That ugly group of ramshackle buildings in the midst of a fertile farming country in Indiana, in which men, women and children are frenziedly packing tomatoes, corn and peas into tin cans, is a factory.
That monstrous ugly set of retorts, furnaces, coal and ore piles, in grimy, sooty Pittsburgh, in which straining and sweating men are producing iron and steel, is a factory.
That light but ugly loft with its rows and rows of sewing machines, one of dozens of similar lofts in a great rabbit-warren of a building in New York, in which hurried men and women are making clothes, is a factory.
And so is that model cotton mill somewhere in the Sunny South surrounded by its model village of brightly painted frame bungalows all as like as peas in a pod. The men, women and children may be spinning and weaving cotton goods in a model mill; they may be living in model houses, buying from a model commissary, attending a model church, and their children studying in a model school, yet the mill and its life is ugly because work, homes, movies, schools, and churches are planned and provided for the millworkers by the omnipotent corporation which plans the details of their lives precisely as it selects the looms and spindles which they operate.
The buildings which house the average factory—its machinery, workers, supplies and goods—are most often a collection of ugly wooden, brick, or concrete structures. Sometimes they are standard factory buildings made in a factory devoted to the factory production of factory buildings and then shipped “knocked clown” to the place where they are erected. Sometimes the buildings are what are known as “lofts”; block-like structures, each floor of which is rented by a separate factory. Occasionally the buildings are architectural “gems,” but gems which conceal the fact that they exist primarily to be efficient by the thin expedient of superimposing a veneer of period architecture upon what would be much more fitting if its frankly utilitarian purposes were intelligently exploited.
Factories are to be found everywhere; sometimes in the country, sometimes in a suburb of a city, but oftenest in the city itself. They are found most often in the city because they prosper best in a large consuming market or near enough to one so that they secure a cheap and adequate outlet for their output. Some times, however, they are found close to the source of their raw materials, or where the materials can be secured at a minimum of expenditure for transportation. Nearly always they are located where there is a large adaptable labor population.
But no matter where they are located, city or country, they tend to concentrate population.
They are congestion makers.
Factories make the country into towns, towns into small cities, the small cities into large ones. They are the most efficient urban izers which man has yet evolved. They are therefore the best of all inflaters of land values. The hustling communities and the “realtors” who keep them hustling are forever seeking more factories.
The sequence which they worship is:
Higher realty values.
The factory is a slum breeder. Today it is admittedly a slum breeder but it will always be a slum breeder—Matthew Arnold to the contrary notwithstanding.
It breeds slums for two reasons.
First, it can afford to pay its workers only what the competition of other factories permits it to pay. Wages are still relatively low—too low to permit the wage earner to live outside of slums. For the factory today is in the hands of acquisitive, ruthless, quantity-minded men who find in the intense pressure of competition ample justification for exploiting labor to the uttermost limit. The factory worker is therefore paid too little to afford the time and the expense of living far from his job. The capitalistic factory therefore is a congestion breeder—a breeder of districts which are congested because men, women and children must live close to the factories to enable all the members of the family of working age to secure work.
Secondly—and this reason applies to the factory whether in the city or in the country—factory work checks any tendency toward part-time farming. The factory worker produces factory goods for others to consume; he subsists on what other factories produce for him. The factories located in the country and suburban districts make it possible for the workers to have space around their homes in which to garden. But even with space, and even if strength enough remains after the day’s work, only the thriftiest workers have gardens: the vast majority get their foodstuffs out of packages and tin cans. The foreign-born workers, in whom the farming tradition is not quite dead, and the ex-farmers who take a job in the factory, both garden somewhat—for a time. But when their wives and children also begin to take places in the factory, the garden usually is abandoned. With gardening ended, the country factory surrounds itself with what might be called country slums—slums which are, if anything, more depressing than their city prototypes.
Socialization of the factory would enable the worker to get the full wages to which he is entitled, although the wages might not prove to be as high as socialists expect; they might not be even as high as the wages which capitalism finds it possible to pay. But even if real wages were higher—much higher—that would not lessen the extent to which the factory would be a slum breeder. Factory workers would live in better slums—more hygienic slums, containing apartment houses instead of tenements, and they would fill their homes with showy furnishings instead of shabby ones. There might be less squalor, but there would be no less ugliness.
