Notes By the Way
Population, Food and Fuel
In recent years much interest has been shown by governments, agricultural experts and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations in problems of world food supply. With world population not only increasing, but increasing at a faster rate, the technical problems of raising food output had to be and have been solved, though the prospect of the solutions being fully applied in a capitalist world is another question for capitalism is more concerned with what is profitable than with the human tragedy of half the population of the world being underfed.
But along with food there is also the question of’ meeting the rapidly growing demand for fuel supplies. It is the realisation of this that has made atomic energy an industrial as well as a military question and explains why “exclusive of weapons” the British Government is spending £54 million a year on atomic research and development (Financial Times, 31/7/54.)
According to studies made for the United States Atomic Energy Commission the known resources of coal, oil, water-power and other existing sources of energy are likely in future decades to fall short of the needs of industry and at the same time become more costly to produce. There will, therefore, be increasing need for atomic energy. As a scientific correspondent of the Financial Times puts it: “The arrival of the Atomic Age is, it would seem, only just in time.”
Failing Coal Production
For British capitalism the problem shows itself in the failure of coal output to keep pace with demand. The post-war years have seen periodical dependence on imported coal, and coal exports from this country, which formerly bulked so large, have now fallen behind the value of exported petroleum products from the new huge refineries. Even if, with the investment of sums in mining machinery and equipment—£450 million is to be invested in the next six years—the total quantity can be increased, productivity has fallen and therefore the real cost has risen. This is the result of many factors, but chiefly because the richer and more easily worked seams were the first to be exhausted.
This is apt to be overlooked because comparison is rarely made with the earlier periods when productivity, measured in annual output per worker in the mining industry, was at its peak. The Daily Express (5/7/54) made the point that in 1953 the “output per man in the mines was 295 tons” (almost exactly one ton per working day), and that this has only once been exceeded since the war. But though this output is also well above the low levels of some years between the wars, it is far below the peak of 333 tons of 1883 and the average of 319 tons in 1879-1883. (Report on the Coal Industry, 1925, Vol. I, Chapter XL)
On the above figures the present annual output per worker is 8 per cent. below what it was seventy years ago, but the actual fall is really much greater than 8 per cent. because present output can only be maintained by the labour of increasing numbers of workers in the engineering industry engaged on the production of machinery for the mines.
For the present the Government is encouraging the use of oil in place of coal, as at the new Bankside power station, but at the same time atomic power is being developed for electricity generation. This is no doubt mainly for the technical reasons, but it will also not have escaped the notice of the Government that a subsidiary source of energy may also be useful to them in resisting wage demands of the miners.
Wages, Prices and Labour Government
This year, for the first time since June, 1947, the Ministry of Labour Index of average wage rates caught up with the Cost of Living Index, both now standing at 42 per cent. above 1947. In 1951, when the Labour Government left office, the Cost of Living Index at 129 was seven points higher than the wage index. In the main, the movements of prices depend on the workings of capitalism here and in the world generally and are not under the control of governments. The one important exception is currency manipulations, like the Labour Government’s devaluation of the pound in 1949, which, as they well knew, was bound to raise the cost of living and leave wages lagging behind. The actual course of events certainly gives some support to the view that the Labour Government’s preaching of “wage restraint” to the workers in 1947 onwards played its part in keeping wages below the rise of the cost of living.
Armaments for Peace
The plausible argument used by the advocates of armaments and still more armaments is that if the country is unarmed or armed less powerfully than some other country this encourages the stronger Powers to attack the weaker. The weaker should therefore get more armaments and so deter the potential aggressor.
One fallacy in the argument is, of course, that if they all increase their armaments by, say, 50 per cent. their relative position is just where it was at die start.
It will also be noticed that the more strongly armed Powers use an argument that is just as plausible and just as silly. Their generals demand more arms, not in order to catch up with somebody else, but in order to retain their lead. All the big Powers use this argument, among them Russia.
At the so-called elections in Russia earlier this year one of the Communist Party candidates (no other political parties are allowed to put forward candidates, or, indeed, to exist at all), was Marshal Bulganin, whose election speech was published in the ‘Russian Embassy’s Soviet News, under date 10th March, 1954.
In his speech he not only reiterated that the Russian army is already “the strongest in the world,” but that it is urgently necessary to make it stronger still. “ As we know, those who do not go forward, fall behind, and those who fall back are defeated. For this reason, since the victory won in the great Patriotic War. the Party and the Government have not relaxed their efforts to strengthen our defence capacities.”
Needless to say, Bulganin, like his opposite numbers in all the countries, insists that their massive equipment in artillery, tanks, atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, etc., etc., are merely to preserve peace!