|Work and Wealth|
CHAPTER XV: THE DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH
§1. Leisure, regarded as an economic good, comes under the
general law of distribution of wealth. But the notorious defects of its
distribution, and their human consequences, are such as to claim for it a
separate place in our enquiry. Modern industrialism by its large unearned
surplus has greatly increased the size of the leisure classes. For wherever such
surplus goes, there is the possibility and probability of a life of leisure. In
our study of Consumption we traced the part played by conspicuous leisure as an
element of pride and power in the economy of the rich. In Great Britain the size
of this leisure class is by no means measured by the number of those who stand
in the census as 'unoccupied.' In the top stratum of the business world we find
considerable numbers of the directing and managerial class who are seldom or
ever 'busy.' Their office hours are short and irregular, their week-ends extend
from Friday to Tuesday, their holidays are long and frequent.
Most of their leisure is accompanied by profuse consumption, involving thus from the standpoint of society a double waste, a waste of time and of substance. Where does all this leisure come from? The answer to this question seems tolerably simple. It has often been observed that labour-saving machinery and other devices for abridging human toil have done very little to lighten or shorten the work-day for the workers. What then has become of the labour that is saved? Most of it has gone to enlarge the leisure of the leisured class, or perhaps we should say, of the leisured classes. For we saw that there existed a lower as well as an upper leisure class, a necessary product of the same mal-distribution of resources as sustains the latter. For an industrial system that grinds out unproductive surplus breaks down the physical and moral efficiency of large numbers of actual or potential workers as a by-product of the overdriving and underfeeding process. The reckless breeding of the class thus broken down furnishes a horde of weaklings, shirkers and nomads, unassimilated, unassimilable by the industrial system. These beings, kept alive by charity and poor-laws, have grown with modern industrialism and constitute the class known as 'unemployables.' They are often described as a 'standing menace to civilisation,' and are in fact the most pitiable product of the mal-distribution of wealth.
§2. But the irregularities of modern production and consumption are also responsible for a vast amount of involuntary and injurious leisure among the genuine working-classes. That leisure is commonly termed 'unemployment.' it is not true leisure, in the sense of time for recreation or enjoyment, though it might become so. For the most part it is at present wasteful and demoralising idleness.
A certain amount of unemployment is of course unavoidable in any organisation of industry. There will be some leakage of time between jobs and unpredictable irregularities of weather and climate will involve some idleness. Expansions and contractions of special trades, changes in methods of production and of consumption, the necessary elasticity of economic life, will continue to account for the temporary displacement of groups of workers. There is, of course, no social wastage in this process, if it is properly safeguarded. But hitherto it has been a great source of individual and social waste. Society is only beginning to realise the duty, or indeed the possibility, of taking active steps to reduce the quantity of this unemployment and to utilise what is unavoidable for the benefit of the unemployed and of society. The cultivation of these spare plots of time in the normal life of the workers may become a highly serviceable art.
If all unemployment could be spread evenly over the working year, taken out in a shortening of the ordinary working-day and in the provision of periodic and sufficient holidays, an immense addition would be made to the sum of industrial welfare. Thus, without any reduction in the aggregate of labour-time, a sensible reduction in the human cost of labour might be achieved, if law, custom, or organised labour policy made it impossible for employers to vary violently or suddenly the volume of employment and to sandwich periods of over-time with periods of short-time. These baneful irregularities of employment appear inevitable so long as they remain permissible, as do sweating wages and other bad conditions of labour. When they are no longer permissible, the organised intelligence of the trade will adjust itself to the new conditions, generally with little or no loss, often with positive gain.
If there are trades upon which season, fashion, or other uncontrollable factors impose great irregularity of employment, a sound social policy will have close regard to the nature of this irregularity. Where an essentially irregular trade is engaged in supplying some necessary or convenience of life, as, for instance, in gas-works and certain branches of transport, alternative trades may be found whose fluctuations tend to vary inversely with those of the former trades, and which can furnish work suitable in kind and place to those who are out.
Statistics of employment show that the aggregate of employment during any given year does not vary much. It would vary less, if every man engaged in an essentially irregular trade had an alternative, in which he was qualified to earn a living when employment in the other trade was short. For there is little truth in the contention that specialisation for most manual trades is carried so far that an alternative or subsidiary employment spoils a worker for efficiency in his prime trade. If there are any necessary trades for whose unavoidable unemployment no such effective provision can be made, society must either saddle the trade with the obligation of keeping the 'reserve' of labour while it stands in waiting, or it must itself undertake the administration of the trade as one which cannot safely be left in private hands. In the case of fashion or luxury trades, which furnish many instances of greatest irregularity, legal prohibition of over-time will often operate most beneficially. Where much unemployment still remains, a high contribution to an unemployed insurance fund would stimulate advantageous readjustments. Finally, if there are trades incapable of bearing the true costs of maintenance of the labour they employ, it would still be right to place on them the obligation to do so, for their destruction will be a gain not a loss to a society that understands its human interests.
