The Statues of Daedalus:
Contradictions of Abundance

Michael Harrington

[Excerpted from The Accidental Century, published in 1965]

There is only one condition in which we can imagine managers not needing subordinates, and masters not needing slaves. This condition would be that each (inanimate) instrument could do its own work, at the word of command or by intelligent anticipation, like the statues of Daedalus or the tripods made by Hephaestus, of which Homer relates that

Of their own motion they entered the conclave of Gods on Olympus as if a shuttle should weaw of itself, and a plectrum should do its own harp playing. -- Aristotle, The Politics, 1253b

In the middle of the twentieth century, the statues of Daedalus, that "cunning craftsman" of Greek legend, are beginning to dance in the West.

Automation (i.e., self-correcting machines that feed back information and adjust themselves) and cybernation (i.e., making the automated machines capable of responding to a near infinity of contingencies by hooking them up to computers) possess the scientific capacity to accomplish the ancient myth.

As a result, the abolition of work, as Western man has defined the term, has become a technological possibility.

Aristotle understood that such a development would have the most profound consequences. His reference to the statues of Daedalus comes in the course of a defense of slavery. He realized that their discovery would shatter his own "natural" law: Managers would no longer need subordinates, masters could dispense with slaves. This is, happily, one of the options now open to technological man. But there are other, more complex and disturbing, possibilities if the statues of Daedalus are indeed coming to life in the twentieth century.

The modern West distinguished itself from other cultures by its Faustian assault upon reality, its relentless ambition to remake the very world. In the matter of a few hundred years, this drive created an industrial civilization and a standard of living that became the envy, and model, of the entire globe. It also deeply marked the ethic, the religious values, the psychology, and social system of Europe and America. If the statues of Daedalus have indeed been found, it is clear that the moment signals the decadence of much that passed as wisdom and morality for hundreds of years. Ironically, the triumph of Faustian man could mean his suicide. For what will Faust do if, as Paul Valery once suggested, the world is to become "finished"? Or, to put the issue in American terms, if there are no more frontiers?

Such a happening is clearly in the far distance, though not so far as to be out of historical eyesight. Closer to the present, there are even now less ultimate, but extremely profound, results of the fact that work in the West is already being redefined.

The certitude that man must labor by the sweat of his brow was a weary, but consoling, knowledge. The machines are now lifting this burden from human shoulders and, in the doing, corrupting the central Western ethic of work. The stern necessities that drove Europe and America to secular greatness are disappearing. In their place, there is a bewildering freedom. Thus, the machines are not simply a technological fact but the stuff of a spiritual crisis as well.

Then, there is another effect upon the inner man of the West. As Sigmund Freud understood it, work was essential both to society and to the self. At his most pessimistic, in The Future of an Illusion and Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud argued that civilization itself was based upon the repression of instinctual gratification, demanding that the individual sacrifice himself to the discipline and needs of the collective, to a large extent through hard labor. The majority, Freud said, were lazy and indolent. Without work and its attendant coercion, society would fall apart.

More positively, Freud believed that work was a means of linking man to reality and thus therapeutic. But taking either his dark or his optimistic theory, the disappearance of work could be a social and individual catastrophe, a psychological revolution.

Finally, that other recent Western giant, Karl Marx, argued that the coming of automation would destroy the very rationality of the Western capitalist system itself. Only, he said, in a society in which the exploitation of labor was the essential element in creating commodities could economic rewards and values be measured in terms of how much productive work a man did. Once machines and the practical application of science become the true source of wealth, he concluded, capitalism is a dangerous, unworkable anachronism.

In each of these cases, and in many others, the same irony appears. The West, which more than any other part of the globe learned to cope with starvation and gradually to conquer it, faces the distinct possibility that abundance - its long-dreamed Utopia, its Cockaigne - will be the decadence of some of its most cherished values and that it will take more ingenuity to live with freedom than it did to subsist under necessity.


The contemporary statues of Daedalus can be described quite prosaically. With so many apocalypses depending on their dance, it is well to start sotto voce, empirically, statistically.

In a series of American Government documents in 1964, and most particularly in the Report of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Manpower, some trends of automation and cybernation were noted. Among them were changes in the increase of productivity per man-hour, an important shift in the quality of manpower needs, and chronic, high levels of unemployment.

Taken by themselves, these transformations were regarded as serious enough by the Senate Subcommittee to merit the title of a "manpower revolution." They demonstrate that at this very moment, without too many people noticing, the nature of work is being redefined. The figures do not yet show that work as it has been known is actually being abolished, but they certainly suggest this possibility in the middle historical distance.

