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corporate dominance | labor

The gospel of consumption

Today "work and more work" is the accepted way of doing things. If anything, improvements to the labor-saving machinery since the 1920s have intensified the trend. Machines can save labor, but only if they go idle when we possess enough of what they can produce. In other words, the machinery offers us an opportunity to work less, an opportunity that as a society we have chosen not to take. Instead, we have allowed the owners of those machines to define their purpose: not reduction of labor, but "higher productivity"—and with it the imperative to consume virtually everything that the machinery can possibly produce.
[...] Just ten years later things looked very different. Cars dominated the streets and most urban homes had electric lights, electric flat irons, and vacuum cleaners. In upper-middle-class houses, washing machines, refrigerators, toasters, curling irons, percolators, heating pads, and popcorn poppers were becoming commonplace. And although the first commercial radio station didn't begin broadcasting until 1920, the American public, with an adult population of about 122 million people, bought 4,438,000 radios in the year 1929 alone.

But despite the apparent tidal wave of new consumer goods and what appeared to be a healthy appetite for their consumption among the well-to-do, industrialists were worried. They feared that the frugal habits maintained by most American families would be difficult to break. Perhaps even more threatening was the fact that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people's sense that they needed them.
It was this latter concern that led Charles Kettering, director of General Motors Research, to write a 1929 magazine article called "Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied." He wasn't suggesting that manufacturers produce shoddy products. Along with many of his corporate cohorts, he was defining a strategic shift for American industry—from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones.

In a 1927 interview with the magazine Nation's Business, Secretary of Labor James J. Davis provided some numbers to illustrate a problem that the New York Times called "need saturation." Davis noted that "the textile mills of this country can produce all the cloth needed in six months' operation each year" and that 14 percent of the American shoe factories could produce a year's supply of footwear. The magazine went on to suggest, "It may be that the world's needs ultimately will be produced by three days' work a week."
[...]
Businessmen were not happy about this prospect -> Read the rest of the story here:  http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/2962/

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Possessions possess us 21.Apr.2012 05:25

marc mbatko1@hotmail.com

In his writings, Erich Fromm warns us about the temptation of setting "having" above "being" and surrendering our freedom for the promise of happiness. Immanuel Kant once remarked: "Rhinoceroses can speak but are silent for fear of being dragged off to work." Work fetishism and work fanaticism increase while work becomes a corpse. Fewer and fewer people are needed to produce more and more goods in ever faster time.
Time for alternative economics, reduced working hours, person-oriented work, labor-intensive investment and redistribution. The future could be full of community centers, free Internet books and soft power if we could only leave the myths and fictions of the work religion and resume heaven!

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