United States Code Title 18 § 227 #TakeAKnee
Noah Smith has written a column at BloombergView, “Don’t Believe What Jeff Sessions Said About Jobs,” which scolds Attorney General Jeff Sessions for “terrible economics.” That may be a bit like carping about Charles Manson’s hairstyle or critiquing David Duke’s academic integrity. But there is something far more dangerous going on with Smith’s knee-jerk invocation of the lump-of-labor fallacy to rebuke Sessions and, presumably, those who might find Sessions’s claims credible.
In effect, Smith is falsely equating Sessions’s rationale for the expulsion of 800,000 young people who have grown up in the U.S. to Dean Baker’s advocacy of work-sharing. Lest that appear to be hyperbole, here is how Smith described Sessions’s terrible economics: “It’s a classic application of a well-known fallacy called the Lump of Labor — the idea that there are a fixed number of jobs in the world, and those jobs get divvied up among people.” And here is how Omar al-Ubaydli framed his counterpoint to Dean Baker’s case for shorter workweeks: “Proponents of work-sharing believe an economy requires a fixed amount of work to be performed by a limited number of people.”
But Smith’s is only a relatively tame implementation of the fixed amount of false equivalency racket. Would you believe “collective bargaining = genocide”? Pierre Cahuc and André Zylberberg traversed the obscene false equivalence distance from work-time reduction to genocide in The Natural Survival of Work: Job Creation and Job Destruction in a Growing Economy:
The idea that any country’s economy, and a fortiori the world economy, contains a fixed number of jobs or hours of work that can be parceled out in different ways is false. When used to justify the policies that reduce the length of the individual work week, it may lead to unintended consequences. … It can even be dangerous, as when it leads to the notion that getting rid of “superfluous” manpower (the Jews of Nazi Germany in the past, immigrants from many countries in the present) will give work back to indigenous residents.
Of course the above claim is not only false but absurd in the extreme. Work is “parceled out” all the time. A shift manager at Starbucks fills available hours with interchangeable baristas. The number of jobs or number of hours doesn’t have to be “fixed” to allow them to be parceled out in different ways. Nevertheless, Cahuc and Zylberberg ride their vile hobby horse from the ominous-sounding “unintended consequences” of reducing the work week to the downright dangerous notion of getting rid of unwanted populations, which somehow begins to sound almost benign compared to those terrifyingly vague unintended consequences. The slippery slope only needed to be greased one short step to encompass the principle of collective bargaining. That step was taken by Thomas Cree in “The Evils of Collective Bargaining in Trades’ Unions” when he described the “economics upside down” that underpinned trade unionism and collective bargaining:
But now, there is a more serious evil than any of the foregoing. It is this, that the power of the union is exercised to enforce regulations which limit production and waste labour. Most workmen believe (and the belief is not confined to workmen) that increase of production per man is an evil. They think they are benefiting their class by doing each as little as possible, so as to make the work go over a greater number; and the desire to relieve the society of out-of-work allowance is a reason for enforcing that view. This is at the root of the demand for an eight hours’ day, and for a say in the management in shops, and also a cause of the objections to piecework. In this view exceptional industry is no longer a virtue—it is a fault to be punished not only by disapproval of fellow-workmen but, in some cases, by penalties. In some trades, if a man earns more than a certain wage he is fined, and his employer is fined as well.
As did many of his fellow dogmatists, Cree felt it instructive to obscure the claim of a false belief in a fixed amount of work by embedding it in the “regulations which limited production” and the supposed impulse toward slacking and shirking. The rationale, however is that “most workmen believe… that increase of production per man is evil”… because they assume that there is only a fixed amount of work to be done and thus if one man does more of it than there will be less left for others. This argument was explicated in David Schloss’s canonical explanation of “the Theory of the Lump of Labour”:
In accordance with this theory it is held that there is a certain fixed amount of work to be done, and that it is best in the interests of the workmen that each shall take care not to do too much work, in order that thus the Lump of Labour may be spread out thin over the whole body of work-people.
Schloss’s “Theory of the Lump of Labour” conformed to a template that already was more than a century old, having been expressed in similar terms in 1780 by the Lancashire magistrate, Dorning Rasbotham, in response to factory riots the previous year. Successive iterations of the complaint against the economic illiteracy of workers, handed down from Rasbotham to Schloss, adhered to what Albert O. Hirschman diagnosed as the “rhetoric of reaction.” Workers enjoyed “the best of all possible worlds.” Any effort on their part to “coerce” employers into paying higher wages or operating shorter hours would inevitably result in — as Cahuc and Zylberberg put it — “unintended consequences” that would make them worse off.
