It is easy to see why we have come to believe that the unending increase in production which the factory makes possible must ultimately make all mankind comfortable.
Until the coming of the factory, population pressed upon subsistence. Malthus enunciated a law that seemed inexorable: mankind’s capacity for populating the earth was greater than mankind’s capacity for producing the means of subsistence. But with the coming of the factory, capacity for production began to overtake capacity for consumption. Today it has reached the point where aggregate production presses upon aggregate consumption.
Our captains of industry have actually turned to stimulating consumption in order to create a market for all that their factories can produce.
Is it any wonder that we have come to believe that the factory is destined not only to end the age of want but to usher in an era of golden plenty?
If we assume that an insufficiency of creature comforts is the principal cause of our discomfort, then the factory does seem the answer to our quest of comfort.
But comfort has qualitative as well as quantitative aspects. It is not enough that we should be able to secure a sufficiency of the necessities and luxuries we desire.
There is no conquest of comfort if the things that satisfy our wants are secured at the sacrifice of our capacity for enjoying them.
And the capacity for enjoyment seems inextricably interwoven with the methods by which we create what we consume.
It is not impossible for society to insure to all its members the essentials of normal living: food, shelter, clothing and other necessaries; self-expressive work; a normal sex-life including parentage; an education and a social environment in accord with its own aspirations.
Primitive societies often do it.
But the industrialized states, even with modern science to assist them, seem unable to do so. They fail because they have consecrated themselves to the production of wealth and not to the production of comfort.
That comfort is to be attained through an unending increase of production is a fallacy. It is more nearly true to say that it is to be secured not by producing as much as possible but as little as possible. Comfort really depends upon producing only as much as is compatible with enjoyment of the work of production itself.
It is because the factory production of food, clothing, shelter and the trivia of existence is being secured at a sacrifice of self-expression in labor, of a normal sex-life and parentage, and a desirable educational and social life that the quest of comfort through the factory is beginning to prove disappointing.
Mankind, by its too great devotion to the sheer increase in the production of creature comforts, is making it impossible to attain the comfort it has in view. It would be pathetic if it were not so tragic: mankind forever seeking to attain a comfort which it seems forever doomed to lose.
What is comfort?
Comfort is a condition of freedom from involuntary, unjust, or imposed pain, cold, hunger and other distresses of the body. Comfort is a state of moderate, temperate, stable physical well-being. It does not preclude activity—even strenuous and adventurous activity. Activity and intense exertion destroy comfort only when they become meaningless, purposeless and pointless.
But comfort is a condition of mental as well as material well being. We can hardly be comfortable when we are starving or shivering. But we may be warm and well fed and still uncomfortable if we are fearful, credulous, ignorant, insensitive and lack the capacity for discriminating use of the creature comforts which mankind has evolved.
Our present problem is: how can we secure the material essentials of comfort without, in the process of securing them, sacrificing our capacity for really enjoying them? And, is it possible for us to do so—to end our present slavish dependence upon the factory—in the face of the existing dominance of our economic life by the factory and the factory system?
Suppose that my contention be granted—that the abolition of all non-essential and undesirable factories would ultimately not only add to the real comfort of mankind but reduce the ugliness of civilization—isn’t it a waste of time to discuss an idea that is entirely outside the realm of the possible? Wouldn’t it be wiser to accept the inevitable and adapt ourselves to a state of affairs which cannot be changed? Wouldn’t it, in short, be wiser to try to make factory production less ugly and factory products more satisfying than to waste time discussing their abolition?
I do not propose to shirk these questions, for while I am interested in the possibility of a civilization less ugly and more comfortable than the one in which we find ourselves, I am equally interested in the practical problems which must be solved to make that civilization a reality, and in the personal problem of individuals who have to live today, before that civilization has been achieved, and while they may have to try individually to achieve comfort. In short, I do not propose to ignore the question of what it may be possible for us to do immediately to free ourselves from the factory.
The ugliness and the discomfort that the factory has brought into being can lie almost entirely abolished by the simple expedient of refusing to buy the products of our undesirable and non essential factories. Factory domination of civilization would not very long survive a widespread refusal to patronize these factories. The ugliness inflicted upon civilization and the discomforts imposed upon mankind by factories would disappear with the factories themselves.
True, if a mere handful of individuals were to cease buying the products of these factories, as is all that can at first be hoped for, and very fortunately from a business standpoint, the factories would not be very quickly eliminated. But those who abandoned the buying of these factory products would be gainers in wealth, health and happiness.
