Timesizing®com - Homepage
[Commentary] © 2000-2001 Philip Hyde, The Timesizing Wire™, Box 622 Cambridge MA 02143 USA (617) 623-8080

Some History of Makework
- click for Main MAKEWORK Page, for REALMS, for CASES

        An early and famous makework artist was Ned Ludd, who smashed steam looms in England because they could produce so much product so much faster than handlooms. Hence, a "luddite" is someone who opposes technology or innovation. But Ludd had good reason. Wealthy businessmen were using steam looms to throw people out of their livelihoods, instead of making those livelihoods easier. The businessmen's approach was inherently temporary and downturn-begging, because the more people they disemployed, the smaller they shrank their own markets. Adam Smith's single "invisible hand" mention, which rationalized unextended self-interest, was enlisted to bolster such downsizing then as now. But repeated downturns put the lie to the "invisible hand," forcing the economic cheerleaders to come up with further "tough love" theories to bolster the skewed status quo, such as Schumpeter's "creative destruction" talk (dandy as long as it doesn't touch the cheerleader's own livelihood). The contradiction between the constant praise for Growth and the constant practice of downsizing has been strenuously ignored and denied and generally left unconfronted and unresolved until the design of our present market-oriented Timesizing program, which replaces downsizing with "timesizing," cutting jobs with cutting workhours, and spreads around the vanishing market-demanded skills and employment in order to maintain or even grow markets.
        The great satirist of makework was Frederic Bastiat who lampooned it in 1840s France by such proposals as the shuttering of windows to make work for candlemakers, the blunting of hatchets to make work for woodchoppers, and a "negative railroad" with frequent gaps to make work for porters (actually implemented on early U.S. railways by a proliferation of gauges; see George Drury's Historical Guide to North American Railroads (1988), p.5; and currently implemented on U.S. highways by the truckers' lobby, which has weakened American railways and choked American roads with thousands of railroad-sized but separated freight cars, each driven by its own engineer, resulting in a situation that makes the persistence of firemen on railroad locomotives after dieselization look like efficiency itself).... This was all in his essays for the Journal des économistes, gathered together as Sophismes économiques in 1845 and reprinted by Van Nostrand in English as Economic Sophisms in 1964. But we recommend first a look at the 5 pages on Bastiat in Robert Heilbroner's Worldly Philosophers, which is much more accessible. In the latest edition that we have on hand (the 6th of 1986), Bastiat's pages are 179-183.

        Makework was already well-advanced in the peacetime economy in 1914 despite the apparently too-slow lowering of the workweek over the previous century from 80-84+ hours to around 54. In his Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice (1920), Canadian economist Stephen Leacock concluded from World War I-era data (such as David Friday's in Profits, Wages and Prices) that "Not more than one adult worker in ten...is employed on necessary things. The other nine perform superfluous services." (Quoted in Arthur Dahlberg's Jobs, Machines and Capitalism, 1933.) Why was makework in the private sector already so advanced? Because of the categorical imperative for a growing population to keep earning some sort of living in the face of onrushing technological efficiencies. The specter presented by Sismondi already a century earlier near the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (1819 - see near the end of our Bibliography) had to be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of partitioned minds and elaborate doubletalk about the purpose/effect of technology (unless we somehow focused on designing and implementing a system of automatically sharing the vanishing work).
        But not even the pervasive private-sector generation of makework (and certainly not workweek reduction) could keep up with the work savings of inflooding technology in the Roaring 1920s - particularly in transportation (automobiles) and communications (radio and telephone) - despite the grim "luck" of having the worldwide "consumption" (TB) epidemic of 1919 to some extent offset the devastating economic effects of postwar demobilization (war functions as the "world's greatest" makework campaign - with the added "bonus" (or "cheat") of taking a large fraction of the workforce permanently out of the job market, one way or another).
        So CEOs finally succeeded in 1929, in consolidating so much spending power (without spending) in bringing it all down - the whole towering luminous facade of hollow prosperity. Government, even the Republican government of magnanimous multitalented Hoover, began to come under pressure to generate makework. And government caved in and intervened, despite Hoover's rhetoric against it and his correct but largely ignored instinct that the real solution lay elsewhere (in sharing the real, market-determined employment instead of generating artificial work-for-work's-sake employment). But Hoover's government did not generate makework nearly big and fast enough. (How big and fast was "enough"? - as big and fast as Hitler was then doing it by militarizing Germany. Hitler solved the depression there by 1936. See John Kenneth Galbraith's Age of Uncertainty, p. 214.)
        A brief ray of intelligence sliced through the gloomy interregnum between Hoover & Roosevelt in the winter and spring of 1932-33 as then-conservative Sen. Hugo Black (D-Ala.) pushed a 30-hour workweek bill through the US Senate.
        But "Saint" FDR came in, took one look at it and said essentially (A) "It's not MINE, and *I* want to be Savior of the Nation" and (B) "It's SOCIALISM!" - and proceeded to fight it with more real socialism (no attempt to locate the strategic center of the problem and use it to minimize interventions) than you can shake a stick at - not only the four major government "insurance" policies of minimum wage, unemployment insurance, workmen's comp and social security, but much more revealing, massive mountains of peacetime makework ranging from the general CCC, WPA, NRA, NIRA... to the more specific TVA and its ilk - all of which generated a palpable feelgood effect, but none of which succeeded in solving even half the unemployment of the Depression until - the war.
        But we had established the principle, not only of government economic responsibility and refereeing (which alone could have solved the Depression in two years had anyone but realized how powerful and central the worksharing approach was, how fast and firmly it was needed, and how flexibly it could be embodied in shorter-workweek legislation) but also of government makework and micromanagement (minimum wage has always created as many problems as it solved) - to offset technological progress (worksaving - because we had no automatic mechanism to realize the worksavings in the form of financially secure leisure a la sharework instead of insecure underemployment a la makework).
        Since then, government has become shot through, not only with self-hobbling social programs like the War on Poverty and CETA, but also with feather-bedding and sinecures, often under such categories as patronage or pork. But the private sector too has become much more deeply mired in makework than in 1914. Note below a few vast classes of makework in the private sector. Of course, CEOs once every 50-70 years forget where their markets come from and start fixating on Efficiency - with much consequent downsizing (for everyone but themselves, of course, and their bloated compensation). Their paroxysms of mergers and downsizing - of both their workforces and necessarily also of their markets - eventually succeed in taking us for a visit to the trough of the long-wave business cycle (the Kondratieff) and lead us to the following category in the box menu on our homepage - takeovers. So yes, we would be saying that the long wave is primarily a function of the upwelling of makework (and markets), periodically interrupted by an obsession with efficiency and consolidation (with major damage to markets) - both alike irrelevant to the real imperative of sharing the vanishing work.

Click here for examples.

For more information, see our laypersons' guide Timesizing, Not Downsizing, which is available online from *Amazon.com and at the Harvard Sq Coop (3rd floor) and Porter Sq Bookcellar (basement), Cambridge, Mass.

Questions, comments, feedback? Phone 617-623-8080 (Boston) or email us.

Top | Homepage | Main Makework Page