The evidence presented here is exclusively American, There are considerable differences between Europe and the United States in this regard, most notably in the widespread acceptance of national planning on the Continent. Yet, there is every reason to believe that the Old World will soon experience the troubles of the New. The consumer boom that took place in the United States right after the war did not occur in Europe until the mid-fifties and is still in progress. That has provided a favorable context for the new technology. Once this trend plays itself out, there is no reason to believe that Europe can avoid the revolutionary consequences of its technology. These figures suggest, then, not simply the American, but the European, future and, as industrialization proceeds around the globe, the fate of the world.

The American statues of Daedalus are visible in the prosaic statistics on the increase in output per man-hour in the private economy.

Between 1909 and 1962, American industry increased the worker's output by 2.4 percent a year. But then, this five-decade trend conceals a most significant shift. From 1909 to 1947, the productivity gain was only 2 percent a year. But between 1958 and 1963, productivity per manhour went up 3.1 percent a year, and between 1960 and 1963, 3.6 percent a year. And it was, of course, in this period of accelerated productivity growth in the fifties and early sixties that automation and cybernation began to emerge as an important factor in the American economy.

Translate these gross quantities into some of their significant details. In 1964, ten men could produce as many automobile motor blocks as 400 men in 1954; two workers could make a thousand radios a day, a job that required 200 a few years before; 14 operators were tending the glass-blowing machines that manufactured 90 percent of all the glass bulbs in the United States of America. During the fifties, Bell Telephone increased its volume by 50 percent and its work force by only 10 percent.

This same trend also illumines an economic paradox: the coexistence, in the late fifties and early sixties, of prosperity and chronic unemployment. More unskilled and semiskilled jobs in private manufacture were destroyed than created, and joblessness persisted at over 5 percent of the work force despite the prosperity (this 5-percent figure is an understatement; it does not count those driven out of the labor market, possibly a million and a half workers, nor the underemployed; a "true" estimate of involuntary idleness would be in the neighborhood of 9 percent). At the same time, the machines were the source of enormous profit, and thus there was a deformed "prosperity," benign for corporations, malignant for millions of workers.

Curiously enough, this process stands out in even starker relief in American agriculture. There, productivity increases have recently hit a prodigious 6 percent a year. One result -has been to cut the postwar farming population from 14 percent of the population to 7 percent. And even this statistic conceals the radical character of the change. Farming supports a tremendous amount of underemployment and hidden unemployment. A third of the American agricultural producers do not market crops but merely eke out an impoverished, miserable subsistence for themselves.

In short, less than 5 percent of the American people are able to produce more food than they can profitably sell to the other 95 percent under the present system. In order to satisfy these politically powerful farmers, the Government now pays them between $4 and $5 billion a year in subsidies. Here, then, is an anticipation of one of the strange logics of abundance: that American agriculture is so capable of plenty that nonproduction must be publicly supported. (The extreme irrationality of rewarding the rich farmer and penalizing the poor is not a deduction from technology but a conscious, and reactionary, political choice; yet the fundamental problem is there in any context.)

In private manufacturing, the decline in jobs has not been as spectacular as on the farm, but the trend is clearly present. Between 1957 and 1963, for instance, wage and salary employment in the nonagricultural, goods-producing sector dropped by 300,000 jobs - despite substantial increases in output, new products, and even new industries. In the ten years before this period, from 1947 to 1957, employment in the same sector had gone up at the rate of 250,000 new jobs a year.

In short, American industry broke through a technological barrier somewhere in the mid-fifties. Cybernation made it possible to expand production and contract the work force. Less labor produced more goods. Even so, the president of a corporation making automated equipment, John Snyder, remarked that his equipment was only at a "primitive" level, that an accentuation of the process was imminent.

At first, the new technology was most dramatically successful in reducing unskilled and semiskilled industrial jobs. But as time went on, other occupations began to be affected. In the financial services industry, machines took over more and more office work; transportation employment dropped; the increase in retail sales work slowed down (the automated department store will soon appear in the United States: machines will take orders, package goods, notify inventory of the sale, and keep instantaneous financial accounts).

But employment did grow in this period. And the areas where growth did take place indicate a significant change in the quality and meaning of work.

The largest single increase in jobs took place on the public payrolls, mainly through the hiring of teachers to handle the postwar baby boom. This category alone accounted for one-third of the new jobs in wage and salary employment, or 300,000 new places annually. Close behind was the personal service industry -hospitals, private schools, colleges and private social welfare organizations, hostelries - with 250,000 additional jobs each year. As The Wall Street Journal noted in October, 1964, during the previous year there had been more new jobs for school-teachers than for production workers.

So it was that in this time the most easily cybernated positions, routine, repetitive factory functions, declined; that the simpler office tasks declined or leveled off; that retail employment slowed down; and that real increases were achieved in those areas, such as teaching and hospitals, which required the human care of human beings. Given the revolutionary character of American technology, this pattern is likely to become even more accelerated in the immediate future. Even menial, miserably paid work, like much of that of migrant field hands, can be taken over by machines (and, with savage irony, probably will, not out of compassion for those who bend and stoop in the fields, but because those workers will finally enforce minimal standards of decency for themselves and thus make it cheaper to enslave a machine than a man).