As far as the individual is concerned, this is a program which does not have to wait upon a nation-wide “agitation” and “education” and “organization” of great masses of people. No legislation needs to be secured. No political parties need to be formed. It is dependent merely upon individual self-education and discipline. The men and women who enter upon this way to comfort begin the conquest of comfort for themselves even though they are too few in number to conquer comfort for all mankind. Nation-wide agitation, and organization—dangerous methods in the hands of narrow, fanatic, quantity-minded individuals to whom they make an irresistible appeal—might speed the day when the great masses would adopt this way to comfort. They might hasten the day when people in large numbers would stop buying factory products; when lack of patronage would begin to force non-essential factories to close their doors; when the number of factories in the nation would begin to shrink to a more tolerable total. The legions of rain and snow, heat and frost, rust and rot, fungi and vegetation would a little sooner begin the work of reabsorbing the buildings and machinery which the factory workers had been forced to leave.
The process of reducing abandoned factories to picturesque ruins and of returning them to the integral soil and landscape from which they should never have been evoked, might be hastened by the usual methods of organized reformers. But so far as the individual family is concerned it does not have to be.
The question is, how can we today abandon any of our buying of factory products and still live? Or, abandon factory products as I believe we can in large part, and live more comfortably than we do today—as we are certainly entitled to live in this age of scientifically possible abundance?
The buying of factory products can be reduced by us to the degree in which we equip and organize our homes to produce what we need and desire for ourselves.
The organized, creative and productive home can free us from our dependence upon the factory. The home of today, as the factory has fashioned it for the factory world’s better functioning, cannot.
The home of today usually houses a “natural” family consisting of parents and their unmarried children. It is built around two individuals, often both working outside the home, whom an imperious biologic impulse has trapped into marriage. Because the home of this small family has come to function economically only as a consuming center it is an economic rudiment—a rudiment in the same sense that the os coccyx is a biological rudiment.
Like all rudiments, the modern home tends to shrink and shrivel. It persists in rudimentary form long after it no longer functions as it was originally designed to function.
To be able to abandon the buying of the products of our non essential and undesirable factories, and still be comfortable, the home must be reorganized—it must be made into an economically creative institution. It must cease being a mere consumption unit. It must become a production unit as well. It must be as nearly as possible an organic home—house, land, machines, materials and a group of individuals organized not for mere consumption but for creative and productive living.
To the degree in which families, large or small, and even single individuals organize homes of this sort, to that degree they can free themselves from the factory.
While all families today are consuming factory products, all of the families of the country are by no means equally dependent upon them. Rural and urban families both patronize the factory, but differ greatly in their degree of dependence upon it.
The urban family, confined in small space, and tending more and more to live in a kitchenette apartment, is wholly dependent upon the factory. Everything that enters the urban home must be bought. Most of the commodities consumed in it are subjected to factory processing of some sort. But the rural family still produces many of the things it consumes. It produces its own milk and butter, for instance, where the urban family buys canned milk and dairy-made butter. True, it is the tendency of the age for the rural family to imitate the urban family’s habits of living more and more. But as long as the rural family remains close to the soil, its dependence upon the factory will be less than that of its city cousin’s.
As industrialization progresses, the number of rural families declines, the number of urban families increases. In 1900 only 40 percent of the population of the United States was urban. By 1920 the urban population had become 51.4 percent. In twenty years the rural population—the population on farms or in towns of less than 2,500 population—had declined nearly one-fifth. The proportion of the population almost entirely dependent upon the functioning of the factory is constantly increasing; the proportion which can live independent of the factory, more or less, is constantly decreasing.
The rural family is generally a farming family. In 1920, 61.5 percent of the population classed as rural by the census lived on farms. The farm home, because it is equipped with large kitchens, barns, cellars, sheds and work rooms, and all sorts of tools and equipment, makes a large amount of domestic production practicable. But even when not farming, the rural family usually lives on a plot of land upon which vegetables, fruit and poultry may be raised. It lives nearly always in a house—not a flat. It therefore has much more in the way of storage room and space for domestic productive effort than the city family.
The urban family usually lives in rented quarters and to an increasing extent in flats and not in houses. Only 37.4 percent of the urban population owns homes; 62.6 percent consists of renters. Of the rural population the reverse is true; only 45.1 percent rents its home, and these rural renters live mainly in houses, while the urban renters tend to live in flats.
These facts make it plain that only the rural population of this industrialized country is capable of any wide-spread action upon my proposal that the public should refuse to patronize the non-essential and undesirable factories. The urban population, before it can act upon it to any considerable extent, will have to provide itself with some of the facilities for domestic production which the rural population already possesses.
But if a considerable number of the farmers, who form so large a part of the rural population of the country, acted upon my proposal, this would be sufficient to precipitate an industrial counter-revolution. The whole citadel of undesirable industrialism would collapse. A withdrawal of the buying power represented by this immense group of consumers would make it plain that present day over-industrialization is supported upon the flimsiest of economic foundations.
If farmers but knew it, they would realize that they have everything to gain, and little to lose by insuring that collapse.
