[Marxism] Fwd: [SWT] Fifty-four hours

Peggy Dobbins pegdobbins at gmail.com
Sun Nov 7 15:07:19 MST 2010

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Begin forwarded message:

> From: Tom Walker <timework at telus.net>
> Date: November 7, 2010 4:02:27 PM EST
> To: SWT <swt at lists.riseup.net>
> Subject: [SWT] Fifty-four hours

> http://www.scribd.com/doc/41436595
> At the above URL, I've uploaded my abridged and updated version of John Burnett's 1872 pamphlet on the Newcastle engineers' strike for the nine-hour day. The original pamphlet was over 50,000 words long and my version is less than 10,000 words also includes commentary and analysis from today's perspective. I can't emphasize strongly enough the importance of this strike and its documentation in the pamphlet. This is the mother lode. The strike began on May 29th, 1871, the day after the final defeat of the Paris Commune. In contrast to the Commune and its aftermath, the Newcastle strike was non-violent and ended in a historic victory for the workers. Everyone has heard of the Paris Commune but the Newcastle strike is a neglected footnote buried in a dusty archive. That needs to change.
> The strike and its context teaches many urgent lessons. I emphasize three of them in this paper. First is the connection with the Jevons Paradox, the "curse of efficiency". Newcastle is synonymous with coal. "Carrying coals to Newcastle" is like "selling refrigerators to Eskimos." Sir William Armstrong, the spokesman for the Newcastle employers during the strike first raised the question that led William Stanley Jevons to his examination of the coal question and discovery of the Jevons Paradox, which today dogs the technological optimists' faith of finding a technological fix, through radically increased energy efficiency, to carbon emissions and mitigation of climate change.
> In the course of a newspaper public relations battle between Armstrong and Burnett, Sir William presented a calculation, justifying the employers' position that clearly demonstrates the tendency to double counting error that arises in any superficial attempt at social accounting. Armstrong's percentage estimate of projected employers' loss from the move to a 54-hour week was off by an order of magnitude. It makes "Senior's Last Hour" look like it was calculated with the precision of a Swiss watch. Multiply Armstrong's category mistake by a few billion and you get an idea of the faulty architecture of national income accounting, such as the GDP.
> Jumping ahead to the analytical implications of Armstrong's Double Count, in place of the simpering, apologetic Pigouvian shoulder shrug of "externalities," I propose the surgically-precise, Veblenian descriptor of "predatory pecuniary trespass" or PPT to describe what happens with a dominant accounting unit compels a subordinate one to expend ever greater time and energy resources just to stay in the same place. PPT is similar to John Ruskin's concept of "illth," with one important distinction. While the quantification of illth would require myriads of subjective judgments about whether something or other is a "good" or a "bad," quantifying PPT needs only the specification of the appropriate boundary condition in any given performance of social accounting. Armstrong's Double Count provides an elegantly clear template for drawing that line.
> Last but not least, "our old friend, the lump-of-labor." In a newspaper dispatch filed on the day the strike ended (but anachronistically reporting that no end was in sight), the London correspondent for the New York Times invented what I am for now content to declare the locus classicus of the lump-of-labor fallacy claim. This version of the claim's claim to fame is that rather than an innocently-foolish populist delusion, the theory "that  the amount of work to be done is a fixed quantity" represents the alleged core belief underlying the nefarious "ulterior design" by the Unionists to systematically strangle production, extort higher wages and thereby impose a tyrannical Socialist regime. Yes, folks, the mild-mannered oh-so-respectable and mainstream textbook fallacy claim made its debut as a wild-eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth vast right-wing conspiracy theory with all the grace, subtlety and truthyness of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It is a hoax, a slander and a plagiarism, which doesn't say much for the intellectual rigor and integrity of an economics profession that continues to dole out the fallacy claim to students as if it is the wisdom of Solomon (nor for that matter for the trade union officials who spout the slogan, supposedly to demonstrate their economic policy "pragmatism").
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