The striking aspect of this new pattern is that the job increases are in areas that are not "productive" in the lay sense of the term. Teaching and nursing do not make manufactured goods, or even help distribute them. The idea that the human care of human beings is an economically significant undertaking is a fairly new one. It was this significant change in American working life that led the Senate Subcommittee to speak of a "manpower revolution."

All of this takes place as a process, not as a sudden, definitive transformation. Millions of Americans still labor in fields and on assembly lines. But, as one scholarly vocabulary puts it, the trend is clearly away from primary employments like agriculture, to the secondary functions of industry, to the tertiary of services, and now to a fourth level of training and human care. At each point, work is receding from the direct confrontation of man and nature. And, as time goes on, it is possible to conceive the abolition of entire sectors of economic activity, most obviously that of the factory worker.

Without even looking into the middle distance, however, these new patterns have already posed some massive social problems in American society.

One of the effects of automation and cybernation is to increase the skill "mix" in manufacturing. An airplane plant organized by the United Automobile Workers during World War II had 85 percent of its work force in organizable (blue-collar, generally speaking) occupations. By the sixties, that figure had been reduced to 35 percent, and the rest of the plant was filled with highly trained engineers and other management personnel. In a 1964 Department of Labor study of 3,440 plants, n percent had progressed to advanced stages of automation, and, of these, 84.1 percent had reported that their skill requirements had risen.

Left to itself, this trend could create a large increase in involuntary joblessness as a by-product of abundance.

In the decade of the 1960's, according to the Government, 26 million new workers were entering the labor market. Of these, 7.6 million would be without high-school diplomas, 2.3 million without a grade-school education. At the same time, as Secretary of Labor Wirtz remarked, machines were being built with automated skills beyond the human reach of a high-school graduate. As a result, there were 730,000 youthful unemployed by October, 1963 (the figures neared a million in 1964), 350,000 young people were neither at school or work (and thus not "in the labor market" and not certified in the unemployment figures), and one million in the same age group were in what the Administration called "dead-end" jobs. Indeed, in the Selective Service examinations, fully a quarter of the young American males were declared unfit for military service by virtue of not being able to read up to seventh-grade levels.

For these young people - perhaps a third of their generation - the advance of American ingenuity is a catastrophe. Given their lack of skill and training, they are systematically misfitted for the economy which they are entering. Their future holds out chronic unemployment at worst, or at best laboring at tasks that are so menial they are beneath the dignity and education of machines. Part of their plight is already expressed in the explosive social conditions in the slums, the rise of juvenile delinquency, adult crime, and aimless violence.

Yet, under the American corporate system there are limits to this process. On the one hand, business can eliminate jobs in order to cheapen cost and maximize profit; on the other hand, it cannot abolish the consumer buying power needed to purchase the goods it produces, and this is still largely guaranteed through employment. Such a contradiction can, as will be seen, be resolved in many ways, not the least of them the transformation of the system itself. At this point, a few of the immediate American responses are relevant.

One answer, that of the Democratic Administrations of the sixties (theoretically stated by the Council of Economic Advisers) was to hold that technological unemployment was simply a temporary phenomenon. If money could be pumped into the economy by a cut in taxes, that would increase aggregate effective demand and make it profitable to put people to work (the same tax cut, however, included a corporate bonus that could well be utilized to cybernate). In addition, the patchwork of American social insurance, welfare, and relief schemes was seen as adequate to handle those who fell out of the economy altogether. As the preceding analysis should make clear, this view simply does not meet the radical character of contemporary technological change.

A second response was somewhat more profound, involving redefinitions of work. In the discussion of the Senate Subcommittee on Employment and Manpower, there were demands for an expansion of the public sector in fulfilling the nation's unmet needs for housing, hospitals, schools, and transportation systems. While clearly leaving the corporate basis of the economy intact, this would amount to a modest political allocation of economic resources on the basis of social need. In addition, the Subcommittee urged the extension of universal free public education to two years beyond high school and Government support for those workers who were retired from the economy some years before they were eligible for Social Security.

Behind these suggestions were the beginnings of new ideas. First, they recognize that the public sector - where social personal services must be provided - takes on a new significance. Secondly, there is the emphasis on education and the recognition that it is probably no longer possible to train a young person for a lifetime skill, but necessary to give him a liberal education that would prepare him to change his skill several times according to the demands of technology. Thirdly, there is the advocacy of curtailing the working life of the citizen: through a later entry into the work force after prolonged education, and through an earlier exit by retirement. All of these ideas involve the intimation of new social principles: the importance of the public service sector of the economy; the recognition that going to school is an economically productive function; the realization that not working, for the young and the old, is becoming a social necessity.