The farmer of our pioneer period was economically as well as politically free. The land policy of the early republic, with its liberal homestead laws, served temporarily, at least, to destroy feudal land ownership, which had kept the agriculturists of previous epochs in a condition of slavery and serfdom and which is still the principal factor in keeping the farmers of most of the world in a condition of peasantry.
Land was free to the homesteader. The pioneers had only to occupy it, build houses upon it, fence it, cultivate it—they had, in short, only to use it and it was theirs. Free land made it possible for every pioneer family to be economically self-sufficient. For land furnished them nearly everything that they needed. It furnished them stone and lumber for their buildings; grain, fruit and meat for their table; wood for fuel; flax, wool, furs and hides for their clothing; while the trees, minerals, clay and stone of their neighborhood furnished them raw materials out of which they fashioned nearly every implement which they used.
Theirs was a hard and a primitive life, it is true. Yet hard as it was; primitive as it was; it still furnished something—perhaps a crude plenty combined with self-sufficiency—which made pioneering attractive to the great masses of the more settled sections of the country. In spite of the ample knowledge of the hardships, the privations, and the dangers of the life, men and women of all kinds answered the call of the free land.
It is not necessary to go over the process, step by step, by which the hard and crude life of the self-sufficient farmers of our pioneer period evolved into the hard but much less crude life of the utterly dependent farmers of today. The life of the pioneer farmer was little affected by the rise and fall of the prices in volatile produce markets. A bounteous crop, instead of bringing a small return for the greater labor involved in harvesting it, meant to the self sufficient pioneer farmers a winter of plenty and content. Today, the farmers are gamblers who may be ruined by a bounteous crop. They live well when the market quotations on cotton, corn, wheat, eggs, milk are high and live poorly when they are low. A sharp fall in prices wipes out their capital; reduces them to poverty; drives them to the city. It transforms them from dependent farmers into even more dependent urban factory workers.
The responsibility for the destruction of the independence of our American farmers can be attributed largely to the application of the factory system to our agriculture. Specialization upon the production of one crop destroyed the diversified agriculture of the past and replaced it with the factory agriculture of today. The diversified agriculture in which each farmer produced grain, fruit, and garden crops, livestock and animal products for his own use as well as for sale has been replaced by the present factory agriculture in which each farmer produces for the market one crop, such as cotton or wheat, or one kind of livestock (perhaps also raising feed for the stock) as in dairying and poultry farming. With farming by the factory system, farmers tend to sell all that they produce and to buy all that they consume.
Specialization enables the farmers to effect all the economies of factory production. But it involves their selling what they produce at wholesale in the primary market and their buying what they consume at retail in the consumer market.
The enormous quantities of each crop which have to be marketed yearly create distribution costs which the farmers themselves have to absorb because they are unable to shift them to the consuming public. Manufacturers can add freight, sales and advertising costs to the prices they receive for their manufactured products. But the freights, commissions, shrinkages and spoilages on the cotton, wheat, corn, hogs, cattle, fruit which farmers produce for the market are deducted from the prices which they secure. The farmers have to be content with what is left after these costs have been deducted from the market quotations. What they gain through factory methods in lower costs of production, they lose in the hazards of marketing and in the higher prices which they pay for what they buy.
But in making themselves into “manufacturing animals,” to use the expressive phrase of Adam Smith, they have also had to make themselves into “selling animals” and “buying animals.” Wheat farmers produce wheat, and often nothing else. They sell wheat, and with the money received for their wheat they buy flour, condensed milk, canned vegetables, packing-house meat and packaged cereals.
Cattlemen, producing steers for slaughter, though they must have herds of cows to produce their calves, milk none of them. They sell beef and they buy canned milk.
Dairymen, on the other hand, produce nothing but milk and cream. With the money received for their products they buy feed for their stock and beef for their table, both often raised thousands of miles away from the farms on which they are consumed.
Specialization, it is true, enables farmers to use machinery to lighten their labor, and to increase the total amount of their production. But it puts the farmers in the same unenviable position in which our manufacturers find themselves: able to produce much more than the market will absorb at a profit. Specialization tends to force them to go on producing without adequate return for the risk, the capital and the labor involved.
As a result farmers generally have been relegated to a situation in which they labor for a smaller return than that of the lowliest and poorest paid unskilled laborers. They get less than the unskilled laborers, yet they risk their capital, take grave responsibilities and assume the burden of solving difficult administrative problems. And in addition their work includes much manual labor more arduous than that of the average industrial laborer.
More specialization and more buying of factory products can only result in increasing the supply of what they have to sell and increasing the demand for what they buy. The prices they would receive for the wheat, corn, cotton, hogs and all the other produce they raise would be still further depressed; the prices on the products they buy would be still further raised.