But, in what Noah Smith calls “one case where economists get it absolutely right” the consensus of economists — outside of Econ 101 textbook orthodoxy — is far less unanimous than he presumes. Among those economists who directly refuted the fallacy claim are Maurice Dobb, A.C. Pigou and Robert Hoxie. Economists who indirectly countered the fallacy claim in their analysis include Sydney J. Chapman, John Maynard Keynes, Joan Robinson, Luigi Pasinetti, John R. Commons, Dorothy W. Douglas, John Maurice Clark and Thorsten Veblen. Amazingly, objections and counter-arguments raised by these economists are never mentioned — and obviously never addressed — when the fallacy claim is trotted out. What kind of getting it “absolutely right” is that?
In my view, two of the most effective repudiations of the fallacy claim came from Dobb and Hoxie, both of whom presented alternative explanations for why workers might appear to want to “restrict output.” Dobb argued that what workers were after was not maximizing aggregate earnings but maximizing earnings relative to expenditure of time, effort and bodily “wear and tear.” Hoxie argued that the tactics and strategies of trade unions were not based on some abstract idea of what was happening in the “economy as a whole” but on everyday experience in a local economy. Dobb referred to the “Work Fund” fallacy, which was another name for the lump of labor:
…trade unionists in the nineteenth century were severely castigated by economists for adhering, it was alleged, to a vicious ‘Work Fund’ fallacy, which held that there was a limited amount of work to go round and that workers could benefit themselves by restricting the amount of work they did. But the argument as it stands is incorrect. It is not aggregate earnings which are the measure of the benefit obtained by the worker, but his earnings in relation to the work he does — to his output of physical energy or his bodily wear and tear. Just as an employer is interested in his receipts compared with his outgoings, so the worker is presumably interested in what he gets compared with what he gives. A man who works longer hours or is put on piece-rates, and increases the intensity of his work as a result, may earn more money in the course of the week; but he is also suffering more fatigue, and probably requires to spend more on food and recreation and perhaps on doctor’s bills.
Hoxie re-branded the lump of labor as the “fixed group demand theory” and concluded that this theory, in practice, “is simply the application by the unions of the principle of monopoly, admittedly valid”:
There is much scorn of unionists by economists and employers because of this lump of labor theory with its corollaries. This scorn is based on the classical supply and demand theory and its variants. Supply is demand. Increased efficiency in production means an increase of social dividend and increased shares, which in turn increase production and saving. Therefore, the workers cut off their own noses when they limit output or limit numbers. The classical position is undoubtedly valid when applied to society as a whole, if there is any such thing, and in the long run. But the trouble is that, so far as the workers are concerned, there is no society as a whole, and no long run, but immediate need and rival social groups.
Both Dobb and Hoxie called attention to the central conceit of the economists’ scorn for unionist “theories” — that somehow those who do not embrace the economic orthodoxy must have a view of economics that is “upside down” relative to the “true” theory. which is to say, same-but-different, with difference indicating deficiency. To put it bluntly, othering.
The effect of this unilateral executive amnesty, among other things, contributed to a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences. It also denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.
This is a lie. DACA has not “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans.” But it isn’t a lie because it assumes the amount of work to be done is fixed. To make that claim trivializes both the mendacity of the Trump administration and the gullibility of people who believe the lies that demagogues tell them. The alleged “fixed amount of work” has nothing to do with it.
To the extent there is economic illiteracy, the economics profession is the main culprit. Economists have shamelessly touted policies that enrich the rich and impoverish the poor and pooh-poohed egalitarian proposals like work-time reduction. For all too many of them, it’s their job. When those policies have exactly the effects they were designed to have, economists become puzzled about where all the inequality is coming from.
In simple terms, when things are not going well for people they tend to scapegoat vulnerable others. This is not “economic illiteracy.” It is scapegoating. Ironically, the economic illiteracy claim is itself a form of scapegoating. People stop listening to the experts because the experts have sold their credibility to the highest bidder. Instead of reflecting on why people don’t trust them any more, the experts blame it on economic illiteracy.
UPDATE: Here Paul Krugman makes good arguments in defense of DACA and avoids the fixed-amount-of-work straw man distraction. The Very Bad Economics of Killing DACA. Much better.