But the main problem of leisure would still remain unsolved. For the normal burden of industrial toil, imposed by our present economic system upon most workers, is excessive. That excess consists primarily in duration of the work-day, though aggravated in many cases by intensity or pace of working. great numbers of workers, especially among women, are employed in occupations where neither law, custom, nor trade organisation, imposes any limits. No factory day affects the employees in shops or offices or most warehouses, or in most transport trades, or in domestic service departments of employment which absorb a rapidly increasing number and proportion of the employed population. There are vast numbers of domestic workshops and home trades in which men and women are employed, where all hours are worked. No legal restrictions of hours are set upon adult male labour in manufacturing and other industrial work in most of the metal and other trades which are exclusively or predominantly men's employments, though in trades where women also are employed restrictions are often imposed which in fact extend to men the factory day.
But there is a generally recognised feeling that the length of the factory day is gravely excessive, that 10 1/2, or even 9 hours per diem, under modern conditions of speeded-up machinery and nervous tension, involve too heavy a human cost.
§3. It is this growing volume of feeling that has crystallised in the demand for an eight-hours day. This is no immoderate demand. A regular contribution of eight hours' working energy of hand, or brain, or nerves, to some narrow routine process, is as much as, or more than, the ordinary man or woman can afford, in the wholesome interest of his personality, to give up to society. For we have recognised quite clearly that a specialisation of function, a division of labour, growing ever finer, is required of the individual in the interests of society. He must make this apparent sacrifice of his private tastes, feelings and interests, for the good of the society of which he is a member. It is not, as we perceive, a real sacrifice, unless the demand made upon him is excessive, for the good of the society he serves is his good, and what he gives out comes back to him in participation of the common life. But, when the task imposed is too long or too hard, the sacrifice becomes an injury, the encroachment upon the human life of the worker inflicts grave damage, which damage again reacts upon society.
The stress of the Labour Movement upon the urgency of shortening the work-day to-day is extremely significant. It testifies to two advances in the actual condition of the labouring classes. In the first place, it indicates that some substantial progress has been made towards a higher level of material standard of consumption. For workers on the lower levels of poverty dare not ask for reduced hours of labour, involving, as may well occur, a reduction of pay. Workers struggling for a bare physical subsistence cannot afford to purchase leisure.
Of course I know that even the better-to-do workers who voice a demand for an eight-hours day are not ready to proclaim their willingness to pay for it in diminished wages. Nor need they in all cases. Where the shorter day is attended by improved efficiency or increased intensity of labour, or merely by better organisation of the business, there may be nothing to pay. More leisure has been squeezed out of the working-day. There are many cases where this can be done, for the working-day in many instances is wastefully prolonged. But, though in certain trades a ten-hours day may be reduced to nine, or even eight, without any reduction of output, this is not the case in other trades, nor even in the former trades could the process be carried far without a loss of output. In a great many employments a short working-day will involve a larger economic cost of labour, and where, as is usual in competitive trade, this larger cost cannot be made good out of profits, labour will have to buy this leisure, in part at any rate, by reduced wages. For even if he can get it shifted on to the consumer in the shape of higher prices, as consumer he will in his turn have to bear a part of it.
Where the demand for shorter hours is genuine, and is not a mere cover for extended over-time, to be paid for at a higher rate, it must be taken as indicative of the workers, willingness to take part of his share of industrial progress in leisure instead of wages.
§4. But leisure, as an economic asset, is not a mere question of hours. A shorter work-day might be dearly bought at the cost of an intensification of labour which left body and mind exhausted at the end of each day. The opposition of workers to a policy of speeding-up, or the use of pace-setters, is usually a sane act of self-defence, and not the fractious obstruction to industrial progress it is sometimes represented. No considerations of human endurance limit the pace at which machinery driven by mechanical power may be worked. Unless, therefore, restraints are put by law, custom or bargaining, upon the speed of machines, or the number which a worker is called upon to serve, competition may impose a work-day which, though not unduly long in hours, habitually exhausts the ordinary worker. It is not always realised how great a change took place when the weaver, the shoemaker, the smith, passed from the workshops, where the pace and other conditions of work were mostly regulated by their voluntary action, to the steam-driven factory. The shoemaker and the tailor under the old conditions had time, energy and liberty for thought while carrying on their work: they could slacken, break off or speed up, their work, according to their inclination. The clicker or heeler in a shoe factory, the cutter-out in a clothing factory, have no such measure of freedom. This is, of course, a normal effect of modern industrialism. Closer and more continuous attention is demanded during the working hours.
