Further Thoughts on the Use of Machines
1. the cutthroat knife, a fuel's paradox and fantastical credit
Marx, that wily trickster, shanghaied Bill Sikes, the unkempt, scowling, growling,murderous, dog-abusing Dickens villain from
, and contrived for him thefollowing mock-ingenuous plea to an imaginary jury:
…no doubt the throat of this traveling salesman has been cut. But that is not my
fault; it is the fault of the knife! Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience,abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! Where would agriculture and trade bewithout the knife? Is it not as beneficial in surgery as it is in anatomy? And inaddition a willing help at the festive table? If you abolish the knife
you hurl usback into the depths of barbarism.The occasion for the ruffian's cameo appearance was a section in
dealing withwhat Marx labeled "the theory of compensation as regards the workpeople displaced bymachinery"
a topic that had been dear to the hearts of political economists since at leastthe anti-machinery riots of 1779 and which remains an article of faith among contemporaryeconomists in spite of Herr Marx's sarcasm. As University of California economicsprofessor, Carl Walsh explained, "there is little debate among economists about the long-run effect of productivity on employment. [...] In the long run, faster productivity growthshould translate into an increase in the overall demand for labor in the economy."That "there is little debate" may itself be debatable. But what debate there is has a peculiarconfiguration. An odd twist was added by Stanley Jevons in 1865 when he requisitionedthe said theory of compensation to answer a question about the supply and demand forcoal. In
The Coal Question,
Jevons exclaimed, "
It is wholly a confusion of ideas to supposethat the economical use of fuel is equivalent to a diminished consumption. The verycontrary is the truth
[emphasis in original].
He went on to explain:As a rule, new modes of economy will lead to an increase of consumptionaccording to a principle recognised in many parallel instances. The economy of