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Defending the Undefendable

Defending the Undefendable

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Published by Liberty Australia

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Published by: Liberty Australia on Nov 17, 2008
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The scene is familiar from hundreds of movies featuring

labor themes: the young eager worker comes to the fac-
tory for the first time, determined to be a productive
worker. In his enthusiasm, he happily produces more than the
other workers who have been at the factory many years, and who
are tired, stooped, and arthritic. He is a “rate buster.”
Not unnaturally, antipathy springs up between our eager
young worker and his senior colleagues. After all, they are cast
in a slothful role. In contrast to his youthful exuberance, their
production levels look meager indeed.
As the young worker continues his accelerated work output,
he becomes more and more alienated from the other workers.
He becomes haughty. The older workers, for their part, try to
treat him with compassion. But when he remains resistant, they
subject him to a silent treatment and commit him to a worker’s
purgatory.

As the film continues, there occurs a climactic moment
when the youthful rate buster comes to his senses. This comes
about in any number of ways, all dramatic. Perhaps he sees a
sick old woman, an ex-factory worker, or a worker who has been
injured in the factory. If the movie in question is avant garde, the
conversion can be sparked through the good offices of a cat

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grousing around in an overturned garbage can. Whatever the
method, the young man does come to see the error of his ways.
Then, in the last dramatic scene, which usually ends with all
the workers—reformed rate buster included—walking off arm-
in-arm, a kindly old worker-philosopher takes over center stage.
He gives the young worker a five-minute course in labor history,
from ancient Roman times down to the present, showing the
constant perfidy of the “bosses,” and proving beyond question
that the only hope of the workers lies in “solidarity.”
There has always been, he explains, a class struggle between
the workers and the capitalists, with the workers continually
struggling for decent wages and working conditions. The bosses
are portrayed as always trying to pay the workers less than they
deserve, pushing them as far as they can until they drop from
exhaustion. Any worker who cooperates with the bosses in their
unceasing, merciless, and ruthless efforts to “speed up” the
workers, and to force them to increase their productivity levels,
is an enemy of the working class. With this summation by the
worker-philosopher, the movie ends.
This view of labor economics contains a tangle of fallacies
which is interwoven with each part resting in complex ways on
other parts. However, there is one core fallacy.
The core fallacy is the assumption that there is only so much
work to be done in the world
. Sometimes called the “lump of
labor” fallacy, this economic view holds that the peoples of the
world only require a limited amount of labor in their behalf.
When this amount is surpassed, there will be no more work to
be done, and hence, there will be no more jobs for the workers.
For those who hold this view, limiting the productivity of the
eager young workers is of overriding importance. For if these
workers work too hard, they will ruin things for everyone. By
“hogging up” the limited amount of work which exists, they
leave too little for everyone else. It is as if the amount of work
that can be done resembles a pie of a fixed size. If some people
take more than their share, everyone else will suffer with less.
If this economic view of the world were correct, there would
indeed be some justification for the theory espoused by the

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labor-philosopher of the movie. There would be some justifica-
tion for insisting that the younger and more active worker not
take away more than his share of the “pie.” However, adherence
to this theory has proved to be inefficient and uneconomic, with
tragic results.

This false view is based upon the assumption that people’s
desires—for creature comforts, leisure, intellectual, and aes-
thetic achievements—have a sharp upward boundary which can
be reached in a finite amount of time; and that when it is
reached, production must cease. Nothing could be further from
the truth.

To assume that human desires can be fully and finally satis-
fied is to assume that we can reach a point at which human per-
fection—material, intellectual, and aesthetic—has been fully
realized. Paradise? Perhaps. If it were somehow achieved, then
certainly there would be no “unemployment” problem—for
who would need a job?
There is as much work to be done as there are unfulfilled
desires. Since human desires are, for all practical purposes, lim-
itless, the amount of work to be done is also limitless. Therefore,
no matter how much work the eager young man completes, he
cannot possibly exhaust or even make an appreciable dent in the
amount of work to be done.
If the eager worker does not “take work away from others”
(because there is a limitless amount of work to be done), what
effect doeshe have? The effect of working harder and more effi-
ciently is to increase production. By his energy and efficiency, he
increases the size of the pie—the pie that will then be shared
among all those who took part in its production.
The rate buster should also be considered from another van-
tage point. Consider the plight of a family shipwrecked on a
tropical island.

When the Swiss Family Robinson sought refuge on an
island, their store of belongings consisted only of what was sal-
vaged from the ship. The meager supply of capital goods, plus
their own laboring ability, will determine whether or not they
survive.

The Rate Buster

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If we strip away all the novelistic superficialities, the eco-
nomic situation that the Swiss Family Robinson found itself in
was facing an unending list of desires, while the means at their
disposal for the satisfaction of these desires was extremely lim-
ited.

If we suppose that all the members of the family set to work
with the material resources at their disposal, we would find that
they can satisfy only some of their desires.
What would be the effect of “rate busting” in their situation?
Suppose one of the children suddenly becomes a rate buster and
is able to produce twice as much per day as the other members
of the family. Will this young punk be the ruination of the fam-
ily, “take work away” from the other family members, and wreak
havoc upon the mini-society they have created?
It is obvious that the Swiss Family Robinson rate buster will
not bring ruination upon his family. On the contrary, the rate
buster will be seen as the hero he is, since there is no danger that
his increased productivity would cause the family to run out of
work. We have seen that for practical and even philosophical
reasons, the wants and desires of the family were limitless. The
family would hardly be in trouble even if several members were
rate busters.

If the rate busting family member can produce ten extra
units of clothing, it may become possible for other members of
the family to be relieved of their clothing manufacturing chores.
New jobs will be assigned to them. There will be a sorting out
period during which it is decided which jobs should be under-
taken. But clearly, the end result will be greater satisfaction for
the family. In a modern, complex economy, the results would be
identical, though the process more complicated. The sorting out
period, for example, may take some time. The point remains,
however, that because of rate busting, society as a whole will
move toward greater and greater satisfaction and prosperity.
Another aspect of rate busting is the creation of newitems.
Thomas Edison, Isaac Newton, Wolfgang Mozart, J.S. Bach,
Henry Ford, Jonas Salk, Albert Einstein, plus innumerable oth-
ers, were the rate busters of their day, not of quantity, but of

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quality. Each “busted” through what was considered by their
society to be a “normal” rate and type of productivity. Yet each of
these rate busters contributed incalculably to our civilization.
In addition to understanding rate busting from the point of
view of quantity and innovation, rate busting should also be
considered in terms of the new lives on this earth that it makes
possible. The amount of human life which the earth can support
is related to the level of productivity human beings achieve. If
there are fewer rate busters, the number of lives this earth can
support will be severely limited. If however, the number of rate
busters increases significantly in each respective field, the earth
will then be able to support an ever-expanding population.
The conclusion then is that not only are rate busters respon-
sible for satisfying more of our desires than a slower, less effi-
cient rate of production, they are also responsible for preserving
the very lives of all those who would have to die were it not for
the rate busters enlarging the scope of human satisfactions.
They provide the means with which the increasing global birth
rate can be supported.

The Rate Buster

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