What makes the place in which mankind today produces practically all the commodities it consumes a factory?
In the sense in which I use the term factory it applies only to places equipped with tools and machinery to produce “goods, wares or utensils” by a system involving serial production, division of labor, and uniformity of products.
In this definition certain qualifying phrases describing the factory system are used, because a mere place in which tools, machinery and power are used and in which many persons are working is not necessarily a factory. A garage doing large quantities of repair work on automobiles is much like a factory in appearance. So is a railroad repair shop. Yet neither of these lineal descendants of the roadside smithy is truly a factory.
The distinctive attribute of the factory itself is the system of serial production. It is not, as might be thought, machine production nor even the application of power to machinery. Machinery and power, it is true, make modern serial production possible but only as iron and steel make the modern automobile possible. No one would make the mistake of saying iron and steel are the automobile. No one should make the mistake of saying that power and machinery are the factory. Only the establishment in which a product of uniform design is systematically fabricated with more or less subdivision of labor during the process is a factory. Large power and heavy machinery may not even be used. A dress factory, for instance, uses little power and no heavy machinery. It is nevertheless a factory, with a factory technique of production, a factory product, a factory labor problem, a factory distribution problem, and a pro rata contribution to the factory blight upon civilization.
Production in Europe up to the beginning of the industrial revolution was of three kinds: domestic production, custom production, and guild production.
Domestic production was then, and what survives of it still is, a family function. In the peasant hut the methods of production and the products themselves were simple and rustic. In the manor houses, however, there was a considerable organization of the family and its retainers, and the products made reflected the higher standards of the upper classes. Domestic production is distinguishable from all other types because it is directed toward the making of things which the family itself consumes. Home sewing, home preserving, home washing, are surviving examples of domestic production.
Custom production, which played so great a part in the economy of the pre-industrial era, survives today in very few fields and of these custom tailoring is probably the most important. Custom production was the principal means of support of the village smithy, the village miller, the village cabinet-maker. It did not however prevent these custom workers from devoting a part of their time to husbandry. When planting and harvesting required their attention, or whenever the volume of trade slackened, it was possible for the custom producers to devote themselves to productive labor on the land.
Guild production began with the specialization of the functions of the master craftsmen. The master craftsman’s life before guild production developed was a highly integrated existence. He was himself a master workman, a superintendent of his journeymen and apprentices, an employer taking risks for material, food, and wages, often a producer of his own raw materials; a merchant buying raw materials, and a shopkeeper selling finished goods. With the coming of the merchant guilds the craftsman evolved into no less than six different persons: the large merchant, the shop keeper large and small, the merchant employer, large master, small master, and journeyman.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century European industry meant far more than baking bread, making cloth, cobbling shoes, and fashioning furniture for use in the immediate neighborhood. It meant the production on a large scale of goods to be sold in distant places—cloth, docks, shoes, beads, dishes, hats, buttons. The guild members engaged in the production of these goods conformed minutely to the directions of their guilds. The guilds were thus enabled to engage in commercial operations of great magnitude and to conduct not only a national but also an international trade for their members.
Towards the close of the eighteenth century, Arkwright laid the foundations for the modern factory. He began by patenting a power-spinning machine which incorporated ideas of his own with those which he filched by “business” methods from Kay and Highs and Wyatt and Paul, with all of whom he worked at one time or another. He finished laying the foundations of industrialism when he established the custom of enlisting capital not only in the manufacture of yarn by the factory system but also in the establishment of the yarn market which was indispensable to the distribution of the factory product. It was speculation in this yarn market, rather than inventing and manufacturing, which enabled him to amass the fortune which won him knighthood.
Stephenson’s work in perfecting the steam railroad was almost a contemporaneous development. It was not only fortuitous in point of time: it fitted in so perfectly as to seem almost pre-ordained. As a matter of fact, the rise of the factory created such enormous demands for coal, for freight, and for travel that existing transportation facilities were utterly incapable of satisfying them. It became plain to everybody that fortunes were to be made by those who supplied the demands for transportation. When the steam railroad made it possible to haul coal and raw materials to the factory in large volume and to transport in equal volume factory products to the place where they could be sold, the last link in the chain of events which destroyed the medieval agricultural and commercial economy had been forged.