Thus the real question of leisure is a question of spare human energy rather than of spare hours. The shorter working-day is chiefly needed as a condition favourable to spare energy. Though therefore, an eight-hours day may not unreasonably be taken as a proximate reform, for labour in general, there is no reason why the work-day in all occupations should be cut to this or any other exact measure. Such arithmetical equality would evidently work out most inequitably, as between trade and trade, or process and process in the same trade. In many large departments of industry, the transport and distributive trades in particular, numerous interstices of leisure are inserted in a day's work, easing the burden of the day, and sometimes affording opportunity for recreation and intercourse. In the more arduous processes of manufacture, mining, or in clerical and other routine brain work, there is little or no scope for such relaxation.
But while such considerations evidently affect the detailed policy of the shorter day in its pressure on the several occupations, they do not affect the general policy.
There can be no doubt that an excessive and injurious amount of specialised labour is exacted from the workers by the ordinary industrial conditions of to-day in nearly all industrial processes.
§5. The first plea for a shorter day is one which our analysis has made self-evident.
It will greatly reduce the human cost of production in most processes. For, as we recognise, the strain of muscular and nervous fatigue, both conscious and unconscious, gathers force and grows with great rapidity during the later hours of the workday, Though the curve representing the variations of the human cost will of course differ in every sort of work and for different workers, their age, sex, strength, health and other personal conditions affecting it, the last hours of each shift will contain a disproportionate amount of fatigue, pain and other 'costs,' while the quality and quantity of the work done in these last hours will be inferior.
If out of any stock of material goods, we were able to separate the product of the last hour's work from that of the earlier hours in the work-day, and could subject it to the analysis of human cost and utility, which we have endeavoured to apply to the general income, what should we find? This last increment of the product would contain a heavier burden of human cost of production than any of the earlier increments. Again, turning to the consumption side, what should we find? This last increment must be considered as furnishing the smallest amount of human utility in its consumption. Indeed, if we are right in holding that a considerable fraction of each supply, even of what are commonly classed as material necessaries of life, such as foods, clothings, etc., is wastefully or even detrimentally consumed by the well-to-do, there is reason to hold that this last increment of product, involving the largest human cost in its production, contains no utility but some amount of human disutility in its consumption.
If this analysis be true, the last hour's work may be doubly wasteful from the standpoint of human welfare.
Of the £2,000,000,000 which constitutes our income it may very likely be the case that £200,000,000 of it represents wealth, which, from the human standpoint, is 'illth,' alike in the mode of its production and of its consumption. If it had not been produced at all, the nation might have been far better off, for by abstaining from the production of this sham wealth, it would have produced a substantial amount of leisure.
It is of course true that the particular groups of producers, who by their last hour's labour made these goods, may not have been losers by doing so; their heavy toil may have been compensated by the enhanced wage which they could not otherwise have got, and the loss of which would have injured their standard of life. It is, indeed, the operation of competition upon wages that actually forces into existence this sham-wealth. Drawn out of over-wrought workers by the unequal conditions of the wage-bargain, it passes into wasteful consumption by the back-stroke of the same law of distribution, which pays it away as 'surplus' or 'unearned' wealth.
It is only the clear consideration of its production and consumption from the social standpoint that exhibits the waste of the last hour's product.
But from the standpoint of the individual worker the economy of a shorter work-day has a double significance. We have seen that it more than proportionately diminishes his personal cost, by cancelling the last and most costly portion of his work-day. But it also increases the human utility which he can get out of his wages. A day of exhausting toil entails the expenditure of a large portion of his wage in mere replacement of physical wear and tear, or incites to expenditure on physical excesses, while the leisure hours are hours of idleness and torpor. A reduction of the work-day will, by the larger leisure and spare energy it secures, reduce the expenditure upon mere wear and tear, and increase the expenditure upon the higher and more varied strata of the standard of comfort. More leisure will in general so alter the mode of living as to enable the worker to get more and better utility out of the expenditure of his wages. Take an extreme case. A man who toils all day long at some exhausting work, and goes home at night too tired for anything but food and sleep, so as to enable him to continue the same round to-morrow, though he may earn good wages from this toil, can get little out of them. If he were induced to work less and leave himself some time and energy for relaxation and enjoyment, he would get a larger utility out of less money income.
