Home > economics, General Comment, political-economy, politics, shorter work time > Is serious left criticism of government’s share of GDP possible? (6)

Is serious left criticism of government’s share of GDP possible? (6)

Continued from here.

Now, before we proceed, we have to address the rather disturbing disagreement between ourselves and Mr. Hunnicutt, who offered this unpalatable conclusion to his groundbreaking 1984 work, THE END OF SHORTER HOURS,:

Certainly, the end of the shorter hour movement has many dimensions and causes which must be explored. But the short narrative of events presented in this essay suggest two important dimensions and causes-one social, the other political. Among the reasons for the ending of the shorter hour movement was the fact that American attitudes toward free time changed. For over a century, American workers and their supporters valued shorter hours. They did so for a variety of reasons-some economic and some non-pecuniary. Only higher wages competed with this issue for workers’ attention. During the 1920s and early 1930s labor and other groups and individuals saw in “the progressive shortening of the hours of labor” a practical foundation for liberal idealism as well as a necessary remedy for economic ills. But during the Depression, free time took the form of massive unemployment. Instead of accepting labor’s 30 hour week remedy, Roosevelt and the majority of Americans saw this free time as a tragedy that had to be eliminated by increasing economic activity-an activity stimulated by government spending if necessary. The concept of free time as leisure-a natural part of economic advance and a foil to materialistic values was abandoned. The reform continuum in this one area was broken by Roosevelt’s New Deal and by the modern adherence to economic growth as the great liberal goal.

As far as we can tell, in this view, there was a kind of cultural shift in the way Americans viewed a shorter work week. The majority of Americans came to see “free time as a tragedy.”

And, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt agreed with them,

Since the Depression, public policy has been designed to maintain “adequate demand” and “full employment.” Government deficit spending, liberal treasury policy, increased government payrolls, and expanded public works projects have usually been employed whenever the private sector has shown indication of stagnation.

It is possible, we suppose.

However, we tend to support the view of a contemporary of those events, who had quite a different take on things – Bertrand Russell

Russell penned the following in 1932, ahead of the debates in Washington:

In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings.

Following up on the point, Russell notes the lessons learned, so to speak, from the carnage of The Great War:

Modern technique has made it possible to diminish enormously the amount of labor required to secure the necessaries of life for everyone. This was made obvious during the war. At that time all the men in the armed forces, and all the men and women engaged in the production of munitions, all the men and women engaged in spying, war propaganda, or Government offices connected with the war, were withdrawn from productive occupations. In spite of this, the general level of well-being among unskilled wage-earners on the side of the Allies was higher than before or since. The significance of this fact was concealed by finance: borrowing made it appear as if the future was nourishing the present. But that, of course, would have been impossible; a man cannot eat a loaf of bread that does not yet exist. The war showed conclusively that, by the scientific organization of production, it is possible to keep modern populations in fair comfort on a small part of the working capacity of the modern world.

The Great War, in short, had taught governments, they could maintain massive military resources at the ready, even as the material living standard of the population improved.

Now, it is possible only Russell understood this new reality spawned by the improvement in productivity brought about by industrialization.

It is possible, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President, and new CEO of America Inc., in 1933, did not really understand how industry had changed the potential for war making and war preparations, despite having served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy – the most logistic intensive branch of the services.

It is possible he did not understand this, even though, as Assistant Secretary, he helped expand the Navy in those years, and, founded the United States Navy Reserves.

Perhaps, we can also ignore this:

Roosevelt developed a life-long affection for the Navy. Roosevelt negotiated with Congressional leaders and other government departments to get budgets approved. He became an enthusiastic advocate of the submarine and also of means to combat the German submarine menace to Allied shipping: he proposed building a mine barrier across the North Sea from Norway to Scotland. In 1918, he visited Britain and France to inspect American naval facilities; during this visit he met Winston Churchill for the first time. With the end of World War I in November 1918, he was in charge of demobilization, although he opposed plans to completely dismantle the Navy.

Perhaps, most importantly, we can forget, or ignore, this:

In the aftermath of World War I, the defeated German Empire signed the Treaty of Versailles.[7] This caused Germany to lose a significant portion of its territory, prohibited the annexation of other states, limited the size of German armed forces and imposed massive reparations. Russia’s Civil war led to the creation of the Soviet Union which soon was under the control of Joseph Stalin. In Italy, Benito Mussolini seized power as a fascist dictator promising to create a “New Roman Empire.”[8] The ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party in China launched a unification campaign against rebelling warlords in the mid-1920s, but was soon embroiled in a civil war against its former Chinese communist allies. In 1931, an increasingly militaristic Japanese Empire, which had long sought influence in China[9] as the first step of its right to rule Asia, used the Mukden Incident as justification to invade Manchuria; the two nations then fought several small conflicts until the Tanggu Truce in 1933.

National Socialist Adolf Hitler became the leader of Germany in 1933 and soon began a massive rearming campaign.[10] This worried France and the United Kingdom, who had lost much in the previous war, as well as Italy, which saw its territorial ambitions threatened by those of Germany.[11] To secure its alliance, the French allowed Italy a free hand in Ethiopia, which Italy desired to conquer. The situation was aggravated in early 1935 when the Saarland was legally reunited with Germany and Hitler repudiated the Treaty of Versailles, speeding up remilitarization and introducing conscription. Hoping to contain Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy formed the Stresa Front. The Soviet Union, concerned due to Germany’s goals of capturing vast areas of eastern Europe, concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with France.

Before taking effect though, the Franco-Soviet pact was required to go through the bureaucracy of the League of Nations, rendering it essentially toothless[12][13] and in June of 1935, the United Kingdom made an independent naval agreement with Germany easing prior restrictions. The United States, concerned with events in Europe and Asia, passed the Neutrality Act in August.[14] In October, Italy invaded Ethiopia, with Germany the only major European nation supporting her invasion. Italy then revoked objections to Germany’s goal of making Austria a satellite state.[15]

In direct violation of the Versailles and Locarno treaties, Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in March of 1936. He received little response from other European powers.[16] When the Spanish Civil War broke out in July, Hitler and Mussolini supported fascist Generalísimo Francisco Franco’s nationalist forces in his civil war against the Soviet-supported Spanish Republic. Both sides used the conflict to test new weapons and methods of warfare[17] and the nationalists would prove victorious in early 1939.

With tensions mounting, efforts to strengthen or consolidate power were made. In October, Germany and Italy formed the Rome-Berlin Axis and a month later Germany and Japan, each believing communism and the Soviet Union in particular to be a threat, signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, which Italy would join in the following year. In China, the Kuomintang and communist forces agreed on a ceasefire to present a united front to oppose Japan.[18]

We can ignore all this, but, it probably would be a mistake.

Which, of course, brings us back to Russell’s point:

… the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars …

To be continued

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