First they coddled the white supremacists with false equivalency, and I didn’t resign from the Trump Evangelical Council because those protesting the white supremacists didn’t have a permit…
Who knew that neo-Nazi, KKK white supremacists and Trump supporters were liars, cry-babies AND hypocrites?
The ideas entertained at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were that the enslavement of the African race was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. Our new government is founded on exactly opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and moral condition. This our Government is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. It is upon this our social fabric is firmly planted, and I cannot permit myself to doubt the ultimate success of the full recognition of this principle throughout the civilized and enlightened world…. This stone which was rejected by the first builders ‘is become the chief stone of the corner’ in our new edifice.
The idea that slavery wasn’t the reason for the secession was an afterthought that was solidified into unquestionable dogma a half century after the end of the Civil War. Yes, we have documents in the career of Mildred Lewis Rutherford and the successful campaign to rewrite the history of the Civil War, as taught in the South. “Reject a book that says the South fought to hold her slaves.”
This should also put to rest any notion that “defenders of Southern heritage” are champions of “free speech.” The are liars, cry-babies, hypocrites and TOTALITARIANS bent on imposing their self-serving distortions of history on everyone else.
|Miss Mildred L. Rutherford|
At their 1919 reunion the United Confederate Veterans “resolved to inaugurate a movement to disseminate the truths of Confederate history.” To carry out this aim, they comissioned Miss Rutherford, Historian for the United Daughters of the Confederacy to prepare “A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries” to be used by textbook committees of boards of education, private schools and libraries to ensure “absolute fairness” “truth in history” and “full justice to the South.”
These crackers were not just whistling Dixie. If you know anything about the textbook industry, whatever Texas wants, y’all get. “The Lost Cause triumphed in the curriculum,” quipped historian James McPherson, “if not on the battlefield.” Here are some excerpts from the pamphlet’s front matter:
A MEASURING ROD FOR TEXT-BOOKS
” ‘A Measuring Rod For Text-Books,’ prepared by Miss Mildred L. Rutherford, by which every text-book on history and literature in Southern schools should be tested by those desiring the truth, was submitted to the Committee. This outline was read and carefully considered.
“The Committee charged, as it is, with the dissemination of the truths of Confederate history, earnestly and fully and officially, approve all that is herein so truthfully written as to that eventful period.
“The Committee respectfully urges all authorities charged with the selection of text-books for colleges, schools and all scholastic institutions to measure all books offered for adoption by this “Measuring Rod” and adopt none which do not accord full justice to the South. And all library authorities in the Southern States are requested to mark all books in their collections which do not come up to the same measure, on the title page thereof, “Unjust to the South.”
“This Committee further asks all scholastic and library authorities, in all parts of the country, in justice and fairness to their fellow citizens of the South, to yield to the above request.
“C. IRVINE WALKER, Chairman.”
INDEX (see also “TRUTHS OF HISTORY”)
I. The Constitution of the United States, 1787, Was a Compact between Sovereign States and Was not Perpetual nor National 6
II. Secession Was not Rebellion 7
III. The North Was Responsible for the War between the States 8
IV. The War between the States Was not Fought to Hold the Slaves 9
V. The Slaves Were Not Ill-Treated in the South and the North Was largely Responsible for their Presence in the South 10
VI. Coercion Was not Constitutional 11
VII. The Federal Government Was Responsible for the Andersonville Horrors 12
VIII. The Republican Party that Elected Abraham Lincoln Was not Friendly to the South 13
IX. The South Desired Peace and Made every Effort to Obtain it 14, 15, 16
X. The Policy of the Northern Army Was to Destroy Property—the Southern Army to Protect it 18-21
XI. The South Has never Had its Rightful Place in Literature 22-23
Do not reject a text-book because it does not contain all that the South claims—a text-book cannot be a complete encyclopedia.
Do not reject a text book because it omits to mention your father, your grandfather, your personal friend, socially or politically— it would take volumes to contain all of the South ‘s great men and their deeds.
Do not reject a text-book because it may disagree with your estimate of the South ‘s great men, and the leaders of the South ‘s Army and Navy—the world can never agree with any one person’s estimate in all things.
But—reject a book that speaks of the Constitution other than a Compact between Sovereign States.
Reject a text-book that does not give the principles for which the South fought in 1861, and does not clearly outline the interferences with the rights guaranteed to the South by the Constitution, and which caused secession.
Reject a book that calls the Confederate soldier a traitor or rebel, and the war a rebellion.