Enormous profits were the rule among these early manufacturers. For a long time factory spun yarn and factory woven cloth were sold in both domestic and foreign markets at prices which were based upon costs established by workshop and cottage industry. The profits were so large that the incidental horrors involved in the destruction of the livelihoods of the craftsmen were disregarded by the general public, just as the infamy of child labor, which the factories introduced, was disregarded by the entire commercial world. Tough-fibered business men, encouraged by tough-fibered economists, exploited the theory that the social gain from increased production and from the extension of foreign trade fully justified the horrors of the factory system.
It is impossible to form a sound conclusion as to the value to mankind of this institution which the Arkwrights, the Watts, and the Stephensons had brought into being if we confine ourselves to a comparison of the efficiency of the factory system of production with the efficiency of the processes of production which prevailed before the factory appeared.
A very different comparison must be made.
We must suppose that the inventive and scientific discoveries of the past two centuries had not been used to destroy the methods of production which prevailed before the factory.
We must suppose that an amount of thought and ingenuity precisely equal to that used in developing the factory had been devoted to the development of domestic, custom, and guild protection.
We must suppose that the primitive domestic spinning wheel had been gradually developed into more and more efficient domestic machines; that primitive looms, churns, cheese presses, candy molds, and primitive productive apparatus of all kinds had been perfected step by step without sacrifice of the characteristic “domesticity” which they possessed.
In short, we must suppose that science and invention had devoted itself to making domestic and handicraft production efficient and economical, instead of devoting itself almost exclusively to the development of factory machines and factory production.
The factory-dominated civilization of today would never have developed. Factories would not have invaded those fields of manufacture where other methods of production could be utilized. Only the essential factory would have been developed. Instead of great cities, lined with factories and tenements, we should have innumerable small towns filled with the homes and workshops of neighborhood craftsmen. Cities would be political, commercial, educational, and entertainment centers. The homestead would have developed in countless directions and would have continued the economic center of the family. Efficient domestic implements and machines developed by centuries of scientific improvement would have eliminated drudgery from the home and the farm.
Before we can say that the coming of the factory was a good thing for mankind, we must ask ourselves whether this supposititious world would have been a more comfortable and beautiful world than the one in which we actually have come to live.
We must, in short, make a comparison between the factory economy which we have today and a hypothetical economy which I believe should have been developed.
I appreciate that the apologists for the factory, both the defenders of the existing capitalistic factory system, and the proponents of a reformed socialistic factory system, will join hands in saying that the introduction of any such hypothetical economy into the discussion introduces a chimerical and utopian element which renders the whole argument academic. In this respect both would claim that they are more “practical” than I. For both are subscribers to the proposition that the development of the factory is essential to the comfort of mankind. Both will therefore pride themselves on dismissing as impractical the ideas of anyone who ventures to suggest that mankind might with profit abandon much of present day factory production, precisely as mankind thought it profitable to abandon domestic, craft and guild production in the course of the industrial revolution. I insist, however, that there is ample historical precedent for envisaging such a possibility. The Arkwrights were considered by the practical men of their day hopeless theorists. The factory system of production seemed to be as different from the prevailing method of production as the hypothetical system to which I am calling attention differs from our modern factory system. Time, however, vindicated the practicability of the Arkwrights. Time may vindicate my belief in the practicability of the abandonment of our present factory system.
When Samuel Slater in 1790 brought to America the factory idea as it had up to that time developed in England and erected the first cotton mill at Pawtucket, R. I. nearly everything consumed in the American home was either produced in the home it self or made to order in community mills and custom workshops.
Nearly every home at that time had its “loom” room. Not every loom room contained a loom, but a very large number of them did. Most of them, however, contained yarn spinning equipment. They contained wool-wheels and flax-wheels. They contained flax-brakes of various kinds; wool-cards and wool-combs; several kinds of reels, and of course, the ubiquitous dye-pots. The heavy wool was spun on the big wool-wheels; the lighter fibers—flax, cotton, silks and hemp—were spun on flax-wheels. With this equipment, and the assistance of custom weavers, fullers, and tailors, the American home was supplied with its textiles and clothing. The products were often of a quality that can hardly be duplicated today. The quality had to be of the best. The labor which had to be put into the production of goods made it necessary that what was fabricated should wear long enough to justify the time put into their manufacture.