There are 6,448,343 farms of all kinds in the United States. Of these 3,925,090 are operated by farmers who own their farms and 68,449 by managers who operate them for the owners. Approximately 2,454,804 are operated by tenant-farmers. Of the farm-owning farmers about 2,074,325 own their farms free from debt; 1,461,306 are mortgaged on an average for $3,356.
We have thus three classes of farmers, all of whom can take some steps toward economic freedom, but who are differently situated as to the extent to which they can do so.
First, the tenant-farmers who have to produce a cash crop large enough to pay the rental for the farm they occupy.
Second, the mortgaged farm-owners who have to produce a cash crop large enough to pay interest averaging from $200 to $250 per year and often something on the principal of their indebtedness.
Third, the free and clear farm-owners who are in position to reduce their cash crops to a size which will earn them just enough for taxes, and to pay for those things which they cannot make for themselves and which they must buy from the factories.
If any considerable proportion of these three classes of farmers were to make even a partial step toward economic freedom the industrial counter-revolution would cease to be a mere figure of speech. It would become an actuality.
Why shouldn’t farmers reduce their production of cash crops to the barest minimum that will enable them to get enough cash for their fixed expenses and for the factory products they absolutely must buy? If great numbers of them were to cut down production in this way, there would be a reversal of the customary excess of supply over demand in the various farm produce markets. There would be smaller supplies of grain, of hogs, of steers, of eggs, of poultry, of vegetables and of fruit. Demand, however, would be the same. Prices would soar. The farmers might actually get a greater cash return for the little that they would produce than they now get for producing as bountifully as hard work and modern agricultural methods and machinery make it possible for them to produce.
That this would inevitably follow has been demonstrated over and over again.
Taking most of the important crops produced in the years 1926 and 1924 for comparative purposes because in those two years the purchasing power of the dollar was almost exactly equal, we find that the farmers generally received a larger return for the smaller of the crops they produced.
In 1926, the farmers produced 2,645,031 bushels of corn; in 1924, they produced 2,309,414 bushels—which is 335,617 bushels less than in 1926. Yet they received $2,266,771,000 for the smaller crop and only $1,703,430,000 for the larger one. They were paid $563,341,000 more for producing 335,617 bushels less of corn. When they brought a large crop of corn to market they received 64.4 cents for each bushel, but when they brought a small one, they received 98.2 cents! A comparison of yields and prices of twenty-three of the most important crops in these two years shows that in the case of twenty of them the farmers received a higher aggregate money return in the year in which they brought the smallest crop to market. But for the coincidence of a large wheat crop in the United States in the same year when all the other wheat growing countries produced small ones, the money return in 1926, when they raised the smaller wheat crop, would also have been larger than in 1924, when they raised a larger one.
Let farmers produce primarily for their own consumption and cease to produce bountiful surpluses which benefit only city dwellers, and each individual farm family will receive more for the little surplus it sells than if it had specialized on one crop and produced a superabundance of it.
Let the farmers of the country devote the time which the cutting down of cash crops would leave on their hands to the production on their own farms and in their own homes of everything for their own consumption that it is practicable for them to produce.
Let them raise everything that the regions in which they are located and the particular pieces of land they cultivate make it possible for them to raise for their own table, and store and preserve what they will need for winter when the growing season is over.
Let them frankly recognize that farming is naturally a part-time occupation. There are certain seasons of the year when it makes relatively little demand upon them. At such times the members of the farm family should turn to crafts of various kinds with which to earn the money to buy the products they feel necessary to their comfort which it is impractical for them to make themselves. They should be crafts which can be carried on at home or in its neighborhood.
Let them go back for their principles of operating to the pioneers though not back to the primitive methods which the pioneers used. For they can use the methods and the machines which the past century and a half of scientific progress have developed to make themselves as independent as were the pioneers while yet avoiding the heartbreaking and backbreaking hardships and hard work of pioneer life.
That they would cut down their buying of factory products is obvious. But in addition they would greatly lower the prices which they would have to pay for the factory products which they did buy. For while they were cutting down the total demand for factory products, the factory’s production of them would go on for some time at the same pace, and for a long time at a pace far in excess of demand. Prices of factory products would go down, because supply would so greatly exceed demand.
If enough farmers did these things, or all farmers did them to some extent, they would bring about a farmers’ millennium: high prices for the limited quantities of farm produce that they brought into the wholesale market, and low prices for the limited numbers of factory products that they bought in the retail market. Even if only a few farmers were to act upon these proposals, and the millennium did not for that reason develop, each of these independent souls and their families would be economically more free than they are today. They would live more comfortably than they do today, without a bit harder work, and without the risks and responsibilities of factory farming.
What a gorgeous prospect this possible declaration of independence by the farmers of the world presents to the speculative imagination!
For any considerable movement of this sort would produce far reaching dislocations in the delicate economic machinery of present day industrial civilization. Hard times would plague the cities: bankruptcies, financial panics and bread lines would become chronic.
