BOOK ONE
II - QUEST FOR LEISURE

 

7. THE GRAND STRATEGY

The demand for goods was globally satisfied. It meant not only that the jobs that would be created in the future would be aimed exclusively at the production of more services, but that, with productivity increasing constantly, even existing jobs would have to be reorientated gradually toward the production of services. Another obvious consequence was that, globally, future productivity gains would not accrue to the workers as "more goods" but as "more services". This in turn meant a whole series of problems.

First, the demand was for high services that the existing labour force could not provide immediately: it was a tall order. Until we could provide these high services, we would have to create a demand for the type of services that could be provided by the present manpower. Since these were not the services they expected to receive, the workers would have to be sold quite a bill of goods... and of "not-so-high" services.

Then, to avoid making matters worse, we would have to regulate cautiously the flow of manpower to services so that the increase in services would correspond exactly to (or at least would not exceed) the increase in productivity. Otherwise, there would be a drop in the production of goods... and consumers wanted services AND goods, not services instead of goods.

Finally, it was illusory to think that investors as a group might hold to a share of the services that the workers would produce without the help of the machines/multipliers. Consequently, wealth now would not tend to concentrate but to de-concentrate, as a growing share of the work activities would take place in sectors where machines played a lesser role. A very serious problem would be to try and minimize the destabilizing impact of this de-concentration of wealth on the social order.

The dream answer to the whole problem would be to create "perfect slaves", versatile and all-purpose machines that could replace men to provide most high services, yet would require some human guidance. Not only would that be the only realistic way to have affluence in services, but "human guidance" would mean that labour remained a factor of production, while the perfect machine itself, as fixed capital, would reaffirm the paramount importance of wealth and sustain the power structure based on investments and control of the means of production. The divorce between "work" and "wealth" would not take place.

Machines that could provide high services were not an absurd hypothesis, the way the consumer's fantasy about "plenty of scarce services" was absurd, for instance; it was merely a long term objective, like building a modern factory might have been "a long term objective" at the beginning of the Renaissance. It could be done, but it would take time. The problem was what to do in the meanwhile.

Guidelines for transition

Meanwhile, manpower would flee where machines could not follow: workers in production would become workers in services. Not high services maybe, but services. There would be no great rush, though, to replace the production of goods by an all-out effort to offer more services. Since people wanted goods as well as services, the change towards the new objectives would take place at a "reasonable" pace, giving the power structure plenty of time to adapt.

By historical standards, it would still be incredibly fast. It had taken roughly 150 years to move most of the population from the agricultural to the industrial sector; it would take less than a generation for a majority of industrial workers to move to the "third sector" and to begin working in services.

The flight really began in the Fifties and went on without pause, spontaneously. The greatest problem was to regulate the flow: the right number of workers out of industry and into services... and the right number of workers in "high" rather than "low" services. Keep the new pot o' gold within craving distance, but do not exceed effective demand. There were four basic rules to the Grand Strategy for transition.

First, Expand the realm of machine. We would condone, sometimes quite deviously, most efforts to replace men by machines in as many production jobs as possible. We would encourage the substitution of needs that still had to be satisfied by human labour by needs who could be satisfied by machines or by machine-produced services, and we would spare no efforts either to try and peg machines to human activity. This way, we would be increasing productivity and, even more important, we would be creating a dependency upon the machines that would sustain further expansion into sectors yet unidentified.

Second, Keep the labour force at work. People who work are expressing that they want things that money can buy and have needs which they will work to satisfy. Therefore, they recognize the value of wealth, uphold the objectives of positive reinforcement and endorse the power structure's fight to preserve the system. Keep all the "effective majority" of young male, white providers at work, even though there might less work to do; it keeps them out of mischief. Work would be in services high and low, of course, but the system would also create work in the industrial sector. Not in production activities, where machines should replace workers, but around production, to create a buffer between variations in the production of goods and the exodus of manpower to the field of services.

