Sunday, April 15, 2007

Industrialism: Rooted in Greed

By Howard King

(This is the second of a three-part series on Ralph Borsodi's This Ugly Civilization. Click here for part one: Machines and Families)

As Ralph Borsodi showed in the excerpt published in the most recent issue of Patriarch, the industrial revolution did not introduce machines to the world. Sophisticated, cost-effective, productive machines of many kinds had been in use for centuries in homesteads, shops and mills all over Europe and America. Rather what occurred was the development of machines designed for centralized mass production. These large and powerful machines, driven by massive power plants rather than muscle represented large investments of capital, and a very large return on investment was expected.

Christians know that the Adamic curse has limited the productive capacity of the earth (Gen. 3:17-19). Scarcity is a well-known fact in economics. Man is normally to "eat bread by the sweat of his brow" — that is, if he chooses to live within the physical and moral boundaries of this fallen world. The dishonest and the greedy have always been able to find shortcuts to wealth. The ordinary way to do this on a large scale since ancient times was conquest.

The British empire in the nineteenth century had become very rich by plundering the resources of the world. The slave trade was its most profitable enterprise of all. R. L. Dabney writes, "the slave trade was the cornerstone of the present splendid prosperity of that empire." (A Defense of Virginia and the South, p.30). The financial center of the world was London, with its sophisticated system of paper instruments that allowed the rapid movement of capital from less profitable enterprises to those that were more profitable. It was a money system, as opposed to a system built on the value of real assets (land and houses and the like), and was designed by speculators and usurers to facilitate the rapid acquisition of huge fortunes — legally.

Jacques Ellul, in his classic work, The Technological Society, says " was the bourgeoisie who discovered how much profit could be extracted from a consciously developed technology... At the beginning of the nineteenth century, they saw the possibility of huge profits from this system... It is solely because the bourgeoisie made money, thanks to technology, that technology became one of their objectives.” (p.53)

The factory is the product of crass materialism. Gary North, who is certainly no leftist (and no enemy to technology) commenting on an article by R.V. Young, writes" was not Christianity, but the materialists who were the designers and engineers of the modern industrial system." He speaks of " ...the industrial society, which is now ruthlessly polluting and destroying nature." (Genesis: the Dominion Covenant, p.34)

Some Christians have been erroneously taught that the modern world was built on Christian principles. This is not true. Christianity has not been ascendant in the West for the last three centuries — rather it has been in decline. The wealthy and powerful have made bows toward the Christian minority as required, but it is their principles — not ours — that have shaped the world. (This is not to say that Christianity has not furnished the wicked with much useful knowledge.)

To say that America's "wealth" and "greatness" is because of God's blessing may be true. To say that it is because God approves of our way of life is insupportable. No doubt the Romans believed that their vast empire was proof of their rightness and the favor of the gods!

Technological society is a system that is based on covetousness. Covetousness is wanting more for ourselves than is proper, and using "legal" means to get it. This understanding of the word is made necessary by its distinction from theft, both in the ten commandments themselves (Exodus 20:1-17) and in Christ's summary of the commandments (Mark 10:19). Theft is the act of taking something that does not legally and properly belong to us. The sin of avarice or greed does not necessarily lie in any outward act, but in the excessive and unrestrained desire — a desire that is allowed to reign in the heart where God alone should be King. It is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

The factory was born of the greed of the first industrialists, as Borsodi argues.

They made their profits by taking over one industry after another, and abandoning each one as the level of return (inevitably) dropped when competition brought prices down. It was not enough to make a profit on goods. There will never be enough money made by just producing and selling goods. One must move into an industry and undercut all the competitors first, then raise prices until the profit on each piece is large. Then others will be attracted to the industry by the enormous profitability. Finally, you get out when competition brings the prices down, and go build another factory. All of this economic conquest is enormously disruptive to society.

Not only was the factory created by greed — because it depends for its survival upon mass consumption, it must foster in every way possible the sin of covetousness in the masses. A society which only makes and consumes what it needs is anathema to the factory system. Both a taste for luxury and a willingness to live in debt must be nurtured. The masses must be convinced that there is something really wrong with the simple agrarian way of life. It's not exciting or fun! Fun is spending money on things just because you want to — not because you need them. Fun is spending without regard to the future. And for those who care more about security than fun, security is having a lot of money — which means they must invest heavily in the factory system.