Reject a book that says the South fought to hold her slaves.
Reject a book that speaks of the slaveholder of the South as cruel and unjust to his slaves.
Reject a text-book that glorifies Abraham Lincoln and villifies Jefferson Davis, unless a truthful cause can be found for such glorification and villification before 1865.
Reject a text-book that omits to tell of the South ‘s heroes and their deeds when the North’s heroes and their deeds are made prominent.
Refuse to adopt any text-book, or endorse any set of books, upon the promise of changes being made to omit the objectionable features.
A list of books, condemned or commended by the Veterans, Sons of Veterans, and U. D. C, is being prepared by Miss Rutherford as a guide for Text-Book Committees and Librarians. This list of course contains only the names of those books which have been submitted for examination. Others will be added and published monthly in “The Confederate Veteran” Nashville, Tennessee.
Jeet Heer has posted a timely and excellent essay at New Republic titled “Trump’s Racism and the Cultural Marxism Myth.” In his essay, Heer recounts much of the background to the Higgins memo that I have documented here, here and here. Heer credits William S. Lind as the major popularizer of the myth, as have I in my blog posts. What I’m posting here extends the analysis and reveals significant background about personnel and timelines to the story.
In my most recent post, I started to probe further back into the myth’s history with an examination of Eliseo Vivas’s over-the-top invective against Herbert Marcuse since the late 1960s. Vivas was deeply offended by Marcuse’s writing and expressed his displeasure in several articles and a book, Conta Marcuse. He was also a frequent contributor to the journals, Modern Age and Intercollegiate Review both of which are associated with the conservative organization, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute or ISI. From a snippet of a speech by ISI president T. Kenneth Cribb in Ellen Messer-Davidow’s 1993 article, “Manufacturing the Attack on Liberalized Higher Education” I had the hunch that the ISI might offer a clue to the metamorphosis from Vivas’s anti-Marcuse screeds to the full-blown cultural Marxism myth that appeared in Lind’s pamphlet, Pat Buchanan’s book, Higgins’s memo and Anders Breivik’s manifesto.
Cribb is a pivotal character in this saga. He was national director of the ISI from 1972 to 1977, then, after earning a law degree went to work for Edwin Meese during the Reagan campaign in 1980 and ended up Counselor to the Attorney General and subsequently Assistant for Domestic Affairs to President Reagan. After the end of the Reagan administration, Cribb returned to the ISI to serve as president of that organization from 1989 to 2011.
|Krawattennazis Rich Higgins and T. Kenneth Cribb|
In 1989, Cribb gave an address to the Heritage Foundation on “Conservatism and the American Academy: Prospects for the 1990s” in which he outlined his vision for a “sustained counteroffensive” on what he characterized as “the last Leftist redoubt, the college campus.” Cribb painted a picture of relentless persecution and harassment of conservatives in American universities taken mostly from Peter Collier and David Horowitz’s Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties. He boasted of the ISI’s readiness for that counteroffensive:
In addition to saving a remnant that renews the font of conservative ideas, we are now strong enough to establish a contemporary presence for conservatism on campus, and contest the Left on its own turf. We plan to do this by greatly expanding the ISI field effort, its network of campus-based programming.
Cribb was unequivocal in his view that academia was “the one redoubt left to it [the left] by the successful conservative counterattack of the 1970s and 1980s.” His promised counteroffensive was thus presented as a mop-up operation for the establishment of a “free” society, which is to say a traditionalist society freed of the nuisances of relativism and other non-conservative heresies.
Fifteen years into that mop-up operation, Cribb contributed a chapter to William Lind’s Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology, the locus classicus of the cultural Marxism myth. Cribb’s chapter was titled “Political Correctness in Higher Education.” It presented anecdotes from conservative college newspapers affiliated with the ISI meant to illustrate the “alarming rate” at which “the freedom to articulate and discuss ideas” was being eroded by incidents of intolerance and corruption of the curriculum to downplay the significance of Western Civilization.
“While it would be easy to dismiss such demonstrations of intolerance as student pranks,” he admitted, “these incidents are the surface manifestations of a more pervasive and insidious trend…” The headline outrage was the burning of “hundreds (sometimes thousands) of copies of conservative student newspapers.” He concluded his chapter with a brief account of the ISI’s efforts to stem the tide of the alarming erosion of freedom. Along with other sections of the Lind book, whole passages from Cribb’s chapter were ‘cribbed’ by Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik for his manifesto.