The matter, however, does not need labouring. It is evident that many modes of consumption depend in part, for the pleasure and gain they yield, upon the amount of time given to the consuming processes. It would be mere foolishness for a tired worker to spend money upon improving books which he had not the time and energy to digest. Shorten his hours, leave him more energy, such expenditure may be extremely profitable. Even the enjoyment and good of his meals will be increased, if he has more time and energy for wholesome processes of digestion and for the exercise which facilitates digestion. And what is true of his food will hold also of most other items in his standard of consumption. No consumption is purely passive: to get the best utility or enjoyment out of any sort of wealth, time and energy are requisite. The greater part of a workman's income goes to the upkeep of his home and family. Does the normal work-day in our strenuous age permit the bread-winner to get the full enjoyment out of home and family? He belongs perhaps to a club or a cooperative society. Can he make the most of these opportunities of education and of comradeship, if his daily toil leaves him little margin of vitality? Most of the growing public expenditure which the modern State or City lays out upon the amenities of social life, the apparatus of libraries, museums, parks, music and recreation, is half wasted because industry has trenched too much upon humanity.
§6. More leisure means an increased fund of utility or welfare got out of the income at the disposal of each worker.
This introduces us to the fuller economy of leisure regarded aS the opportunity of opportunities -- the condition of all effective social reconstruction and progress.
Consider it first in relation to industrial welfare. We have seen how society enforces its claims upon the worker by division of labour and specialisation of functions. This specialisation is usually justified by the variety of consumption which it yields. But will not this more complex and refined consumption in large part be wasted or perverted to base ends, if the producer becomes ever narrower in his productive function?
The Organic Law presses here insistently. It would be going too far, doubtless, to assert that he who can produce one thing can only consume one thing. But everyone familiar with the finer arts of Consumption will admit that a consumer who is utterly unskilled in the production of these goods cannot extract from their consumption the full enjoyment or utility which they contain. A true connoisseur of pictures must, in training and in study, be a good deal of an artist: the exquisite gourmet must be something of a cook.
In other words, our industrial civilisation offers a dangerous paradox, if it merely presents man exposed to two opposed forces, tending on the one hand to greater narrowness of production, on the other, to greater width and complexity of consumption. To solve this paradox is the first service of the large new fund of leisure which, for the first time in history, the new economies of industry render available not for a little class but for whole peoples.
The first use of leisure, then, is that it supplies a counterpoise to specialisation by the opportunity it gives for the exercise of the neglected faculties, the cultivation of neglected tastes. As the specialisation grows closer, this urgency increases. More leisure is required for the routine worker to keep him human.
In the first place, it must afford him relaxation or recreation by occupations in which the spontaneity, the liberty, the elements of novelty, increasingly precluded from his work-day, shall find expression. It must liberate him from automatism, and afford him opportunity for the creative and interesting work required to preserve in him humanity.
An eight-hours day would mean that thousands of men, who at present leave the factory or furnace, the office or the shop, in a state of physical and mental lassitude, would take a turn at gardening, or home carpentry, would read some serious and stimulating book, or take part in some invigorating game.
Thus each man would not merely get more out of each item of his economic consumption, but he would add to the net sum of his humanity, and incidentally of his economic utility, by cultivating those neglected faculties of production which yield him a positive fund of interest and human benefit.
§7. So far I have set forth the economy of leisure from the standpoint of physical and moral health: the order and harmony of human powers. This, however, is in the main a statical economy. Now, Order is chiefly valuable as the means of Progress, Health as the means of Growth. The dynamic economy of Progress demands leisure even more insistently.
Everyone will formally admit that Education is impossible without leisure. It is often pointed out that the Greek word which has been converted into our word 'School' means Leisure. One might, therefore, suppose that the utmost care would be taken to get the fullest use out of the leisure which child-life affords, and to ensure that throughout life there should remain a sufficient supply of this raw material of progress -- the surplus energy beyond the bare needs of existence needed for organic growth.