These are only some of the changes which the reality of American life in the sixties has made into questions for discussion (there are also, of course, proposals to shorten the workweek itself to thirty hours). They indicate that a profound transformation in the character of work is taking place even now.

But more than that, they point in the not-too-distant future to the appearance of the statues of Daedalus. The almost totally cybernated production of commodities and routine office services is not merely technologically possible; it is now probable.

In all of this, traditional wisdoms are being turned topsy-turvy. In a statement which would have been incomprehensible to the starving man of the past, John R. Bunting, a vice-president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, said in 1964, "I think on balance that the American economic system is threatened more by abundance than by scarcity."

And, well to the Left of Bunting on the political spectrum, the British scholar, Richard M. Titmuss, an important adviser to the Labor Party, wrote in the same year, "If the first phase of the so-called (industrial) revolution was to force men to work, the phase we are now entering may be to force many men not to work."

To a mankind which has been engaged in a grim struggle with hunger since the beginning of time, the idea that men would be forced not to work would, at first glance, seem a salvation. That could well be the case - so long as it is understood that this salvation would simultaneously portend the decadence of some of the most fundamental economic, ethical, and even religious assumptions of Western life. It would therefore require a tremendous burst of freedom and imagination to fill up the void left by the disappearance of starvation.


The capitalist West was built, in R. H. Tawney's phrase, by "practical ascetics."

This is to say that the West made hard labor into an ethical dictate, a guarantee of personal worth and even a path to God. In 1900, as remarked earlier, Henry Adams contrasted the Virgin, as the spiritual principle of the medieval age, and the dynamo, the god of force presiding over the new industrialism. Forty years later, in keeping with Adams' own law of the acceleration of history, the dynamo, a source of energy, was ceding its Olympian position to the computer and its "intelligent anticipation." And just as the dynamo counterposed its social philosophy to the Virgin's theology, so the statues of Daedalus, the cybernated machines, mark the end of the practicality of asceticism.

The thesis that work took on a metaphysical and even theological significance under Western capitalism is, of course, most identified with Max Weber's provocative study of the Protestant ethic. In Puritanism, Weber wrote, "The premiums were placed upon 'proving' oneself before God in the sense of attaining salvation - which is found in all Puritan denominations - and 'proving' oneself before men in the sense of socially holding one's own within the Puritan sects. Both aspects were mutually supplementary and operated in the same direction: they helped to deliver the 'spirit' of modern capitalism, its specific ethos: the ethos of the modern bourgeois middle classes."

Weber's analysis of the importance of the Calvinist idea of a "calling" to the rise of capitalism has been widely disputed. Some economic historians like Henri Plrenne have claimed to trace the capitalist spirit well back into the Middle Ages before the Reformation (and Marx once admitted in a letter to being puzzled as to why capitalism had not developed in Rome at the time of Christ, all of its preconditions having been fulfilled). Yet whatever the specific weight of the Protestant ethic in determining the rise of capitalism, there is little doubt that its distinctive spirit was part of the event. If Puritanism was not godfather to capitalism, then it was godson. As cause or effect, the ethical and religious importance of hard work became a constituent principle of the capitalist West.

Indeed, in the past four or five centuries, it was precisely this practical asceticism that drove the West to the most extraordinary material achievement history has known. Where Eastern philosophy, for instance, would accept reality as an illusion or a fate, and the cycles of suffering and starvation as events to be ignored or endured, the West was remaking the world. (Yeats understood this point when he limited tragedy, "the heroic cry," to the West.) In the mid-twentieth century, one of the great problems of the developing nations, with their feudal and tribal heritages, is to find a cultural basis for this Western attitude.

R. H. Tawney was a friendly critic of Weber's (some of their ideas converged). He stated the theological aspect of the work ethic this way: "For since conduct and action, though availing nothing to attain the free gift of salvation, are a proof that the gift has been accorded, what is rejected as means is resumed as a consequence and the Puritan flings himself into practical activities with the daemonic energy of one who, all doubts allayed, is conscious that he is a sealed and chosen vessel. Called by God to labor in his vineyard, he has within himself a principle at once of energy and order, which makes him irresistible both in war and in the struggle of commerce."

Tawney was writing of the origins of capitalism. Over time, the spirit which he described became less mystical, more secular, yet it persisted. Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class is primarily a description of the American nouveau riche of the late nineteenth century. It chronicles an ethic of conspicuous consumption that is almost the exact opposite of the Protestant spirit. Yet even in this setting, he told of the continuing thrust of the earlier idea.

"The substantial canons of the leisure class scheme of life," Veblen wrote, "are conspicuous waste of time and substance and a withdrawal from the industrial process; while the particular aptitudes here in question [essentially the Protestant ethic] assert themselves, on the economic side, in a deprecation of waste and of a futile manner of life, and in an impulse to participation or in identification with the life process, whether it be on the economic side or in any other of its phases or aspects."

