand i looks like we might need to thank our Puritan ancestors (religious bigots) for inventing the idea of teaching people to read, and the Founding Fathers (racists all) for inventing the idea of public schools.
Even the very thin offerings of public schools and the bible open the door to the universe to those who choose to step through.
looked up Charles. only found Thomas, who i knew about, if only in the thin form “taught’ in public school.
Thanks. Clearly my mistake. I have made it more than a few times in the past. Whenever I think of Hobbes, then I think of Calvin and Hobbes comic characters. But I was referring to Thomas Hobbes that wrote Leviathan, at least in intent.
In any case, since Thomas Hobbes and perhaps even before, academics have had less influence on policy outcomes than guillotines and pitchforks, euphemistically speaking, or the Bonus Army, as a real example.
Certainly though academics are often relied upon to craft policy. Politicians use academics, but it is a one way street.
well, Calvin and Hobbes is a better read. and as far as I can tell, better philosophy.
As for the bonus army, Hoover sent in the army. Roosevelt sent in Eleanor. Another example of the better philosophy.
My 1939 copy of Beard and Beard America at mid passage makes a very good point about the New Deal setting aside the academics and trying what worked. He (They, Beards) were careful to point out the politicians had to find something that worked. on accounta voters, you see. I would never have thought of that given the new days politicians.
the “fragment on machines” – became the subject of much enthusiastic commentary and theoretical controversy. Some of the most evocative and heralded passages of the fragment dealt with the concept of “disposable time,” which Marx
tell me something! did John Q Adams use the Constitution to swear on for his inauguration? or was it just an old book that looked like a law book? it doesn’t matter.
point is that for each election each of us consistently chooses either the Luddite or the disintermediator. Luddites always choose another Luddite but disintermediaters always choose one of their own. birds of a feather flock together. since Hoover was an engineer, we can safely assume that he was an efficiency man, not Luddite. since the 45th president was trying to bring the jobs back to America with his tariffs on Chinese dumping and a wall to prevent Mexican home-builders it come North during the summer, could we assume that he was a Ludd?
who knows? one thing for sure any efficiency president should bring back deflation which is much more efficient at protection of retirement cash from the decay of inflation. see how most people go to Wall Street to protect their store of buying power when in fact Wall Street the one place where customers can lose everything? deflation automatically protects your retirement fund even if you keep all the cash in your pocket which of course is what most poor people do, pocket or passbook savings account. do you see what gigantic unfunded liabilities so many retirement funds now have? sure! deflation requires more Taxation and less spending by the public sector but remember :
taxation does not slow down production if the tax is only on real property and not on corporations, capital gains, or payroll. after the government increases taxes on real property we still have the same amount of real property in this nation as before, whereas taxation of production slows down production, runs corporations out of business and causes the workers to be offered a smaller real wage. by contrast, there is no natural tax shelter on the taxation of real property by virtue of the fact that you can’t hide real estate and you
can’t take it off
After spending a month researching and writing a 5,000 word scholarly article about a topic that I have studied for 20 year, I took another couple of hours to write a short, accessible precis. One would hope that readers would consider the outcome of that work, whether they agree with it or disagree, and respond to the ideas expressed in the “O.P.” It’s understandable if you really have nothing to say relevant to my topic. In that case, it would be the respectful thing to do to leave the field clear for people who do have something to say. You may think your disconnected rambling is clever, Justin. You would be only one,
i dunno, justin
what is the tradeoff between deflation presrerving the value of your savings, and the government taxing you on the value of the home you built for your retirement? …after you no longer have an income?
or, assuming the economists are right and deflaton is associated with recession, what is the tradeoff between preserving the value of your savings and losing your job?
i personally know people who were doing quite well in their businesses, and added considerable value to their home. when the 2008 bank fraud recession hit they lost their business and now don’t have enough income to pay the taxes on their expensive home. what do you suggest?
the country can always use someone with a simple brilliant idea that solves all economic problems.
“the country can always use someone with a simple brilliant idea that solves all economic problems”
I have my doubts. The “brilliant idea” wouldn’t fit into the either/or framework of cut taxes or spend money so the conversation after the brilliant idea is presented would revert to the two sides repeating their respective mantras as if nothing had happened.
yes, that’s pretty much what i meant.
my concern about Social Security is a free time issue. I read a few years ago that for everyone who does not retire the economy makes an extra 90 thousnd dollars. i know where i read it but not exacly when.. do you have any idea where this may have come from.
it was clear at the time that the averae worker did not make 90k/y. so someone else must be getting the money. i suspect that’s th same story about where the rest of the potential leisure goes. but i also suspect that most people are glad to trade leisure for money while they are young.. up to a point.