Country dwellers of all classes produced practically all their own foodstuffs. The wealthy, when they dwelt in cities, usually secured their foodstuffs from their country estates. Artisans and shop workers usually combined farming with the pursuit of their crafts and so supplied the foodstuffs for their own tables. Only a very small number of homes in the cities and towns had to buy their “victuals.”
The pioneer home not only produced its own foodstuffs but many of the implements with which the foodstuffs were grown and harvested, and cooked and preserved. Grist mills, bread troughs and yeast jars; churns and cheese presses; syrup-making equipment, cracker-stamps, sausage-guns, turn-spits; cider and vinegar barrels, brick ovens and smoke-houses were part of the equipment of nearly every home. The foods which could not be stored dry or packed in vegetable cellars were preserved by drying, smoking and pickling. The equipment for this purpose consisted of an amazing variety of ingenious baskets, buckets and jars. It consisted of equipment unknown today and used in arts lost to the homemakers of this age who use foods which come from factories—from dairies, sugar mills, biscuit factories, packing houses, tanneries, and bakeries. With this primitive equipment even the poorest home of those times, though it is true the fare was often coarse and sometimes monotonous, enjoyed an abundance that made it possible to indulge in the luxury of hospitality. The open latch string was a social rite which extended not only to relations, friends and neighbors, but to the strangers who travelled by the door. This system of production made possible a lavish hospitality which seems legendary in this day. The table in the better American colonial home groaned beneath the foodstuffs and po tables served, while the quantity and variety were so great that to the modern taste the old cuisine seems positively vulgar.
The production of most other things consumed in those days was much like that of foodstuffs and textiles. The homes either contained equipment which made it possible for the family to produce them—to produce its own “simples” and medicines, its own candles, its own soaps and cleansers, its own furniture and implements—or the family relied upon neighborhood artisans who operated workshops in which these things were made in conjunction nearly always with farming.
Manufacturing was confined to neighborhood industries which devoted themselves to the relatively few products that did not lend themselves to domestic manufacture. The neighborhood mills and shops used wind and water to operate their heavy machinery. The countryside was dotted with grist mills, lumber mills, forges, tanneries and potteries. Though inferior in efficiency, the neighborhood industries were superior esthetically to the factories which replaced them. They were, so to speak, country evoked. They fitted into the country, as the factory fits into the crowded city.
Slowly but surely with the advent of Samuel Slater and his imi tators, the loom room and equipment for domestic production dis appeared from the homes, and the community mills and neighborhood shops disappeared from the countryside. The question is, was this decay due to an economic insufficiency inherent in individual production or was it due to an insufficiency largely adventitious? Is it not possible that workshop and domestic producers lost in competition with the factory merely because they did not, and perhaps could not at that time, utilize the early stream of scientific progress of which the factory took advantage?
Production in the old-fashioned home and workshop was a laborious and time consuming process. But the things produced were durable. And they had charm and infinite variety, which the growing army of antiquarians engaged in collecting them now recognize. Both because of intrinsic quality and expressive charm, they endured. High quality, with slow depreciation, was an inevitable corollary of individual production, just as poor quality, with rapid depreciation, is an inevitable corollary of serial production. With individual production, the quality had to be good. The busy men and women of those days could not afford the luxury of shoddy materials and inferior workmanship because they could not spare the time to replace things frequently. With serial production, however, man has ventured into a topsy-turvy world in which goods that wear out rapidly or that go out of style before they have a chance to be worn out seem more desirable than goods which are durable and endurable. Goods now have to be consumed quickly or discarded quickly so that the buying of goods to take their place will keep the factory busy.
By the old system production was merely the means to an end. By the new system production itself has become the end.