Veblen's leisure class did exist (even if more complexly than he imagined). In Europe, the aristocratic tradition of regarding work and commerce as degrading persisted even under capitalism. And those who actually did the back-breaking toil hardly regarded their daily toil as a spiritual value. "Certainly the workers in Hogarth's Gin Alley," Daniel Bell has written, "or the people whom Melville's Redburn saw in the Liverpool slums, were little concerned with the scourging hand of God. What drove them to work was hunger, and much of the early movements of social protest can only be understood with that fact in mind."

But then, Western capitalism has not been aristocratic, proletarian, or leisured. It has been the bourgeois economic order. Without reducing all of its complexity to a single historic strand, one can say that it was dominated by the ethic, and even religion, of work. To this day, the West believes that a man establishes his worth in the eyes of his neighbor, and even before God, through industry and drudgery and saving. In its most acutely American form, as the poet William Carlos Williams once observed, this attitude asserts itself in the conversational opening, "What do you do?" This question follows immediately upon an exchange of names between strangers, it establishes much of the substance of their talk, it is the quickest means of identification. One Is, it implies, what one does. One is one's work.

What, then, would happen if technology rendered work and the work ethic decadent?

Bread and circuses are an obvious, but hardly affirmative, substitute. In a series of Italian films of Antonioni and Fellini, there is a depiction of the empty, orgiastic lives of the leisure and celebrity class. They are tormented by their free time. Significantly, each of these movies contains a scene in which an anguished protagonist looks longingly upon the vitality of working-class or peasant life, admiring its muscularity or simplicity. These particular cases are examples of what Empson defined as the "pastoral" theme in literature and art (the romantic courtier sings of the rustic swain; the middle-class novelist or movie director celebrates the noble proletarian). But they could also be the intimation of a possible nostalgia in the technological future. Will people then turn back to yearn for the working present and the even more hardworking past?

Were it possible to build a society on the principles of bread and circuses, the event would signify the decadence of central Western values. But it is doubtful whether such a society could exist at all. Here, Ortega's inaccurate charge against the twentieth century might apply to the twenty-first. The very existence of technological abundance presupposes a high level of science and skill, at least on the part of the minority. A social order based upon orgy would destroy its own effortless prosperity by failing to reproduce its technological genius. (In terms of myth, Cockaigne, where there is only consumption, is impossible; utopia, which recognizes some form of work, is still conceivable.)

There is another possible principle of the society that has eliminated work as it is now known: totalitarianism. In the past, hunger has been at least as important for the maintenance of order as for the fomenting of revolution. Out of necessity, millions "voluntarily" chose brutal toil in order to survive. If this indirect discipline were abolished, it might be replaced by the dictatorship of the programmers, of those who decide what decisions the machines will make. Indeed, a society split between the highly educated and sophisticated few on the one side, and the passive, consuming mass on the other, could hardly be democratic, since dialogue between the rulers and ruled would be impossible. Were this to happen, it would confirm the worst fears of sociologists like Weber and Mills that the functional rationalization of life necessarily leads to the loss of substantive rationality for the majority of individuals.

Some of the positive options of a cybernated culture will be discussed shortly, others in the next chapter. For now, it is clear that the West is already approaching the decadence of the work ethic. Thomas Malthus said, "If our benevolence be indiscriminate ... we shall raise the worthless above the worthy; we shall encourage indolence and check industry; and in the most marked manner subtract from the sum of human happiness. . . . The laws of nature say with Saint Paul, 'If a man will not work, neither shall he eat.' "

That law of nature, so basic to the recent history of the West, is now being abolished by machines. In 1964, the President of the United States intimated the new era when, in announcing the enactment of a cut in taxes, he urged Americans to spend and consume as a patriotic duty. Paradoxically, this decadence of the Protestant ethic comes at the very moment when it has finally conquered the world. As Sebastian de Grazia has pointed out, the UNESCO Declaration of Human Rights announces, "Everyone has the right to work."

So it is that at that point in history at which the Western work ethic is finally in sight of subverting almost every remnant of tribalism, feudalism, and aristocracy on the globe, it ceases to be a practical guide for the culture that gave it birth.

Sigmund Freud made two basic arguments for the necessity of work. With the coming of abundance, one of them will become obsolete and the other will constitute the most fundamental challenge of the future.

Freud's first analysis of the need for work rests upon a conservative view of the industrial masses and the assumption of scarcity as a fundamental condition of human life. "The masses," he wrote in The Future of an Illusion, "are lazy and unintelligent; they have no love for instinctual renunciation and they are not to be convinced by argument of its inevitability; and the individuals composing them support one another in giving free rein to their indiscipline. It is only through the influence of individuals who can set an example and whom the masses recognize as their leaders that they can be induced to perform the work and undergo the renunciations on which the existence of civilization depends. ...