The self-sufficient farmers could reciprocate the indifference with which their city cousins view the present plight of agriculture.
The railroads, confronted by the great shrinkage of freight, both of agricultural and industrial products, would be at their wits’ ends to meet even essential operating expenses: they would have to raise freight rates over and over again in order to keep any trains running at all. This might prove a blessing in the long run. For with higher freight rates, neighborhood factories would have restored to them the natural economic advantages of location. The big factories would find it almost impossible to compete with them because of the freight differential which would be operating against them as distant producers. The neighborhood market would revive, and the farmers would again gain because the cost of the long hauls and of the complicated system of middlemen now needed to distribute their produce in distant markets would no longer be deducted from the prices paid them.
The machines in most of the factories would be stilled. The ugly factory buildings which house them would turn first into picturesque ruins and then dissolve into the elemental earth from which they were originally evoked. The great masses of laborers and white-collar workers now in them would be forced out of their city rabbit-warrens. They would be left with the alternative of going back to the land themselves and doing what the farmers were doing, or of submitting to a process of pauperization followed within a few generations by extinction. The subways, elevateds, street cars would no longer carry stifling, sweating crowds. The beautiful green grass would slowly reclaim the stone and concrete deserts of city streets.
There would be incidental suffering, of course. Unemployment on a vast scale spells starvation. Starvation on a vast scale spells revolution. But revolutions, fortunately, tend always to bring about a re-baptism through land and a re-birth through self-help.
This is a melancholy vision. It should not, however, agitate sensitive souls overmuch. There is little probability that enough farm families would ever make so sensible a change in their manners of life to really stay the conquering course of the factory and the factory system.
But some of the farm families might cut down what they bought of factory products by producing as much as is practicable for their own consumption. Some laborers and office workers’ families might follow their example. Some business men’s families might; some professional men’s families, sick of their parlous position in a factory dominated world, might. Individually each family would gain by such a change in their manner of living. And collectively all would gain if a large enough proportion of the entire population joined in the movement.
Today the farm family is farming too much. The industrial, commercial and professional family is farming hardly at all. The farm family should cut down its farming to its own needs; the non-farming family should farm enough to supply itself with the essentials of life. This is the road to economic freedom and economic freedom is essential to the conquest of comfort. For the farmer this is still a comparatively easy road to follow. For the industrial laborer and the office worker, it is a difficult, though not entirely impossible road to follow. For the successful business man it is more difficult because there is no compelling need for him to follow it. But for the quality-minded individual, it is often the only road to comfort. And if he has some sort of craft or profession, it is almost as easy for him to follow as it is for the farmer.
Unfortunately for the millions of city dwellers, who need economic independence just as much as do the farmers, generations of dependence upon the factory have well nigh destroyed their ability to fend for themselves. Most city dwellers, even after years of schooling which includes all that pedagogy has to offer in the way of biology, botany, chemistry, physics and economics, can be put down in an uninhabited but fertile countryside and starve and freeze to death because they have been deprived of any access to dairies, bakeries, delicatessens and to all the stores which contain the factory products to which they are accustomed. They could be furnished with all the tools and implements which the Swiss Family Robinson providentially found, but before they could use them to provide themselves with shelter, clothing, and sustenance, they would the of exposure, of sickness, and of hunger. Their pathetic dependence upon the factory-made necessaries and luxuries of life; the superiority which they feel because they buy things “ready-made,” and the sense of inferiority which they feel about what is “home-made”; the pride which many of them display in their inability to use tools—because of their inability “even to drive a nail straight”—renders very remote the prospect that many of them could make themselves economically free.
Generations of dependence upon factory work and factory made products have destroyed their ability to turn to self-sufficiency as a means to the conquest of comfort. The atrophy of the attributes which make man the supremely adaptable animal, makes a further and ever further specialization of their productive and home life both easy and necessary. Any effort to take a considerable step in the other direction, toward independence and individualism, would spell their doom. Only farmers and the more adaptable non-farmer would survive a movement toward individual economic freedom. The rest would all disappear, as did the Roman patricians and their parasitic clients, before the on-rush of the more adaptable Germanic tribes. They would disappear, not because there is not ample useful work in the world for them to do, but solely and simply because our industrial civilization has turned them into semi-automatons incapable of the readjustments which would make self-reliant beings of them.
There is arable land enough in the state of New York alone, and New York is by no means a banner agricultural region, to furnish real homes to all the workers in its undesirable factories, and to the city workers who are engaged in distributing their products. Yet New York probably has more undesirable factories, and more cities in proportion to available arable land, than any other state in the union. There is land enough to furnish each family in the state with gardens, orchards, yards for vegetables, for fruits, for chickens, for pigs, for goats.