Exactly. Jobless people have plenty free time, but little to do with it unless they inherited money or rob banks or are retired. Most people do not have enough retirement income established to stop working. The idea that we can bleed capital returns enough that shorter hours will not affect real income is appealing, but capital usually gets its way politically and with offshoring or automation.
The 8 hour day or 40 hour work week was the result of a long, hard-fought battle that was orchestrated by labor and especially labor unions. It was fully won in the US in the early days of the post-WWII economic boom, when labor had real pricing leverage. Most importantly though it was a labor demand for a very long time. Scholars and academics had little if anything to do with it.
BTW, the NRA does not fight our wars or police our streets either.
Supporting labor usually requires the dirty work of lawyers or just money for lawyers and publicity. Mostly, it gets done on the transactional level. Of course there is macro labor policy on unions and safety. In the US there is considerable separation of powers between the state and private firms.
A scholarly nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse.
i bet there were scholars and academics arguing against it. the workers would just spend the time getting drunk and not show up on Monday.
In fact, I think someone on AB not too long ago published an article describing the argument against shorter work hours. It (the argument, not the article) was fairly specious, but “colorable” enough to satisfy the monied-class who can’t stand to see an idle worker. unless he is standing in line begging for a job.because the boss makes money every hour the worker works, you see. up, of course, to the point where they can’t sell any more product.
All I will say is: Kellogg’s of Battle Creek.
We’re not going to solve this issue via economics unless economics can come up with a math model of why people and society should be put ahead of an economy. That is, the model shows that the positive numbers come out of putting the economy back in service of society/humanity.
Then again, we could stop listening so much to the economics profession (and even the law profession) and a lot more to the humanities.
With that, I came across a Prof Benjamin Hunnicutt. His work is in leisure and work. He wrote a book about the Kellogg experience. Talks about the origin of the phrase “American Dream” (James Trulsow Adams) and the social change in perspective of what work is and for.
This link is to an introduction to his work. I think it fits well with Sandwichman’s post.
This is a more in depth discussion. https://youtu.be/DlpPBMVkizg
free time when you don’t have enough to eat is not free time. but your point is definitely worth adding to the discussion. i kind of thought i had settled it with my churches la femme (churches is spell-check for c h e r c h e z) essay.
speaking of academics, i just tried to look up the spelling of c h e r c h e z. on line dictionary says no such word. academics don’t think foreign words, no matter how many times they show up in english writing, deserve to be explained or spelled by an english dictionary.
I tried to post the most applicable 8 hour day Wiki, but apparently it was too long to post. In any case the article mentions unions and other similar labor organizations way many times and even a POTUS and another sovereign leader a couple times, but I missed the part about scholars and academics. I am sure such people become involved in labor movements from time to time, but they do not lead and they do not tip the scales in general, although apparently they have been useful in instances.
Reminds me of when (fictionally is the consensus) Don Juan told Carlos Castaneda that for him to find his oneness with the universe that first he must find his place on the porch or Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Of course, I have always been a compulsive under-achiever, always focused and exceptional at my work at hand but still never seeking more than t already had. Hell, I never even read those books. I was just often told about them because of the perception that I needed to read them to validate my existence.
You are correct, it is too long. This is Sandwichman’s Post, I am not going to add it either.
I read Siddharta in high school on the recommendation of a teacher I respected. Didn’t get much out of it. Reminded me of fictional Christs in the movies and books, where Christ turns out to have very much the same human concerns as the author and the educated society of the author’s times.
I doubt that kind of academic has much effect on anything except to give the educated a feeling of being in the smarter-than-you class. And provide the wall street journal with the wise insights into economics and politics that they reveal on the editorial page.
as to compulsivr underachiever…me too. but i think i may have been subconsciously thinking at the time that doing my job well would be recognized if not rewarded. oh, well, like Trump I am an unappreciated but stable genius i guess.
I listened to the link.
While I don’t have the education to connect the dots, I am not sure the talk helps anyone.