"To put it briefly," Freud continues, "there are two widespread characteristics which are responsible for the fact that the regulation of civilization can only be maintained by a certain degree of coercion - namely, that men are not spontaneously fond of work and that arguments are of no avail against their passions."

Thus coercion, Freud makes clear, is essentially conservative in character. It aims "not only at affecting a certain distribution of wealth but at maintaining that distribution; indeed [it has] to protect everything that contributes to the conquest of nature and the production of wealth against men's hostile impulses." At the same time, this fact revolutionizes the majority. "In such conditions, an internalization of the cultural prohibitions among the suppressed people is not to be expected. On the contrary, they are not prepared to acknowledge their prohibitions, they are bent on destroying the culture itself, and possibly even on doing away with the postulates on which it is based."

In part, this analysis is that of a conservative mind, and was wrong on the day it was made. For Freud, it was the very nature of the masses to shirk work. Yet, as he himself was to recognize in Civilization and Its Discontents, the work to which these people were driven was degrading and unfree. Under such circumstances, it is realism, and not laziness, to detest work. When those same masses saw real choices, they were anything but indolent. At great personal sacrifice, even of life itself, they organized a mighty and disciplined labor and socialist movement and contributed to the very reshaping of Western society.

With all his marvelous depth and a candor that shook a culture, Freud never fully escaped from the prejudices of a Viennese bourgeois.

The second element in Freud's analysis is much less capricious. He understood that culture had "not got beyond a point at which the satisfaction of one portion of its participants depends upon the suppression of another, and perhaps larger, portion . . ." Here, his social psychology is based on understanding that economic scarcity is a massive determinant of societal structure and the individual self. His point is historical, and not rooted in any assumptions about the "natural" habits of the mass.

But events are now destroying the historical conditions that gave Freud his context. As noted before, there are already Government proposals in the United States for contracting the individual's working life through a late entry into, and early withdrawal from, the labor force. And in a time of cybemating technology, the coercive power of the Government under the neo-Keynesian ethic insists that the masses gratify their desires. The consequences of such developments for the Freudian perspective are momentous.

Insofar as Freud's deep pessimism (most poignantly put in Civilization and Its Discontents) rests upon the assumption of economic scarcity, then abundance makes a psychic liberation possible. Freud had said that man becomes more neurotic as society becomes more complex. The more sophisticated the collective life, he argued, the more pervasive is the denial of instinctual gratification, for increasing renunciation is required to maintain such a vast community. In this tragic thesis, there is something pathological about progress.

But if onerous work would no longer be necessary to the collective, then what function is there for coercion and repression? Under such conditions, the recent socialist interpretations of Freud by Herbert Marcuse and Norman Brown would become orthodox deductions from the master's premises. However, the matter is complicated because Freud, living through one world war, the rise of fascism, and the coming of the Second World War, also located an aggressive instinct in man's deepest self. If such a destructiveness is a "natural" human condition, then the elimination of scarcity would not mean the end of coercion but its irrational persistence. Then repression, having lost its economic function, would not express historical necessity but a basic human depravity. One hopes that Freud's dark thesis was an overgeneralization of post-1914 Europe in all of its violence. The possibility remains that it was not.

In any case, Freud's social psychology of work will be rendered obsolete if abundance, as threatened, does indeed come. Given the decadence of some of the basic assumptions of the Western psyche, the question will then be, what forms of repression or liberation will follow upon the event?

And it is here that Freud's second, and positive, argument on work becomes extremely relevant. "Laying stress upon the importance of work," he wrote in Civilization and Its Discontents, "has a greater effect than any other technique of living in the direction of binding the individual more closely to reality; in his work, he is at least attached to a part of reality, the human community. Work is no less valuable for the opportunity it and the human relations connected with it provide for a very considerable discharge of libidinal component impulses, narcissistic, aggressive and even erotic, than because it is indispensable for subsistence and justifies existence in society. The daily work of earning a livelihood affords particular satisfaction when it has been selected by free choice, i.e. when through sublimation it enables use to be made of existing inclinations, of instinctual impulses that have retained their strength, or are more intense than usual for constitutional reasons. And yet as a path to happiness, work is not valued very highly by men. They do not run after it as they do after other opportunities of gratification. The great majority work only when forced by necessity, and this natural human aversion to work gives rise to the most difficult social problems."

In the last few sentences on the "natural human aversion to work," Freud is once again the Viennese bourgeois. His own definition of therapeutic, i.e., freely chosen, work has been denied the overwhelming majority of men in history. The only kind of work they have known is that imposed upon them in a struggle for survival. Abundance could completely change this situation. If all routine and repetitive chores can be done by machines, man can be freed for activity of his own choosing.