Third, Keep wealth productive. As long as money will breed more money and an effective demand for wealth will persist, we shall know that we have not fallen prey to Global Glut yet, and that our power structure based on wealth and positive reinforcement endures. The role of wealth should be questioned cautiously during transition, lest our social system as a whole be shaken and our basic dedication to positive reinforcement be jeopardized. Keep wealth productive, even if it requires an artificial support for industrial production, so that the wealth invested in machines might keep its value and remain a symbol of Authority.

Fourth, Promote education. The service that would make all services possible, since it seemed to be a multiplier of the quality of work although it was not, like machines, a multiplier of its quantity. Education would not only be an immediate answer to one of the demands of the people; it would also be an investment in the future, preparing the human resources needed to expand progressively the "realm of machine" until the day science and technology would succeed in changing the limits of the possible and would give us the "perfect slaves".

Optimal stress

This strategy would pit conflicting forces one against each other, and create stress in the system. Well endowed with the human resources that the educational system would produce, technology would try to expand the realm of machines. This would mean the replacement, by new "jobs-for-machines", of as many "jobs-for-men" as possible. Simultaneously, though, the manpower would have to be kept at work! If the expansion of machine went a little too fast, it would create unemployment. Machines could not delay their expansion too much, on the other hand, for there would be on the market a growing number of professionals competing for the interest of consumers, offering services which, more and more, would be what the consumers would really want. It promised an interesting race to propose the most glamorous trinkets to the reluctant consumer, and it should keep technology on its toes.

Looking at it from another angle, this growing availability of high professionals would be the "pot o' gold" and would provide immediate reward to those who kept trying hard... but it created the risk that too large a share of the total income would be spent on the consumption not of industrial goods but of services, after which it would be used for savings and investments after a brief stay in the pocket of high professionals. "Growing investments together with less consumption" would mean smaller and smaller returns on these investments, and wealth might slowly lose its value, which would reduce the authority of a power structure based on positive reinforcement.

A strategy for optimal stress. Optimal stress in consumers, because consumers would be looking most of all for more high services while society would be better off, for a while, if people kept buying "goods"... or at least the lower "services" that machines could produce. The consumer would obtain more services, though not as much as he would like, and would keep his motivation and his drive to get more. Optimal stress in top-dogs, whose power would be conditional upon the continuous growth of technology; optimal stress in the system, because individuals would all try to satisfy their wishes with a minimum of efforts..., while society as a whole would do its best to keep people at work having at least some of their money-related wishes remain unsatisfied. Optimal stress, in the tradition of positive reinforcement, but with more refinement than ever.

Refined systems do not operate without fine tuning, and a global strategy for transition would require a lot of it. People could not be expected to buy exactly the proper proportion of goods and services, technology could not be expected to come up with a perfect solution every time and, most of all, the "laws of the market" were certainly not going to be enough to keep manpower at work and wealth productive. The State would have to help a little, and maybe to take some "affirmative action" to create work.

The quest for leisure was over. Would our society be able to rise to the new challenge? Would we be able to swing our social objectives away from a quest for leisure and affluence and keep a straight face aiming at jobs, work, stress, and enough dissatisfaction at least to keep the wheels turning...? Could we maintain the momentum until we would discover real new goals, and see the path to a real new Pot o' Gold at the end of a new rainbow?

The idea - until the "perfect slaves" would arrive - would be to try and keep the labour force at work without producing much more industrial goods... or anything else. Until we had the machines which could provide the people with the high services they wanted without toppling our wealth-based positive reinforcement structure, our production system would have to run idle or, to use a modern metaphor, to "go into orbit" and rotate quietly, sending down a constant output of goods for our needs, but without an embarrassing effort at the production of the services we really wanted.

Breakthroughs would happen by the grace of technology and education, but they would just trickle in at the convenient pace that - you guessed it! - would keep manpower at work and wealth productive. From the Seventies and on, this would mean no more increase of our standard of living; in terms of new goals, manpower and wealth would be sent to parking orbits of null-production, and it would look at time like our society was out of its collective mind, for we would not work to produce anymore but... Produce to work!


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