The prodigal waste of this sacred store of leisure for child-life in the processes of our Elementary Education is only too familiar to all of us. Mr. Stephen Reynolds1 hardly overstates the case when he says, 'it gives to the children about three years, worth of second-rate education in exchange for eight or nine years of their life.'2
I believe that the trained educationalist of the next generation, examining the expensive education given even in the best equipped of our secondary schools and our universities, in the light of a more rational conception of human progress, will find at least as large a waste of opportunity in these seats of learning as in our elementary schools. Not until educational standards and methods are better adjusted to true conditions of the vital progress of individuals and of societies, will the chief significance of leisure be realised.
§8. But the value of leisure is by no means exhausted by these considerations. The finest fruits of human life come not by observation. To lay out all our spare time and energy to the very best advantage by a scrupulous seizure of opportunities is in reality a false economy. Industrialism has undoubtedly done much both to discipline and to educate the powers of man. But it has preached too arrogantly the gospel of economy and industry. It is not good for any man to account for his time either to himself or to another, with too great exactitude, or to seek to make a mosaic of his days. The Smilesian philosophy of thrift and industry imparts more calculation into life than is good for man. We should not be so terribly afraid of idleness. Dr. Watts held that 'Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.' But far saner is Wordsworth's view, 'that we can feed this mind of ours in a wise passiveness,' and Thoreau's demand for a 'broad margin of life.'
We are not yet sufficiently advanced in psychology to know much of the processes within the mind by which novel thoughts and feelings seem to enter of their own accord, starting new impulses to action, or by which the unchecked imagination works along some rapid line of intuition. But that such seasons of vacancy and reverie are essential to many of the finest processes of the intellect and heart, is indisputable. To deny this to any man is to deprive him of a part of his rightful heritage of human opportunity. The inventor, the poet, the artist, are readily allowed such free disposal of time. Everyone allows that genius must have ample periods of incubation. But the implication that common men ought to have their faces kept to the grindstone is quite false. Everybody wants leisure for his soul to move about in and to grow, not by some closely prescribed plan of education, but by free experimentation of its secret powers. A very slender harvest of happy thoughts and feelings will justify much apparent idleness.
In the narrower investigation of methods of industry which we essayed, we realised the critical part played by leisure in the art of invention. The lack of leisure for the great majority of workers is assuredly a waste of inventive power. We think our society prolific in inventions, especially in the age we are living in, but it is likely that the pace of progress through industrial inventions would be greatly quickened if the proper play-time of the mind were not denied to the great majority of men and women.
Biologists and psychologists have made many interesting enquiries into the motives that prompt animals and human beings to play. The forms of play, the rhythm or patterns into which the organic cooperations of muscular and nervous tensions and discharges cast themselves, are found to have some direct relation to the serious pursuits of adult life, the protection against enemies, the pursuit of prey and other food, courtship, mating and the care of the young, and the corporate movements necessary for the protection of the horde or tribe. So interpreted, play is an instinctive education for life. Nature is full of indirectness, and a great deal of this play is not closely imitative of any particular sort of useful activity but is directed to general fitness. This applies particularly to the higher animals who are less exclusively directed by separate particular instincts and are liable to have to meet novel and irregular emergencies that call for general adaptability of body and of mind. The play of higher animals and especially of human young will thus run largely into forms in which the intellectual and emotional powers will have large scope, where spontaneous variation and free imagination will express themselves, and where the more or less routine rhythms of the primitive dance or song or mock fight will pass into higher forms of individual cunning and competitive exploit, having as their main biological and social 'meaning' the practice of an efficient mental and emotional equipment. Play thus considered is an experimentation of vital powers. Its utility for child-life is commonly admitted. In fact, there is a grave danger lest the spontaneity and instinctive direction which nature has implanted should be damaged by the attempts of educationalists to force the vital utility of play by organising it into 'set games.' Though we need not rudely rule out reasonable regulation from this, as from any other department of life, it would be well to remember that play has powerful directive instincts behind it in child-life which adult notions of economy may gravely misconceive and injure by over-regulation. Hasty endeavours to displace instinct by reason in child-life are likely to prove costly to human welfare in the long run. The spontaneous joy of those activities of childhood that seem most 'wasteful' is probably a far better index to welfare than any pedagogic calculations.
But because the human utility of play is great for children, it does not follow that it is small for men and women. Even the physiological and much more the psychological utility of play lasts through life, though doubtless in diminishing value. For adult workers mere repose never exhausts the use of leisure. The biological or the social utility of his play may be much smaller than in the case of the young. But it will remain considerable. Nor is this utility chiefly expressed in the relation between play and invention. The chief justification for leisure does not consist in its contribution to the arts of industry but rather in raising the banner of revolt against the tyranny of industry over human life.