Promoted by quantity-minded men combining a fanatic faith in the value of manufactures with a thirst for wealth, and assisted by government tariffs and subsidies and municipal and state gifts and grants of land and capital, factory production slowly but surely displaced individual production. It produced a higher level of wages for unskilled laborers. It made it possible for great masses of consumers to buy “goods, wares and utensils” which they had not been able to use and possess before. It created a material well-being which did not exist in the days of individual production. By using power and machinery on a new scale; by abandoning personal and custom production for serial production of uniform, standardized products, and by departmentalizing and subdividing labor, it put the ponderous and inefficient equipment in the homes and workshops out of business.
No doubt the change was inevitable. The water-wheel and the windmill put the hand-crank and the foot-treadle out of business. The steam engine put the water-wheel out of business. But now the gasoline engine and the electric motor have been developed to a point where they are putting the steam engine out of business. The modern factory came in with steam. Steam is a source of power that almost necessitates factory production. But electricity does not. It would be poetic justice if electricity drawn from the myriads of long neglected small streams of the country should provide the power for an industrial counter-revolution.
On the credit side of the factory and of factory production must be entered one outstanding item: the provision of a revolutionary increase in the quantities of products and commodities.
By lowering prices, the factory makes it possible for the masses of people to consume more. By lowering quality and lessening durability, it makes it necessary for them to consume more. Finally, by eliminating self-expression in the making of the products, it lessens their attachment to the things which they buy and possess. All these effects of factory production tend to make the average individual consume more, waste more, and destroy more than in the past. Superficially this has been all to the good: we now eat more, wear more clothes, live in better houses, use more furnishings and utensils, transport ourselves more speedily and freely than ever before.
Mankind has not, however, attained to this state of material well-being without paying a ghastly price in real comfort for the part which the factory played in achieving it. The material well being may be worth the price. The question which interests me is, was it necessary to have paid that price, and if unnecessary, should we not cease making similar sacrifices of comfort merely that we may still further increase our consumption of creature comforts ?
The first effect of the production of seemingly unlimited quantities of commodities and their being placed on sale at prices much lower than previously prevailed was to drive workshop products off the markets and to curtail if not entirely destroy domestic production. A disorganization of the economy of the world unprecedented in all history followed. An essentially agricultural economy with a small admixture of the commercialism fostered by the merchant guilds was changed violently into an essentially industrial economy with a small admixture of agriculture. The industrial revolution created a host of novel political, legal, economic and social problems: child labor, trade unionism, universal manhood suffrage, socialism, woman suffrage, economic and sex independence of both men and women. These problems were out growths of efforts to create an equilibrium in the relations of capital and labor—a relationship at least as stable as that which had at one time prevailed between master and servant. The problem is probably unsolvable; even the socialists, who think they have a solution for it, are blithely unaware of the part played by functional and ineradicable attributes of the factory in making man subservient to his machines.
The second effect of the production of seemingly unlimited quantities of products was the development of a new economic basis for imperialism.
Before the coming of factory production commerce devoted itself to procuring what the buying public wanted, rather than to marketing whatever producers fabricated. Foreign commerce barely went beyond the exchange of luxury goods. Merchants were essentially importers. They exported only in order to make importation possible. The fur traders, for example, went into the wilderness to secure furs. They carried wares to exchange for them not because there was a pressure to export the wares but because wares were the instrumentalities which enabled them to get the furs the buying public sought.
Before the industrial revolution European nations developed foreign trade only because they wanted what foreign countries produced. They wanted spices, then of relatively greater importance than today—pepper and cinnamon from Egypt, Ceylon, Sumatra, Western India; ginger from Arabia, India, China; nutmeg, cloves, allspice from the Spice Islands and the Malay Archipelago. They wanted precious stones: diamonds, rubies, and pearls from Persia, India, and Ceylon. They wanted glass, porcelain, silks, rugs, tapestries, metalwork from the entire Orient. They wanted tea from China. They wanted gold and silver, furs and tobacco from America. For all these things they offered in exchange whatever Europe then produced: rough woolen cloth, arsenic, antimony, quicksilver, tin, copper, lead. European traders usually found the balance against themselves and they paid the difference in gold and silver.