The work on these small homesteads would not, of course, be sufficient to occupy all their time, nor could they produce enough on them to furnish themselves with the domestic machinery and equipment which would be essential to their comfort. But there is work enough for the spare time of all of them in the building crafts alone, if the miserable painted wooden shacks which now house the greater part of the people of the state were to be replaced by beautiful and substantial structures of stone, brick, and concrete. In this one field alone, there is work enough to utilize all the time of the millions now engaged in producing and distributing the products of our undesirable and non-essential factories. Instead of devoting themselves to the semi-automatic labor in these factories, let them devote themselves to stone-cutting, masonry, bricklaying, carpentry, joining, iron-working, and all the other crafts essential in the building of beautiful and substantial homes. Let them support themselves partly on the produce of the land, and partly out of their earnings as craftsmen. They would then be able to work for less in the way of wages and yet live far more comfortably than they do today.
If even a small proportion of the workers now engaged by non-essential factories were really directed towards the huge task of housing the population comfortably and beautifully in individual homes, the collateral development of all sorts of neighborhood industries would bring about a revival of rural social life of revolutionary cultural significance. The villages would cease to be mere trading centers. They would become social and industrial centers, in which the sharp distinction between working in a factory and working on a farm, which is one of the worst aspects of our factory dominated civilization, would be absent.
A major change in the direction in which capital is invested is essential if such a transformation of our economic life is to become possible. Instead of the present ingenious and highly efficient system for directing capital into industrial channels, there must be developed an even more ingenious and more efficient system for directing capital into home-making and home-producing channels. Building and loan associations, land and agricultural banks, installment finance corporations must be developed so that ample capital is available for the building of substantial and beautiful homes, for equipping them with modern domestic machinery, and for purchasing whatever is needed to enable the home to shelter an independent unit of society comfortably and beautifully.
If existing agencies for procuring and furnishing capital for these purposes were developed, capital would be made available at reasonable rates of interest and on an amortization basis. It would become possible to build millions of homes of the best of materials and with the best workmanship, and to equip them with modern, scientific machinery for domestic production. A market would be created for the producers of building materials, of domestic machinery, of tools and equipment, of furniture and furnishings so much larger than the existing market that there need be no concern about what would have to be done with the millions of workers whom my proposal would seem to leave without the means for supporting themselves. They would be able to devote themselves, when not working their own homesteads, to useful instead of useless occupations. The notion that useless occupations are desirable and that more and more of them have to be invented in order to make it possible for the entire population to work, is a delusion.
Those who console themselves with the thought that the consumption of luxuries and the waste of necessities has a useful aspect because they thus “make” work are consoling themselves with an economic delusion. There are enough essential and desirable things to be done—of which the building of beautiful homes is only one—to furnish work to every person today engaged in the production and distribution of the goods made by our undesirable and non-essential factories. The trouble is that today society has accepted a pattern of living based upon a set of financial and economic ideas which makes the direction of labor into the factory and away from the home seem desirable and rational. The same ingenuity in organization and the same perseverance in operation which have filled the land with factories, can fill the land with beautiful homes and comfortable families.
What is needed is a more intelligent economic ideology.
The really superior types in society must impose new and better values upon the ruthless, acquisitive and powerful types which delight in forcing the masses to cater to their wishes. Just as Watt, Stephenson, Faraday, Morse slowly imposed their ideas upon the whole of mankind by showing the quantity-minded minority the possibilities of power and profit in bringing about the industrial revolution, so this new economic ideology will have to be imposed upon society by showing the quantity-minded minority that domestic production furnishes great opportunities for power and profit to those who first exploit its possibilities.
In the eighteenth century an entirely new group of men acquired power by seizing upon the discoveries of science and exploiting them through the factory. They acquired wealth and climbed into the seats of power formerly reserved only for the landed aristocracy, the military, and the clergy, because they directed their ingenuity, their perseverance, and their ruthlessness to the development of the factory.
The self-same type of men exists today. Such men can be made to impose a better social and economic ideology upon the masses by the simple expedient of showing them how they can acquire wealth and power by developing installment credit, domestic machinery, and electrical power.
Fortunes are now being made out of the exploitation of electrical power. Slowly but surely the quantity-minded masters of the electrical industry are being driven by a small number of men who are doing some real thinking about electric power into the development of the latent possibilities of the industry. If the Duponts, the Mellons, the Insulls really begin to develop the industry they control, the stage will be set for a real battle between the two systems of production which we have been studying, and this battle domestic production will fend itself for the first time assisted by talent of a type which up to the present has been almost exclusively on the side of factory production.
Students of the electric industry like Mr. Morris L. Cooke, whose monograph What Price Electricity for Our Homes? makes the existing situation in the industry clear, are plainly aware of the social implications of a greater use of electricity in the home even though they do not dwell upon the revolutionary cultural potentialities of cheap, flexible, and small unit power.