Freud's really profound point here is that such activity would still be necessary, even if not for subsistence. Work, he says, does not merely discharge narcissistic and aggressive impulses; it can, when freely chosen, even be erotic, a "path to happiness." There is, Freud would say with scientific rigor, a labor of love. In it, man is united with reality and his fellowman, thus discovering some of his deepest satisfactions. And conversely, a man without any work at all would be shallow and sick and his narcissism, aggressiveness, and erotic energy could express themselves in subhuman and antisocial form.

In this psychological analysis of the meaning of work, one glimpses the extraordinary ambiguity of the present moment. Abundance could be the prelude to bread and circuses. A degrading leisure would be society's substitute for a degrading work. Some of these possibilities have already been outlined. On the other hand, there could be a new kind of leisure and a new kind of work, or more precisely, a range of activities that would partake of the nature of both leisure and work.

This latter development will not simply happen. If the decision is left to technology in its present context, then the first, and grim, possibility is more likely. A society with a cybernated revolution and a conservative mentality is not going to make new definitions of leisure and work. It is much simpler, and in keeping with the current wisdom, to vulgarize the neo-Keynesian ethic and to provide a market for the products of machines by simply injecting quantities of money into the economy, without any planning for the use of this productivity. Such a course would be defended in the name of allowing the individual freedom of choice. In reality, it would tend to constrict that freedom to its basest and most commercial options.

But on the other side there are enormous possibilities. Activities which are now regarded as hobbies, like photography, gardening, and fishing, could be seen as important human occupations in a society where machines did all the drudgery. So could the practice of the arts, of scientific research, of politics and education. To the Athenians, these latter employments were indeed the truly human work of man. But the Greek ideal rested, as Aristotle made so clear in the Politics, upon the degradation of the slaves. That fatal immorality of the Aristotelian scheme is no longer necessary-as Aristotle himself realized when he said that the appearance of the statues of Daedalus would obviate the need for slaves. The machine slaves, the modern statues of Daedalus, are now coming into existence. Their appearance makes the Freudian notion of the labor of love a possible choice, not simply for an elite, but for all mankind.

This variant requires the active and conscious intervention of man. Such a radical departure from present certitudes will take an act of the social imagination as fundamental as the one which, in the Neolithic Revolution, established the basis for society itself. But here again, in either case, some of the most obvious assumptions of the contemporary psychology are turned into illusions.

And the ambiguity is, one does not yet know whether these developments simply portend a decadence - or both a decadence and a marvelous birth.


In some notes which he never fully expanded, Karl Marx predicted that automation and cybernation would destroy the very basis of the capitalist system itself.

The analysis appears in The Outline of the Critique of Political Economy (Grundrisse Der Kritik Der Politischen Oekonomie), some "rough notes" dating from the late 1850*8 which have never been translated into English. In later years, Marx refined the vocabulary and argument of his outline but, to my knowledge, never returned to his remarkable anticipation of the statues of Daedalus. The intimations of 1857 and 1858 became the more prosaic theories of the change in the organic composition of capital (the substitution of machines for men) and the consequent tendency for the rate of profit to fall. Neither of these ideas is relevant here. The insights of the original notes, however, are utterly contemporary in the age of cybernation which began approximately one hundred years after Marx wrote.

These references are not made to document a historical curiosity, nor even to vindicate Marx as a seer. They are put forth because his words contain so much present truth.

Marx did not, of course, use terms like automation or cybernation, both of recent coinage. Yet he was unmistakably talking about these phenomena. "As large scale industry develops," he wrote, "the creation of real wealth depends less and less upon labor time and the quantity of labor expended, and more upon the might of the machines [Agentien] set in motion during labor time. The powerful effectiveness of these machines bears no relationship to the labor time which it cost to produce them. Their power, rather, derives from the general level of science and the progress of technology . . ."

Then Marx, in some remarkably prophetic phrases, notes how this changes the very character of work. "Man's labor no longer appears as incorporated in [eingeschlossen] the production process. Rather, the worker relates himself to production as a supervisor and regulator [Wachter und Regulator]'. . . He watches over the production process rather than being its chief agent." Clearly, Marx did not have mystical, advance knowledge of inventions that were to take place after his death. But just as he derived the tendency of capital to concentrate in larger and larger units from the limited evidence on hand in the mid-nineteenth century, so also did he understand the direction of large-scale production, science, and technology.

Actually, the factory in which the worker became "supervisor and regulator" was not built until 1939, when Standard Oil of New Jersey and the M. W. Kellogg Company erected the first fluid-catalytic crackers. Today, in such plants, the work cycle is leisurely (a man repeats his routine only four times a day in one typical case, as compared to the assembly line on which he might perform the same task several times in the course of a minute). Since the complex system does most of the work by itself, management is content to have the workers "watch over the production process" and even loaf openly. In such factories, the main function of the work force is to be ready when the costly machines break down.