The chartered commercial companies helped them to redress that balance by throwing what amounted to a taxing power against the countries from which they were importing goods. English, Dutch, French, Swedish, Danish, Scotch, and Prussian East India companies, West India companies, and companies for trading in all the various sections of the world helped to solve the “mercantilist” problem for hungry Europe for nearly two hundred years. The era of colonial expansion followed and made it still easier to meet the adverse balances by securing gold and silver and raw materials from distant colonies.
Then came the factory. Import imperialism changed into export imperialism.
With the factory came seemingly unlimited production at prices far below those of the craft produced goods of Asia, of America, of Africa. The English factory for the first time made it possible to produce more than could be absorbed by the immediate buying power of the English market. By 1860 England’s production of pig iron alone was larger than that of all the rest of the world. It became necessary to export goods in order to keep the factories busy. Imperialism was given a new orientation.
Import imperialism was aggression which made it possible for the imperialist nation to get what it wanted from the conquered: silks and tea, for instance. Export imperialism, which replaced it, made it possible for the imperialist nation to sell to the conquered what it had to market: cotton yarn and cotton goods, for instance. The continuous operation of spinning frames and power looms drove the trader, and behind him his country’s soldiers, in search of markets. The motive of empire ceased to be freedom to import: it became freedom to export. The early imperialistic adventures of England in India were undertaken in order to secure access to the spices, precious stones, silks and other products of India. England’s present policy in India is a desperate endeavor to keep India a dumping ground for the products of British mills and factories. Empire enables British traders, as it enables the traders of all the modern imperialist nations, to keep the home-fires—in the factories—burning.
There is, of course, still a tremendous import imperialism. The industrialized nations still need raw materials—cotton, rubber, raw silk. But as scientists perfect the factory system, the need for imported raw materials becomes less and less pressing. Indigo, for instance, was at one time a raw material of which the industrialized nations imported great quantities. Then came the synthetic chemists. They made it possible for the industrialized nations to erect factories which produced dyestuffs from ordinary coal-tar. Dependence upon the imported product thus ended. The synthetic production of raw materials has unlimited possibilities, as is being shown by the rayon industry today. This synthetic imitation of silk has already rendered the highly industrialized nations less and less dependent upon the importation of raw silk. The time may come when synthetic chemistry will finally free the industrialized nations of all dependence upon imported raw materials. Chemical factories will extract the raw materials which the factories in the industrialized nations need from air, soil and water. The industrialized nations may find that they have attained the paradise of protectionist economics, the absolutely ideal “balance of trade”: nothing to import and unlimited quantities of goods to export.
The third effect of the production of seemingly unlimited quantities of commodities was the infection of the world with that political-economic plaque which still blights mankind—the protective tariff.
To make a market for the products of its factories in other nations, export imperialism developed. To protect the domestic market against the invasion of foreign factories, tarif walls were invented. In the United States the tariff became a wall behind which its factory system was erected. Today every nation employs tariffs in some form or other, ostensibly to protect its factories against the competition of foreign factories. But tariffs, however much they may foster domestic manufacturing and free the nation from dependence upon foreign factories, are in reality differentials in favor of those industries which are able to secure high rates against those which are unlucky enough to receive low rates. And as all tarifs are enacted for the benefit of manufacturers, they tend in actual practice to create a general differential in favor of the factory and against the farm. Manufacturing is thus made supernormally profitable while agriculture is made abnormally unprofitable.
A world which accepts the dogma that man exists to produce, and which rejects the proposition that production exists for man, deserves to be plagued by protective tariffs.
Mankind might rid itself of their annoyance and dangers if economists ceased to discuss them seriously and began to ridicule them as they deserve.
The fourth effect of the production of seemingly unlimited quantities of products was the creation of the modern domestic distribution problem, the ushering in of the distribution age, and the facing of manufacturers with the problem of making consumers consume all that the factories were capable of producing. High pressure marketing, national advertising, installment selling, house to house canvassing are some of the fruits of the distribution age. As the distribution problem increases in magnitude, ways and means have to be found to enable consumers to consume more food, more clothing, more furniture and more transportation. The population must be made to devote more and more of its time to consumption; less and less of its time to production.
The industrial utopia will come when this principle will be carried to its logical conclusion.
In that industrial utopia men and women will, presumably, work only one day per week—and that a very short day. They will devote the rest of their time to consuming all that the factories produce for them. Greater efficiency, higher wages and lower prices will make this possible.