I agreed with what he said, but it seemed to me that all he really said was that there have been some smart people who wanted to have to work less and have more time for self-actualization.
He didn’t have an argument either that this was good, or that it was possible.
No problem and completely understood. It was a silly compulsion. If at sometime then I have the spare time (how ironic), then I can write a few articles on stuff that I have experience with such as semantics, the limits of knowledge, and modeling traps which emanate from the locus of observations.
E.g., suppose one modeled the velocity of a stone when all that they were in position to observe was the stone, its mass and movement, but had no knowledge of the slingshot pouch in which the stone rested or the hand that is withdrawing that stone from the direction of the target. Of course, that is a poor and unrealistic example in real space, but the model is a matter of vectors of force. Not all vectors of force are as readily observable to the scientist as a sling shot in real space.
In social sciences real space is an abstract concept and observable reality is limited to a set of metrics that we may decide to treat as inputs, but often enough are just intermediate outputs from other forces that are not readily observable at the distance from the subjects that is maintained by objective social scientists. This underlies correlation is not the same as causation among other common mistakes.
In any case, hope springs eternal. I hope to care less about these things over the next four years.
The punch line to Siddharta was that the way to find enlightenment is to stop looking for it. Same with the Teachings of Don Juan. Now, paying attention to all that is around one all of the time is important. Otherwise we are just blind men stumbling around. Ram Dass said Be Here Now. Same thing. When one is still inside and aware then the light turns on and there is no darkness to the mind.
Ron (letter before the last)
well, that’s no fun. i was about to say that observable reality is not what it was for physics, even since i last stopped paying attention. i have some fun with imaginary slingshots myself, since physics stopped paying attention to me.
i don’t remember the punch line to Siddartha, but I am pretty much aware of the the way to find reality is to stop looking for it. the way that is the way cannot be said. what i do remember about Sid is rather vague, but the humanization of the buddha which i didn’t get much out of and found offensive when i was much older and rather tired of journalists and other authors who all use the same words and ideas, which in their case don’t shed much light on what they think they are talking about.
I find it pretty easy to Be Here Now when I am mending a fence, and I believe that what “they” call meditation is what i call “thinking” (although they deny it). the difference in both cases is that sometimes you want to (eventually) seek wider horizons than fence mending… which might mean the meditators are looking for the All which [may] only appear when you stop thinking about all the stuff you thought you were thinking about.
Of course, it turns out to be easier to mend a fence when you stop thinking about it. But that may only mean you need to think about it first and when your hands have learned how, it’s better to not keep shouting advice at them.
If we generalize the enlightenment idea further then the seeker is looking for contentment, self-realization, or satisfaction. I went straight for spiritual enlightenment because I was drawing from my best friend that died in 2005.
Fifty years ago I wanted to change the world (along with a lot of other people), but then found that the world had other ideas. Vietnam made me forget that momentarily, then when I tried to forget Vietnam I went back to it, but it had moved from here and left no forwarding address. After that then I sought fast women and the next high until circumstances developed that required my full attention.
Seeking contentment aside from hedonistic pleasures was never much of a thing for me. I was already content as long as I had food and shelter and no one was shooting at me. Most of my life there has been work to do and that has been enough. If there is not enough work then it is time to party. But most people that I have known have wanted more of something than they had and that want troubled them. It also made them act silly. These days then I need to work because I am too old to party like a young man now.
These days I like to work, too. But that is not the same as working for a boss. or even for the customers.
Which is what the enemies of Social Security, or the very rich, forget to mention when they tell us we won’t like being retired and having nothing to do.
Sounds to me like you have reached something like enlightenment..nothing like what we thought it was when we were looking for it, as we should have suspected, having been told.
I have been lucky. Always hated parties and drugs. And fast women hated me.
Yeah, we are fairly much in the same place about what Zappa called “Cosmik Debris.”
Spiritual enlightenment may be overrated. Given the nature of the world then it may be more direct to learn to see in the dark. In any case, regardless of whether my best friend attained his blissful state of spiritual enlightenment or not, he has been dead for fifteen years and I am still alive and almost kicking.
As a teenager I mused about how I would die. Perhaps I would be shot by a jealous husband when over 80 years old. In any case I thought that the absolute worst form of death was to die of boredom. Rather than seeking the secret to that life, then I just chose to live it instead.