Curiously, there was no mention in Cribb’s 1989 address to the Heritage Foundation of Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School or cultural Marxism nor was there in the book by Collier and Horowitz book that Cribb had cited. “Politically correct” gets four hits though. Yet Horowitz and Collier were active participants in 1960s New Left extremism. Similarly, ISI poster boy Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education from 1991 contains one brief and not particularly scathing mention of Marcuse and one reference political correctness but no mention of the Frankfurt School or cultural Marxism.
The political correctness. cultural Marxism stew didn’t get all its ingredients until the 1992 article, “New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness,” whose author, Michael J. Minnicino, subsequently disowned his work as “hopelessly deformed by self-censorship and the desire to in some way support Mr. LaRouche’s crack-brained world-view.” That fine piece of Western Civilization scholarship was then taken over and reworked by Lind in 1997.
At last we have a doctrine, a vanguard organization, and a timeline. But most importantly, courtesy of the Larouche cult, we now have a suitably unitary devil-function. The “basic Nazi trick,” as Kenneth Burke labeled “the ‘curative’ unification by a fictitious devil-function, gradually made convincing by the sloganizing repetitiousness of standard advertising technique.” Helpfully, in a 1988 address to the Heritage Foundation,William F. Campbell explained why conservatives need such a devil-function:
But as first and second generation conservatives have always known, and had to live with as an unpleasant skeleton in the family closet, there is sharp tension, if not contradiction, between the traditionalist and the libertarian wings of the conservative movement. They have been held together primarily because of their common enemies, modern egalitarianism and totalitarian collectivism, which they both abhor.
In 1988, when Campbell made those remarks, the Soviet Union still existed and could serve the primary role of common enemy, symbolizing the alien totalitarian destiny of domestic egalitarianism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, a new enemy had to be conjured. The Higgins memo is testament to the contortions that must be endured to conjure that devil.
The word ‘narrative’ appears 41 times in the infamous Higgins memo, “POTUS and Political Warfare.” Guys, it’s time for some narrative critique. The narrative Higgins is most concerned about is something he calls “cultural Marxism,” which he defines in a paragraph at the top of page four of the memo:
As used in this discussion, cultural Marxism relates to programs and activities that arise out of Gramsci Marxism, Fabian Socialism and most directly from the Frankfurt School. The Frankfurt strategy deconstructs societies through attacks on culture by imposing a dialectic that forces unresolvable contradictions under the rubric of critical theory. The result is induced nihilism, a belief in everything that is actually the belief in nothing.
For the answer to that question, we need to go to Higgins’s sources, even though he hasn’t explicitly named them and quite possibly doesn’t know what they are. The political correctness, cultural Marxism, multiculturalism, repressive tolerance “narrative” is out there in the miasma.
I have previously documented the plagiarism link between cultural conservative William S. Lind’s propaganda pamphlets and mass murderer Anders Breivik’s manifesto. Now I would like to dig a little deeper and identify a grandfather meme: Eliseo’s Vivas’s “Herbert Marcuse: ‘Philosopher’ en titre of the New Nihilists.” Vivas also wrote a polemical book, Contra Marcuse, but having read the article, I think I get the drift of his diatribe method of critique.
In “The Rhetoric of Hitler’s ‘Battle'” Kenneth Burke warned against “vandalistic” commentary on a text, even one as exasperating and nauseating as Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Inflicting a “few symbolic wounds” on the text is more gratifying than it is enlightening. With “the testament of a man who swung a great people into his wake” it would be prudent to “discover what kind of ‘medicine’ this medicine-man has concocted, that we may know, with greater accuracy, exactly what to guard against…”
Atlantic: An NSC Staffer Is Forced Out Over a Controversial Memo
Esquire: This Is Pure, Unadulterated American Crazy
Foreign Policy: Here’s the Memo that Blew Up the NSC
Mother Jones:You Should Read the “Maoist Insurgency” Memo. It’s Bananas
Wonkette: Of Course Trump Loves This Fucking Bonkers NSC Memo Calling For Civil War
Rich Higgins, the author of the May 2017 memo, “POTUS and Political Warfare,” was in the strategic planning office of the National Security Council until soon after his memo was discovered and read, presumably by General McMaster, he was given the option to resign and then escorted out of the building. Higgins memo rehashes all the old Lyndon Larouche, William S. Lind, Anders Breivik rigmarole.