Mr. Cooke’s study was designed to show the fallacy, both from the standpoint of the consumers of electricity and the producers of electricity, of the present large differentials between home consumers’ rates and industrial power rates. When the first electric companies were organized, electricity was used almost exclusively for lighting purposes. Current was wanted only when light was used. It was used in the evening and not the daytime. Equipment large enough to supply the maximum demand had to be installed and then had to remain idle most of the day. Lighting consumers naturally had to be charged the cost of producing current while it was being consumed and also the cost of maintaining the plant even when practically no current was being produced. The companies had to secure an ample return on the investment in their entire plant from the sale of lighting current only.
It was not long before the electric companies discovered that stimulating consumption of current during the daytime, even if it had to be sold without charging the day-time power user anything for the maintenance of the plant, produced an added clear profit. Factories were therefore persuaded to abandon the use of steam power by offering them electrical power at rates lower than they could produce power from steam. The process of stimulating the consumption of power in the “slack hours” in this way has been continued down to this day. Industrial rates are often only one-tenth of the domestic rates. As a matter of fact, the differential in favor of the factory seems to be increasing: in 1923, lighting consumers paid on the average 4.8 times as much as the power consumers, by 1926, this had been increased to 5.7 times as much.
The conditions which originally justified this discrepancy no longer exist. So much power is now used for industrial purposes that “slack hours” are practically non-existent and there is no longer any need of selling current to the factory at less than cost in order to create a market for current throughout the entire day. Yet the differential in favor of the factory is being continued, partly because of the stupidity and partly because of the cupidity of the electric companies.
On the subject of the social value of lower rates to domestic consumers, I can do nothing better than to quote rather fully what Mr. Cooke says:
It is not generally realized how important, from the standpoint of public welfare, the lowering of domestic electric rates really is. It is not so much that the lowering of electric rates would save the consumer money. The main gain would rise out of the increased use of electric current. The consumer may spend more for electricity at low rates than at high ones; but he will have gained the very material advantages which can be derived from an abondant use of low priced light, power, and heat.
Our limited use of electricity in the home and on the farm constitutes a serious ground for national self-reproach. In the factory machinery has already largely displaced man power, and in the mine it is doing so rapidly. It has relieved men of heavy muscular strain, and it is constantly making inroads on the hard performance of monotonous and uninteresting jobs. It has shortened hours. But in the home, machinery has not as yet been generally introduced. In 1920, only 10 percent of the farms had running water in the house. Consider what this meant in the way of carrying water, as well as in the lack of sanitary conveniences. Urban homes are better equipped in this respect; but of more than 5,000,000 urban families for which the General Federation of Women’s Clubs obtained reports in 1925-1926, only 35 percent had electric vacuum cleaners ; only 23 percent electric washing machines; only 4 percent electric sewing machines, and less than 2 percent electric flat work ironers. Only 2.1 percent had electric ranges and 1.3 percent electric refrigerators. Yet, of more than 7,000,000 families reported upon 80 percent had electricity in the house, as evidenced by the fact that they had electric lights. Sixty-four percent had electric irons. While some of the household equipment mentioned is expensive, evidence which has been submitted suggests that a very important factor in limiting its more general introduction and use is the cost of current. The housewife who would use additional electric current for operating a sweeper or ironing machine is charged five or ten times as much as is the factory where her husband works, this though the current is identical. It would seem that considerations of ordinary fairness and chivalry would condemn a rate discrimination which retards the introduction of mechanical equipment which would relieve the strain and save the time of the busy housekeeper and mother while the use of machinery is so encouraged in men’s work. The importance of the home in the whole scheme of national economy is hardly realized. In the not far distant future the homemaker will be listed and tabulated with other occupations by the Census. When we see the great numbers of individuals—mostly women, of course—so engaged we will recognize a national incentive for surrounding the occupation of home making with every possible facility for making it efficient.
Taking up specifically some of the lines along which more and more electricity can be used in the home as rates are lowered, the following table estimates the number of kilowatt hours of electricity which tend to be consumed by various types of electrical apparatus. The table is based on an analysis of energy consumption data made by the Home Economics Division of the Iowa State College. Although methods of manipulation, personal habits, and the individual abilities of electrical users vary, those who prepared these figures consider that they give a fair ides of the energy consumption under normal conditions.
|Kilowatt Hours per Month
|Iron used with it
|Water pumping (shallow)
|795 gallons per kilowatt hour
|Water pumping (deep)
|576 gallons per kilowatt hour
|Incubators (79% hatch)
|370 watt hours per chicken
|Water heater (60-70 degrees inlet, 128 degrees outlet)
|4.5 gallons per kilowatt hour
The above tabulation does not include fans, vacuum cleaners, warming pads, or electrically operated farm machinery (except pumps); nor does it make much allowance for the use in spring and fall (or in winter in poorly heated corners of the house) of a number of electric heaters. If there are some homes where, as respects some uses, the cost of current is not considered, this is not true of other and potentially larger uses.