§9. We have grown so accustomed to regard business as the absorbing occupation of man, that which necessarily and rightly claims the major part of his waking hours, that a society based on any other scale of values seems inconceivable. Though history has made us familiar with civilisations, such as those of Athens and of Rome, where a large body of free citizens regarded politics, art, literature and physical recreations as far more important occupations, we know that such civilisations rested on a basis of slave labour. We do not seem to realise that for the first time in history two conditions are substantially attained which make it technically possible for a whole people to throw off the dominion of toil. Machinery and Democracy are these two conditions. If they can be brought into effective coordination, so that the full economics of machine production can be rendered available for the people as a whole, the domination of industry over the lives, the thoughts, and the hearts of men, can be overthrown. This is the great problem of social-economic reconstruction, to make industry the servant of all men, not the servants of the few, the masters of the many. Its solution demands, of course, that after the wholesome organic needs are satisfied, the stimulation of new material wants shall be kept in check. For if every class continues constantly to develop new complicated demands, which strain the sinews of industry even under a socially-ordered machine-economy, taking the whole of its increased control of Nature in new demands upon Nature for economic satisfaction, the total burden of industry on Man is nowise lightened. If we are to secure adequate leisure for all men, and so to displace the tyranny of the business life by the due assertion of other higher and more varied types of life, we must manage to check the lust of competitive materialism which industrialism has implanted in our hearts.
I am aware how difficult it is to translate these handsome aspirations into practical achievement. To urge the working-classes of this country, or even considerable sections of the middle-classes engaged in the trades and professions, to sacrifice some immediately attainable rise in their material and intellectual standard of comfort, in order thereby to purchase more leisure, will be taken to indicate a blank ignorance of the actual conditions of their lives. I shall be reminded that recent statistics of wages in this country show that about one-third of our working-class families are living upon precarious weekly incomes amounting to less than 25s. a week, and that this computation does not take into account a large body of the population living upon casual earnings indefinitely lower than this sum. Now Mr. Rowntree and other searchers into working-class expenditure have shown that 24s. will hardly purchase for an ordinary family in any English town a sufficiency of food, clothing, housing, fuel and other requisites to maintain its members in full physical efficiency. It will seem idle to contend that working-people in this case would do well to prefer a shortening of their working day, however long it be, to an increase of their wages. None of the considerations I have urged relating to the better utilisation of their consumption will be held to justify so obviously wasteful a policy. These workers simply cannot afford to buy more leisure at so high a price. They dare not sacrifice any fraction of their current wages to procure a reduction of hours from ten hours to eight, even if the conditions of their trade otherwise admitted such a change; and if increasing prosperity in their trade presents them with the option of obtaining higher wages or shorter hours, their pressing demands for better food and housing will rightly compel them to choose the former of the two alternatives.
Nor is this reasoning refuted by dwelling upon the undeniable facts, that most standards of working-class comfort contain elements of conventional consumption which might be cut out with positive advantage, and that, apart from this, a more intelligent housekeeping would enable most of them to do much better with their actual incomes than they do. For when a due allowance has been made for such errors or extravagance, the ordinary labourer's wage in town and in country still remains below the margin of family efficiency. Of course, in almost every occupation there will be a considerable number of workers who, having no family dependent on them, will have some means at their disposal for comforts, luxuries, saving or leisure. But the normal standard wage for unskilled or low-skilled labour in this country does not appear to have attained a height at which the purchase of a shorter working day is sound economy. We must always bear in mind, besides, that the existence in a trade of even a considerable minority of workers who could afford to take in increased leisure what they might take in enhanced wages, would not make this step practicable or desirable. For most trades are now so organised that a common standard working day is even more essential than a uniform rate of wages.
These facts enable us to realise why it is that so much elasticity or ambiguity attends the actual labour movement for a shorter working day. The demand is seldom framed in such a way as to preclude the common use of over-time, though such a use of course defeats the aim for leisure, converting it into an aim for higher wages, the time and a half rate usually paid for over-time.