We shall have developed to the nth degree the relatively primitive consumption resorts which we possess today. Specialization and standardization of these resorts will make it possible for mankind to consume much more than it does today.
Sumptuous food resorts established in the most salubrious surroundings will entertain thousands of men and women devoting themselves wholeheartedly to food consumption. Food in car-load lots will be shipped into these resorts direct from the factories and unloaded on private sidings, while the waste from the resorts, instead of being really wasted as today in sewage systems will be pumped to synthetic converting factories through pipelines much as crude oil is now piped to the refineries.
The resorts devoted primarily to clothes consumption will be second only to the food resorts in importance. A continuous round of opportunities for the display of clothes will be furnished to those who prefer to devote themselves to the exercise of highly developed exhibitionist complexes. The opportunity to change their costumes a dozen times a day will make them happy. The latest styles will be shipped to them from the factories hourly by aeroplane and the discarded garments baled and shipped by freight to the garnetting mills.
The country will be dotted with consumption resorts of other kinds: resorts for automobile, tire and gasoline consumption; resorts for the consumption of furniture and house decorations; resorts, in fact, for the consumption of all the various commodities of which a superabundance will be provided by the factories. Man will make a virtue of his inability to “evade industry’s pervasive influence or wholly escape the tyranny of manufactured things.”
The present six-day work week will have been gradually reduced to the one-day week. Men and women will earn in one day enough to devote the other six days of their week to consumption. After having worked his day in the factory or office, the New Yorker of that day will be whisked in an aerial taxi to the great Hotel Avoirdupois at the top of one of the peaks in the Catskills—the resort which he has selected for his week-end. He will register at the office and be assigned a number, a room, a table and a food-class. This last will be given him only after medical examination. The resort physicians having determined his capacity to eat, the resort dietitians will then prepare the menus upon which he can best exert that capacity. Both the intake per meal and the number of meals per day will have thus been scientifically adjusted to his tastes and to his capacities. He will discard his business clothes and change to the loose, flowing robes which interfere least with his girth-line and which make it easy for him to take the exercises and the therapeutic treatments prescribed in order to keep him in fit condition to eat.
Then he will begin a six-day eating marathon of, perhaps, twelve meals per day. Between the meals he will of course, visit the great eliminatories which will be the real pride of the Hotel Avoirdupois. All the appliance of science, manipulated by skilled physicians, nurses and masseurs, will make it possible for him to return to the table with every bit of his previous meal completely eliminated from his system. Artificial elimination of the waste, by the most delicate and pleasing modernizations of the old Roman vomitoriums, will be available day and night. This very careful technique will insure maintenance of his capacity to eat and to eat with enjoyment unimpaired. He will thus be able to consume from ten to twenty times as much food as is customary today. At the end of the six days, he will check out of the resort in perfect condition and return to work having had a most enjoyable weekend.
Many may like the direction in which we seem to be travelling. They may not agree that super-consumption is the goal of our journey. But they will undoubtedly agree about the fact that today the factory is in the saddle.
The census of manufacturers makes it plain that the factory is steadily increasing its production while domestic and workshop production is steadily declining. New factory industries, like bread baking, are developing and taking from the home the remaining productive activities of the individual family. In addition, the census reveals a significant tendency toward concentration of production in larger establishments and a corresponding decrease in the volume of production in the smaller factories. We are evidently moving at an accelerating rate of speed toward production in large factories in which the technique of mass production will be of maximum efficiency. As this tendency develops the aggregate profits of the surviving manufacturing corporations will steadily increase even though mass production will probably have been carried beyond the point of optimum efficiency. Percentages of profit on sales, for instance, will decline but the total profits of manufacturers will increase because of the increased volume of production. The large aggregate profits will make possible constantly larger corporate stock and bond structures. To pay dividend and interest upon all these securities, constantly more difficult problems in production, distribution and finance will have to be solved. The responsibilities of those who manage and direct the factories will increase by arithmetical and geometrical progressions. Overhead will increase because the units of production will have become larger. Production will tend to be continuous and to conform to the ideal of twenty-four hours operation per day. Markets will have to be forced to absorb more and more goods. Consumption will be stimulated, prices made lower, goods made more and more enticing. Obsolescence, sufficient to offset improvements and inventions which tend to make goods last longer, will have to be built into the goods.