I’m not going to repeat that all here. I wrote about it in a series of posts at Ecological Headstand in July and August of 2011 and revisited the topic in an EconoSpeak post from August 2015, Politics of Pastiche: “voters… need someone to fire all the political-correct police”. One fascinating aspect of this story is that Frankfurt School historian Martin Jay had an encounter with Lind and wrote about it in Salmagundi,”Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe.”
The “lunatic fringe” is now installed in the White House. Although Higgins, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Derek Harvey were fired, according to the Foreign Policy article:
In the meantime, however, the memo had been working its way through the Trump White House. Among those who received the memo, according to two sources, was Donald Trump Jr.
Trump Jr., at that time in the glare of media scrutiny around his meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign, gave the memo to his father, who gushed over it, according to sources.
In a comedy of errors, Trump later learned from Sean Hannity, the Fox News host and close friend of the president, that the memo’s author had been fired. Trump was “furious,” the senior administration official said. “He is still furious.”
See also Chip Berlet’s summary from August 2011 of Breivik’s Core Thesis is White Christian Nationalism v. Multiculturalism.
And now, sir, let me state my principal objections to the unrestricted use of machinery. First, it places man in an artificial state, over which the best workman, the wisest man and most moral person, has no control. Secondly, while it leads to the almost certain fortune of those who have capital in sufficient amount to command those profits, made up, as you admit, by the reduction of wages; upon the other hand, it leads to uncertainty in the condition of the employed, against which he is incapable of contending. Thirdly, it disarranges all the social machinery of which formerly individuals were necessary items, families formed branches, and small rural districts important sections of the one great whole. Fourthly, the present fluctuations give rise, in good trade, to an augmentation of artificial classes, if I may so call them, who have no natural position in society, but are merely called into existence by present appearances, trade upon nothings, traffic in fiction, and, like your order, speculate upon what they may retire upon when trade begins to flag. Hence we find each fluctuation in trade followed by a new race of shopkeepers, who are grasping in prosperity, compound when appearances change, and retire when adversity comes, leaving a vacuum to be filled up by the next alternation from panic to speculation.
And now, as the thread of our dialogue has been somewhat broken, I beg to submit a summary of my objections to machinery. Firstly, the application of inanimate power to the production of the staple commodities of a country must inevitably depreciate the value of manual labour; and every depreciation of the value of man’s labour in an equal degree lowers the working-man in the scale of society, as well as in his own esteem: thus making him a mere passive instrument, subservient to any laws that the money classes may choose to inflict, to any rules the owners may impose, and satisfied with a comparative state of existence. I object to machinery, because, without reference to the great questions of demand and supply, the masters can play with unconscious labour as they please, and always deal themselves the trumps. I object to machinery, because it may be multiplied to an extent whereby manual labour may be rendered altogether valueless: I object to machinery, because under its existing operation you admit the necessity of emigration, better ventilation, education, improved morality, manners, habits, and customs of the working classes, thereby showing that a slate of recklessness, ignorance, want, and depravity exists; which, as I before said, you admit to be consequences of the present system.
While the inevitability of each of O’Connor’s objections is subject to debate, the crucial issues at stake for him are the sociological and psychological effects of the unrestricted use of machinery on communities and individuals, under its existing operation. The specter of the “job-killing robot” plays a minor and only contingent role: “it may be multiplied to an extent whereby manual labour may be rendered valueless.” Even that objection can readily be interpreted as more significantly about a loss of social status and psychological esteem rather than a wholesale elimination of jobs.
Crowding Out and the Social Overhead Costs of Labor
Another strange twist in the convoluted lump-of-labor saga. Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor refuted the “Treasury View” — aka “crowding out” — in 1844. O’Connor’s tract is long-winded and sentimentalized an idyllic past but it also contains some cogent analysis of why workers were (and should still be) wary of the exploitative use of technology by capitalist firms.
O’Connor’s critique took the form of a dialogue, which parodied and refuted an earlier dialogue, “The Employer and Employed,” that had been published in Chambers’s Miscellany of Useful and Entertaining Tracts. In the Chambers dialogue, the mill owner, Mr. Smith explains to a worker, Mr. Jackson, how the immutable laws of economics harmonize their interests. Smith’s elaboration of the doctrine of wages was described elsewhere as “right orthodox, and admirably clear too.” I will return to O’Connor’s rebuttal in more detail later, but first I would like to set the stage by briefly reviewing the contemporary relevance and the historical background of the central argument in the two dialogues.