But, though this open or secret competition between more leisure and more wages continues to take place in trades where general conditions of labour are improving, the relative strength of the claim for leisure is advancing. There comes a point in the improved conditions of each working-class when the demand for liberty and ease and recreation begins to assert itself with so much insistence that it outweighs some part of the chronic demand for higher wages. Though workers are usually reluctant to admit the economic necessity of making a wage-sacrifice in order to purchase leisure, and will hardly ever claim a shorter day, if they know it to involve an actual fall of wages, they will sometimes risk this fall, and more often they will forego a portion of a contemplated rise of wage, so as to get a shorter day. The strength and effectiveness of this demand for leisure in comparison with wages must, of course, vary with the actual standard of comfort that obtains, the onerousness or irksomeness of the work, the age, sex and intelligence of the workers, and the variety and sorts of opportunities which increased leisure will place at their disposal. In the ordinary English feudal village, or even in the small country town, leisure commonly means torpor qualified by the public-house. The price of such leisure, in terms of sacrifice of wage, would be very low, for the utility in the sensational enjoyment of the leisure would be slight as compared with the substantial addition to the material standard of family comfort which even a shilling would afford. On the other hand, to the better-paid mechanic, compositor, or skilled factory worker, where the family wage was relatively high, and where organised city life presented many opportunities for the use and enjoyment of leisure, it might seem well worth while to pay something in cash for the advantage of a longer evening.
§10. This problem, of course, is merely one illustration of the complicated issues which arise in any orderly study of the human economics of class and individual standards of consumption. Even such a merely cursory glance at this delicate organic problem will serve to expose the fatuity of so much of the crude dogmatic criticism lavished upon working-class economy by well-to-do reformers who have not sufficient imagination or discretion to abstain from applying the standards of valuation appropriate to an income of £1,000 a year to a family living upon £60 a year. The exact income-point where a West Ham worker can afford to observe the legal requirements against overcrowding by hiring another room, where he can join a Club with a reasonable chance of keeping up the subscriptions, where he can afford to keep the boys or girls at school beyond the legal age-limit, such questions cannot be settled by general maxims as to the duty of thrift or the advantages of education, or even the dangers of bad sanitation. It must be remembered that even in this highly-civilised and Christian land there are still some millions of people who cannot afford to set aside anything for a rainy day, or to let their children enjoy the education which the State freely provides, or even to obey some of the fundamental laws of health. As the family wage rises beyond a bare minimum of current subsistence, a point will emerge where each of these and many other sound practices becomes economically feasible: the particular income-point, of course, will differ with each family according to its composition, its needs, and the opportunities of meeting them.
What applies so evidently to the narrow incomes of the wage-earners is, of course, equally applicable to the higher incomes of other classes. The well-to-do professional man recognises that an annual expenditure of five or even ten per cent of his income on holidays may be a sound economy, just as he calculates that he is doing better for his son by spending £1,000 on his professional training than by putting him to business at sixteen with the same sum for capital. Not only is it impossible to generalise for a whole people, or for all families in a given trade or of a given income, but there will be no two cases where a rising income ought to be laid out precisely in the same way. This is of course nothing else than saying that, as no two persons, or families, are precisely alike in physical and moral make-up, in tastes, needs, opportunities, their expenditure cannot rightly be the same.
Though this belongs to the most obvious of common-places, none is more habitually ignored. And that neglect is largely due to the fact that the platitudinarian moralist has always been allowed to have a free run in the region of commentary on expenditure.
Eulogia of thrift and industry have been as indiscriminate and as unprofitable as diatribes against luxury and idleness. What is needed is a flow of orderly investigation into the real needs and capacities of the individuals and groups who constitute industrial society, not confined to the hard facts which can be tabulated and plotted in curves but taking count of those softer and more plastic facts which a closer study of human life will always show as the main determinants of any art of conduct.
The place of leisure in the organic standard of a group or class or nation will be one of the most delicate problems in such a study. Its delicacy for the individual economy may, indeed, be deduced from the expression which we used at the outset of this treatment, in describing it as 'the opportunity of opportunities.' In other words, its human utility to any man, and, therefore, its importance, relative to his wages or any other good he gets from them, will depend upon the nature of all the opportunities it opens up, and that in its turn depends upon the entire sum of those conditions which we name his Nature and his Environment.