Seekers can be interesting people. They do the hard work to ferret out their chosen spot in reality, expose it, absorb it, and celebrate it. So, there is always something to learn from them and subjects on which they provide clever insightful exchange.
When I look back on my own life there is no order to it, no concentric circles that are drawn around some nexus. I could not say what my life has been for or about aside from the act of living it, or rather acts. I say acts, because if a play then it was a play of many acts. Both my great luck in surviving it and the appearance to me that it was not just one lifetime, but the lives of several different people, amaze me now.
Apparently I have had way too much leisure time recently.
way too much leisure.
Spiritual enlightenment may be overrated.
funny, i was thinking this morning that algebra may be overrated. don’t get me wrong. i have always loved algebra, the key to everything. but today i am wondering how much i actually use/used it. ordinary thinking (without formal equations) seems (to me today) to get you as far as anything that looks like solving algebra problems. could be i have just forgot, and never learned any deep science that requres formal equations .
my life has had such dominant themes that i almost beieve in karma, or neurosis. i don’t think i use karma quite the way new agers do. but it seems to methat we (I) come repeatedly on or into problems as a result of something we need to learn. and since learning is slow and life is short i can only imagine that we get to keep trying from one lifetime to the next. and then we start to work on the next problem.
my apologies to anone who reads this and thinks itis nonsense, it probably is, but too much time…
i don’t know about spiritual enlightenment. it feels like boot camp. preparation for the real battle ahead.
I made a good living off of mostly algebra with side of analytic geometry. None of that though in retirement. Nowadays, just geometry, plane and solid, building and calculating water, concrete, etc.
My best friend (who sought spiritual enlightenment) discussed things in terms of energy flow rates. Damnation was in his context the cessation of energy flow. I appeared at his sanity hearing in the early 80’s to defend him. He was not institutionalized in some part due to my testimony. He had sort of been stalking his ex-girlfriend. With careful semantics I informed the hearing that my friend was probably crazy, but definitely not dangerous. That was a half-truth.
I had to use the term institutionalized above because to say that he was not committed would be a lie thanks to the confusing semantics of our Englishy language. He was such a committed friend that he would stand by me regardless of who might threaten my life. That kind of crazy I hold dear. There has never been a lot of it. Back then it was useful. Of course, my friends knew that I was committed in that same manner. That is why I have had three good friends which we could count on each other as long as we both breathed.
No one has threatened my life in this century though. Fortunately I own a home and have a wife now to keep life interesting. Like myself, my remaining two good friends are settled and married now. Once though we were all quite wild characters.
my comments re algebra were meant as much to show where undisciplined thinking (seeking enlightenment?) gets you…as to make a serious point about algebra. but since you bring it up, i made use of trigonometry to make a living for the best (quality) time of my life. But it was trigonometry as far as it would take a high school kid to learn in a week, or a few hours if he was a serious student. similarly, geometry, which i also loved, as a matter of proofs and “advanced” knowledge of shapes doesn’t seem to me to have all that much use in building…not beyond what a journeyman carpenter learns without reference to the “science.”
i could well be wrong. . “studied” all those things in school, and was allowed to teach them to undergraduates, and i may just have forgot, or have recently spent too much time not using them…. very likely a certain amount of what i call thinking does depend on habits of mind developed in math class.
like you said… too much time on my hands. probable mental deterioration.
(even calculus. it seems, has been replaced by computers. i suppose the people who program computers might benefit from knowledge of math, but it seemed to me even when i was in school that the masters of the universe no longer needed math students enough to encourage them to reward them with jobs, or even bother to hire math teachers who spoke english or gave a damn.)
ANGRY BEAR just told me i am posting comments too quickly. I think this is the first comment i have posted in three hours. maybe that’s too quickly or i just lost track…having been posting too quickly.
But I do need to find something useful to do.
“…need to find something useful to do…”
First there was the three-holiday pandemic meal shopping, then there was the holiday hangover catching up on pandemic basics shopping. Finished that this AM. Each time that I go shopping I have a high fat low fiber meal for dinner the day before and sometimes for two days before. I don’t even have coffee before shopping. That way there is no chance that I will need to use public facilities while I shop. I shop during senior hours, 6AM for a couple stores and 7AM for the rest on various days of week Tue-Thu, It takes me two or three days and a half box of Bran Buds to get regular again after a shopping trip.
Dry weather is forecast here for the next six days. Take care.]