To evaluate this inevitable prospect, we shall consider four aspects of the factory’s influence upon mankind.
First, the factory’s influence upon the quality of the “goods, wares and utensils” mankind uses. Second, the factory’s influence upon those engaged in doing the work of the world. Third, the factory’s influence upon the public as consumer. Fourth, the factory’s influence upon that quality-minded minority which has always occupied itself with the reduction of the chaos of life to some significant form in morals, in reason and in appearance. The discussion of these first three aspects of the influence of the factory involves mainly a study of the sociology and economics of production but the discussion of this fourth aspect demands the consideration of philosophic questions usually overlooked by the conventional apologists for the factory.
A brief summary of what the factory has already contributed and may yet contribute to the general welfare is advisable in order to anticipate many of the objections which are certain to be made to the unconventional position here taken. Such a summary will make it clear that consideration has been given to the most important propositions which the proponents of our factory economy adduce in its favor.
The factory has admittedly greatly increased the creature comfort of mankind. Innumerable articles now in general use were luxuries enjoyed only by the gentry and quite above the aspirations of common folk before the factory system was established. The factory has enabled the masses to live under conditions, and to consume “goods, wares and utensils,” which otherwise they could not have afforded. Rich and poor both have been enabled to purchase more goods and more kinds of goods and to consume and destroy them more freely than was previously possible.
It is, of course, difficult to determine how much of the credit for all this is really due to the factory itself and how much to the fact that scientists and inventors directed their efforts to the development of factory machinery and factory methods to the neglect of improvements in domestic production. We have always to bear in mind that the well-being we credit to the factory is based upon comparison between the low prices and high consumption made possible by the factory after it has had the advantage of all the inventions and the increases in scientific knowledge of the past century and a half, and the high prices and low consumption which prevailed under a relatively primitive system of individual production.
Even if much is subtracted on this account from the credit due the factory for the diffusion of material well-being, there is still a very considerable residue of credit due the factory for providing, in large quantities and at low prices, all sorts of things ranging from such varied products as matches to electric light bulbs. The factory-begotten products which form this residue of credit justify our toleration of what might be called the essential factory—the factory manufacturing products which are essential to the maintenance of our present standards of living.
In addition to credit for its contributions to creature comfort, the factory has to be given credit for increasing the political freedom of men and women. It must be given credit for the present economic independence and mobility of the classes which furnish us our factory labor. The worker has now a voice in government. It is not much of a voice, but it is no doubt more than he had before he became a recognized part of the sovereignty of the state. The worker now has the right to quit his job. He is reasonably certain that he can change to a new job whenever he wishes, and support himself in the condition to which he had been accustomed without any long apprenticeship. The factory has, of course, destroyed the old relation of master and servant between employer and employee. It has made the worker his own master, subject only to the general state of business—to whether times are “good” or “bad.”
Above all, the factory, certainly in its present form, has to be credited with both raising the wages and reducing the hours of labor of the average man. The average worker now finds it easier to live in accordance with the prevailing standards of the class in which he is born than ever before. By every definition of the term wages—money wages, hourly wages, yearly wages, real wages the factory has increased the income of the vast majority of men. By every definition of the term hours of labor—yearly, weekly, daily time at labor—the factory has reduced the hours at which the vast majority find it necessary to engage in productive labor. Both these things have tended to add to the material well-being for which the factory must be given credit. Higher wages have enabled the worker to buy more—to consume more, use more, and enjoy more of the things a factory-dominated civilization provides, and shorter hours have given him more leisure for consumption, for entertainment, and for what the herd-minded masses call education.
What is more, nothing on the horizon seems to preclude the realization of more and more material well-being of this sort; nothing can be seen which promises to check the present tendency toward lower prices, higher wages, shorter hours; nothing is visible that threatens to interfere with a standard of even more leisure and greater consumption.
The factory promises us in the future even more riches than we enjoy today. It seems to offer us a veritable golden age.
We shall see, however, that all is not gold that glitters.
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