The progressive achievement of this economy of leisure is closely linked with a gradual reorganisation of industry so as to eliminate the large waste of time and energy which present productive methods involve. With science and humanity cooperating in the art of social organisation it ought to be possible to effect such economies as would place all Englishmen in private possession of the greater part of their waking day for their own purposes in life. It requires, however, a genuine faith in the organic progress of Human Nature to urge with confidence the fuller measure of such a reform. We need at least to assume that the normal tendency will be towards the use, not the abuse, of more leisure, as of higher wages. That some waste will be incurred in learning to use leisure, as also in building up each stage in a rising standard of expenditure, is of course inevitable. Much might be said about the conditions which facilitate the assimilation both of leisure and of wages to nourish a higher human life. Race, climate, social traditions and surroundings, the nature of the work, age, sex and, indeed, many other conditions, must help to determine how a given shortening of hours, or enhancement of wages, will affect the standard of life. Some crude distinctions of great significance have been observed. The Bantu and most other Africans, new to processes of wage-labour and to the needs of civilised life, will take the whole of a sudden rise of wages in increased leisure, but that leisure will be spent almost wholly in idleness. Pushful German traders in tropical countries commonly complain of the 'verdammte Bedürfnislösigkeit' (accursed wantlessness) of the inhabitants. This low conservative standard of living impedes economic processes of exchange. It also precludes the fruitful use of leisure, the satisfaction of the non-economic needs. Though there is no reason to hold that any race or type of man is unprogressive, in the sense that his mind is impervious to new wants and is incapable of inciting him to new efforts for their satisfaction, the extent and pace of such progress vary greatly with the economic environment and with the degree of conscious culture hitherto attained. The stimuli of economic needs and of non-economic needs will normally proceed together, and in the masses of a working population will manifest themselves in a simultaneous demand for higher wages and more leisure. But as wages reach a tolerably high standard of economic comfort, it might be expected that the relatively stronger pressure of the non-economic needs would give increasing emphasis to the demand for a shorter and easier working day. This, indeed, will seem to accord with the general claim which socialists as well as individualists make for progressive industrialism, that it shall make larger provision for personal liberty and self-development. As specialised and regimented industry represents the direct economic service each must render to society, the demands of expanding personality are held to require that an increasing proportion of each man's time and energy shall be put at his disposal.
§11. No abstract considerations indeed, can be adduced to support an indefinite reduction of the work-day. As a high level of civilisation is attained in any community, the proportion of energy devoted to material, as compared with non-material Commodities and services, will doubtless be reduced. But that does not necessarily imply a corresponding reduction of economic time and activity. For among economic goods themselves, those which are wholly or mainly non-material will form an increasing proportion of the whole. A community like that of great Britain, with a population declining in its growth, will tend to take a continually increasing share of its real income in the shape of intellectual, moral, aesthetic, recreative, and other non-material services. These will absorb an ever-growing share of the productive energy of the people. This demand for the satisfaction of higher economic needs will be likely to put a check upon the tendency towards an illimitable reduction of the work-day. For most of these higher non-material goods do not admit the application of those economies of capitalist production available in the making of material goods. Take one example, that of education. Here is a service which will probably absorb a continually increasing percentage of the total time and energy devoted to economic services. The same is probably true of hygienic services. Though portions of these and other activities may pass from the economic into the non-economic sphere, being undertaken by individuals as private occupations, for their leisure, as public services they will certainly furnish employment to an increasing number of employees.
Thus the claims of a growing progressive social organisation will impose some necessary limits upon the demands of the individual for larger liberty and leisure.
There is, however, no final conflict between the claims of personal liberty and the social order. Even though the process of readjustment between the claims of industry and leisure should incline generally in favour of more leisure, with the prime purpose of nourishing more fully the private personality and affording larger scope for home life and recreation, society is not thereby the loser. For some of the finest and most profitable uses of leisure will consist of the voluntary rendering of social services of a non-economic order. I allude in particular to a fuller participation in the active functions of citizenship, a more intelligent interest in local and national politics, in local administration and in the numerous forms of voluntary association which are generally social in the services they render. More leisure is a prime essential of democratic government. There can be no really operative system of popular self-government so long as the bulk of the people do not possess the spare time and energy to equip themselves for effective participation in politics and to take a regular part in deliberative and administrative work. This is equally applicable to other modes of corporate activity, the life of the churches, friendly societies, trade unions, cooperative societies, clubs, musical and educational associations, which go to make up the social life and institutions of a country. Leisure, demanded primarily in the interests of the individual for his personal enjoyment, will thus yield rich nutriment to the organic life of society, because the individual will find himself drawn by the social needs and desires embedded in his personality to devote portions of his leisure to social activities which contribute to the commonwealth as surely as do the economic tasks imposed upon him in his daily industry.
1. (Times, 23 Dec. 1912.)
2. The best that can be said for this education has recently been said by Mr. George Peel, who writes of London children (The Future of England, p. 96):
'They spend 28 hours a week continuously during nine years under fairly satisfactory conditions of air, warmth and light, engaged in wholesome and stimulating pursuits. Considering what their homes often are, this itself must be reckoned an immense benefit.'