The use of electricity for lighting has by no means reached its maximum. Under lower rates the present 25- and 40-watt lamps will tend to give place to 50-, 60- and in parts of the house to 100-watt lamps; or the smaller powered lamps will be used in greater number. Houses will also be lighted more fully, and for longer periods. The generous lighting of stores, theatres, streets, and public monuments and buildings which is revolutionizing the appearance of our cities at night will have its counterpart in the illumination and beautification of the home, as reasonable rates make this possible.
In the rural areas present electric rates discriminate not only against the housekeeper but against the farmer. The following is a more extensive list of electrical appliances which may be used on the farm, including farm machinery as well as household equipment:
|A. General Farm Applications
|Plowing (Germany and Sweden)
|Corn ear crusher
|Fodder cutter and crusher
|Ensilage cutter and blower
|Portable storage battery
|Treatment of ensilage
|A. Dairy Applications
|Ice cream freezer
|Filler and capper
|Electropurification of milk
|Forewarmer and mixer
|Churn and butter worker
|Pipe line milker
|Babcock milk tester
|A. Poultry Applications
|Oyster shell crusher
|Electric lighted chicken house (to stimulate winter laying)
|Poultry feed mixer
|Stimulation of growth
|A. Horticultural Applications
|Destruction of insects
|A. Residence Applications
|Clothes dryer, centrifugal
|Bell ringing transformer
|Grinder and buffer
|Sewing machine motor
|Ice cream freezer
Other uses might be added. For how many of these operations it will be worthwhile to have special equipment, and in how many cases electricity affords the best means of applying power, we do not as yet know. The whole development is in its infancy. That there are highly important uses for electricity on the farm cannot, however, be questioned.
Service to industry has been the main concern of the electrical industry for over thirty years. It has been a full sized undertaking involving not only the solution of innumerable technical problems and the development of public relations on an entirely new order but the creation of vast credits with which to pay for a stupendous construction program. No small part of the credit for our present industrial prosperity and supremacy must be given to the electrical industry for the part it has had in providing our mines and manufactures with cheap and plentiful and widely distributed power. It is pertinent to the discussion to recall that the result would never have been achieved if—especially in the early days—special consideration had not been shown, and even concessions made, to power customers. The thought is now beginning to grip the imagination of the leaders of the industry that in the home and on the farm is to be found the next big area of electrical development. The key to the solution of the problem lies in breaking the vicious circle of high rates and the restricted use which they induce. If, as every indication suggests, low rates—even rates so low as to be based on cost plus a reasonable profit—will bring about what amounts to a revolutionary increase in the normal use, then the quicker the industry gets to the new basis of charges the better it will be for all concerned.
Home life and especially life on the farm are after all fundamental to the well-being of the American State. Electricity can play a master rôle in their upbuilding. Therefore the question as to whether or not the electrical industry should inaugurate rate schedules designed to bring about the largest possible domestic use of electricity becomes one of national policy. In this matter happily the interest of the nation, of the consumer and of the security holders of the electrical industry are the same. We appear to be on the eve of a period of radical reductions in the charges for domestic current.
Plainly Mr. Cooke is very conservative in what he says about the social revolution which “radical reduction in the charges for domestic current” may bring about. Yet it is not unreasonable to assume that if cheap power and the application of power to factory machines helped the factory to destroy domestic production, the coming of cheap power in a form suitable for application to domestic machines may help to redress the present adverse balance between the home and the factory.
When we shall have become sufficiently civilized to create a demand for small generating plants driven by windmills and water-mills, they will be developed and placed on sale at even lower prices than the very ingenious plants driven by gasoline engines, which are now on the market. The domestic producer will then have power, heat, and light at no cost in money except for lubricants and maintenance.
In that day, no factory will be able to produce the essentials of comfort cheaply enough to compete with the productive home.
In all probability neither the farmers nor the great masses of non-farmers will try the road to the conquest of comfort which has been here outlined, even though modern science and modern machinery offer means to economic independence which do not entail the hard work and the harder deprivations of pioneer life. The masses of farmers have been led to believe that specialization, instead of diversification, offers them economic salvation. The masses of non-farmers, deprived of both the facilities and the personal attributes essential to domestic production, have been reduced to a state in which they dare not consider any such radical departures from their present ways of living.
Here and there individual families which have somehow managed to retain the initiative and fortitude that distinguished the pioneers, may take this road to the conquest of comfort. For them what follows may point the way to a richer life than that which they now lead. And if by some miracle a sufficient number of them were to try this way to comfort and so effectively boycott the products of our non-essential and undesirable factories, it would ultimately result in the creation of a much more beautiful civilization than the one in which we now find ourselves.
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