What happens when aggregate demand falls below aggregate production? The last time it happened was called the Great Depression. When Borsodi wrote this book (1920s), we were on the doorstep of that event. Borsodi spoke out clearly on the dangers of "over-industrialization." He also predicted that it would lead to socialism — as it clearly did. We have managed to avoid a depression for a long time now (thanks to a world war, a cold war and the opening of global markets), but who knows how long before it happens again? Global demand is down, and overcapacity is a huge problem worldwide. Factories are being idled, and the demand for labor in the U.S. is at a nine-year low today. The rates of personal and corporate bankruptcies are very high. Yet people seem to keep spending — at least in the U.S.. For how long?

This evil of materialism is inherent in the technological society. It is the organizing principle of all activity. Hence "efficiency," defined as the cheapest way to do anything, the most profitable — rather than the best way for all concerned — is exalted as the "Dao", the "Way", the "summum bonum". Without the highest efficiency, nothing can be done at an adequate profit.

This is especially true because the factory has an "Achilles' heel" — what Borsodi calls "the institutional burden." Because of the centralization of production, certain advantages (economies of scale, mostly) accrue to the factory — advantages which allowed it to destroy their original competitors: cottage industry and village crafts. But there are offsetting weaknesses to the factory, which Borsodi charts for us here. Factories can only sustain this burden if they are ruthlessly efficient. Otherwise, given a similar level of technological development, decentralized, home-based production becomes more economical for the things people most need.

The egregious evils of the Factory are not to be seen as incidental to the system, but rather symptomatic of its fundamental unsoundness. The widespread adoption of the principle of efficiency is evil in itself. We should be trying to make exchanges that are mutually profitable (1 Cor. 10:24) — not seeking to make the most profit possible for ourselves at the expense of the other party. Business must be regulated by the golden rule. Otherwise the quality of products will continuously degrade.

A disregard for the real well-being of the masses is expressed in the haste to get gain. It contributes to pollution of the vital and irreplaceable common resources of air, water and land.

But equally as important is its tendency to weaken the family, reducing the home to a place where people come to sleep, rather than the vital center of a rich family life, of which Borsodi will speak more elsewhere. All of this is a result of the prevailing notion that man is autonomous — not accountable to God or dependent on him, and that this life is "all there is" on which technological society is finally based.

The cult of efficiency would not be so great a hazard if it had been limited to the sphere of manufacturing. Along with the acceptance of the Factory by the masses came the idea that all of life should be re-invented based on scientific and technological principles — chiefly the principle of "efficiency." The modern office, the school, the home — even our cultural expressions and entertainments bear the marks of mutilation by the intrusion of this ungodly principle, as Borsodi will also show in a later installment.

(This article originally appeared in "Patriarch Magazine" edited and copyrighted by Phil Lancaster. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

Continue to part three: The Efficiency Invasion: How Industrialism Destroyed the Traditional Family



tc said...

In reference to the greed that is inherent in the industrial system, I'd like to share an example from the corporate world. I was in a meeting were we were told that "Corporate" was not happy with our numbers. What was it that was wrong with our numbers? Were we losing money? No, we were not losing money, we were making a profit.

Then what was wrong? Were we making less profit this year than last year? No, we were actually making more money than we did last year. In fact each year over the last several years we continued to make more money than the year before.

Then what was wrong? Perhaps the problem was that our rate of increase wasn't increasing each year. Actually, that was going up each year as well. In other words, if we increased our profit by a certain amount one year, the next year we would actually increase our profit by an even greater percentage the following year.

So, each year we were making money, and each year we were making more money than the year before, and each year the increase in profit from one year to the next was getting bigger, and each year the rate of increase of profit was getting larger. The problem turned out to be that they wanted that rate of increase to go up more each year.

What happened to being satisfied with just making a profit and producing a good product?

April 15, 2007 10:29 PM  

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