1920s >> 1927 >> no-271-march-1927

Efficiency and its economic results

A problem ever present with the capitalist class is to find markets where they can profitably dispose of their commodities.

In this endeavour, they seize upon every opportunity that will enable them to undersell a competitor. Science is exploited in both industry and agriculture. Improved machinery is introduced, often before the old plant is worn out, and the workers are speeded up to keep time with the increasing pace of the new methods.

The geographical limits of the world, and the entrance of the one-time commercially backward customers as competitors in the world’s markets, makes this competition keener.

Trusts and combines are formed to secure control of raw materials and to remove competition between certain manufacturers, in order to compete more effectively with others.

The more intensive cultivation of the soil and the development of the gigantic powers of production necessary in order to produce cheaply, and by this means to secure markets, lands the capitalist class in a curious position. The markets they endeavour to extend by the aid of cheap products are contracted by the methods adopted to reduce the cost of these products.

For example, if a market will absorb the commodities produced in a year by a combine of manufacturers, and they, in competition with others, adopt new methods so that the goods which were produced in a year can now be produced in eight months then, if all other things remain the same as before, the demands of the market can now be met by eight months’ production which would mean four months’ unemployment for that group of manufacturers. Of course, the cheaper production may—though, not necessarily—be accompanied by lower prices. But unless the total of this fall in prices equal the total of the previous prices of four months’ production, it is clear that unemployment would be increased by approximately the difference between the two totals.

The growth in the applications of science and the general powers of production proceeds at a far faster rate than the growth in the capacity of the markets to absorb the products. Consequently an ever-growing army of unemployed has become a permanent feature of capitalist society.

But still the cry for greater efficiency goes on. Press and platform are used to deceive the worker into believing that this speeding-up is necessary in order that there should be sufficient produced, from which he can draw his miserable pittance. And they conceal the fact that production for profit is the cause of this mad scramble for speed, resulting in greater unemployment, misery and premature death of the wealth producers.

Well to the front of this lying mob, stand the leaders of the Labour Party, competing with each other to win applause from the social parasites with whom they glory to associate.

A recent example of this toadyism comes from J. R. Clynes. Speaking at the Textile Exhibition in Manchester, he said that:

“A sound doctrine for the worker, is to give honestly and fully a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.
The best interests of the workers lie in the acceptance of the doctrine that unrestricted output with accepted humane terms of labour is unquestionably in the worker’s interest. Their chance of better conditions is greater under a state of abundance than it possibly could be under a state of scarcity. Scarcity is the intimate friend of the profiteer.”

By the use of the antiquated slogan of “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” Clynes gives a demonstration of the condition of his own mentality. Apparently he is not aware that the only condition upon which the workers can receive wages is by submitting to a process of exploitation, in which they are robbed of the greater portion of the wealth produced. To talk of “fair wages” is therefore absurd.

Equally misleading and absurd is the statement that unrestricted output is of benefit to the workers. The state of abundance this “unrestricted output” is supposed to create does not necessarily follow. Directly the demand for his commodities shows signs of falling off the employer slows up or stops production, which means short time or unemployment for the workers, and the more efficient the workers the more frequent and prolonged these periods become.

In Agriculture the control of supplies is not so easy. The individual farmer endeavours to get the most possible out of every acre he cultivates, and hopes that he alone win be cnrcessful. If an abundant crop is general the benefit that he would secure from a good harvest is lost owing to the resultant fall in prices.

The general success of the American cotton growers has landed them in difficulties.

“It is estimated that on cotton alone the loss on this season’s crop will be £80,000,000, and that thousands of farmers are practically in a state of bankruptcy, and are at the mercy of small banks.”—(Daily News, Oct. 9th, 1926.)

And in the same item of news we are told that :—

“The Government has arranged a loan of £6,000,000 to enable the cotton farmers to hold back cotton from the markets, and, by artificially reducing the supply, to increase prices.”

And further :—

“In addition to the plan for withholding the present crop and feeding it slowly into the market at inflated prices proposals are being made for limiting next year’s crop.
One proposal is that next year’s crop shall be cut 25 per cent. by limiting sowing.”

Such are the benefits that flow to the workers from a state of abundance. Supplies are held back to increase prices, and the prospect of 25 per cent. less ground cultivated, means that approximately 25 per cent. of the people employed in cotton growing will be thrown out of work.

The capitalists will allow the workers to starve sooner than sacrifice their profit. Fish has been thrown back into the sea, and fruit left to rot in the orchards, because it did not pay to market them.

Only by the workers establishing a system of society in which the means of wealth production will be owned in common, and wealth produced for use and not for profit, can this paradoxical position of starvation in the midst of plenty end, and abundance become a means to general happiness.

E.L.

(Socialist Standard, March 1927)

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