Can Anything More Insane be Imagined?

Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins as before. But the world does not need twice as many pins. Pins are already so cheap that  hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacture of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight, and everything else would go on as before. But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all around instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?*

Hardly. Perhaps that the little book The Limits to Growth takes the time and space to quote Russell on it; that the authors thought it to be a good idea and a rhetorical winner to seemingly have Russell on their side. They were wrong.

* The quote is originally from Bertrand Russell (1935), In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays, pp. 16-17, transcribed from Meadows et al. (1972), The Limits to Growth, p. 181.

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One Response to “Can Anything More Insane be Imagined?”

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