This development, Marx continues, means that the very basis of wealth has been transformed. Now, "neither the actual labor expended by man, nor the length of time during which he works, is the great pillar of production and wealth. That pillar is now the appropriation of man's own universal productivity." And, a little later Marx comments that this demonstrates "the degree to which society's general store of knowledge has become the main factor in increasing productivity."

For Marx, this eventuality does not simply transform the character of work and the source of wealth. It reveals a basic contradiction of the capitalist system itself.

In its earlier stages, Marx argues, capitalism was based upon the fact that riches were derived from poverty. The labor - and suffering - of the great mass was the source of surplus production (that is to say, after the capitalist deducted from his output the cost of paying his workers, that output, produced by those workers, was still much larger than what they received, directly or indirectly, in pay). This surplus constituted the profit of the few, and it was either reinvested to begin the process anew or consumed in luxuries for the few. There was thus a conflict between the demands of the people for more consumer's goods and the money to buy them and those of the entrepreneur for more producer's goods and profits (in another form, this contradiction is constantly plaguing the developing countries of the world today). But as production became more and more sophisticated, as it depended less and less upon the exploitation of brute labor and more upon the application of science to technology, this conflict no longer was necessary. An ever larger part of production can be devoted to new machines without sacrificing the immediate enjoyment of the producers.

Up to this point, Marx's argument resembles Freud's analysis of the way in which the collective represses the instinctual gratification of the many in order to forward the common good as defined, and enjoyed, by the few. It might even win the support of some of the more educated celebrants of the corporation who would be willing to admit that capitalism vastly increased the productive basis of society while simultaneously raising the standard of living. But Marx, of course, went well beyond this point.

"On the one hand," he says, "capital uses every power of science and nature ... to make the creation of riches independent of the labor time spent in production." The great stimulus to replacing men with machines is to cheapen the cost of production and to maximize profit. "But on the other hand," he continues, "capital measures this growing and achieved social power of production in terms of labor time . . ." As a producer, the capitalist wishes to reduce the number of workers to cheapen costs; but as a seller, he looks to an expanding work force as the source of a growing market able to buy his goods. But once technology demonstrates itself capable of restricting employment while creating abundance, the system breaks down.

In simplified terms, Marx's insight could be illustrated by a (probably imaginary) conversation of the 1950*8 in America. Henry Ford III was said to have shown Walter Reuther of the United Automobile Workers a completely automated engine block plant. Pointing to the assembly line, on which there were no workers, the corporate chief taunted the trade unionist, "How will you organize workers here?" To which Reuther is said to have replied, "And what workers here will buy your cars?"

In a more complex case, Daniel Bell (who is a sympathetic, but determined, critic of Marx) tells of how the new technology has perhaps already outmoded the old labor-time system of production accounting. "Most important perhaps, there may be an end, too, to the measurement of work. Modem industry began not with the factory but with the measurement of work. When the worth of the product was defined in production units, the worth of the worker was similarly gauged. Under the unit concept, the time-study engineers calculated that a worker could produce more units for more money. This was the assumption of the wage-incentive schemes (which actually are output-incentive schemes) and the engineering morality of a 'fair day's pay for a fair day's work.'

"But under automation, with continuous flow, a worker's worth can no longer be evaluated in production units. Hence, output-incentive plans, with their involved measurement techniques, may vanish. In their place, as Adam Arbuzzi foretells, may arise a new work morality. Work will be denned not in terms of a 'one best way,' not by the slide rule and the stop-watch, not in terms of fractioned time or units of production, but on the basis of planning and organizing and the continuously smooth functioning of the operation" (emphasis added).

Bell has an important point. In the cybernated factory where the machine, whose production- and tending-cost stands in little relation to its ability to produce goods, is the main source of wealth, how can the worker's worth be evaluated in production units? When the amount of human muscle expended in making an item was an essential element of its value, both the muscle and the product could be computed in terms of labor time (the wages of the muscle and the price of the product). But if that is no longer the case, how can income, the right to consume, be tied to a labor time that is less and less relevant?

As a result of this contradiction, Marx held, "the laboring mass must consume its own surplus product." This consumption is not a grudging necessity of diverting scarce resources to keeping the body and soul of the work force together. It is a precondition of the functioning of the economy, for the people must have the capacity to consume what is made or else there will be overproduction and the crisis of glut. In a moderate form, this notion has become a basic principle of neo-Keynesian economics, recognized by the Western labor movement and the welfare state governments of most of the advanced countries. But it does not stop there.

Under such conditions, Marx concluded, "It is then no longer labor time but disposable time which is the measure of wealth." Now, precisely in order to expand productivity, there must be a vast expansion of consumption. Leisure, which robbed society of resources in a time of scarcity, goads society into activity in a time of abundance.

In short, from Marx's point of view, the decadence of the old principles of scarcity would mark a decisive moment in the liberation of man. Production would no longer rest upon the hard, sweaty labor of the mass but rather upon free time and enjoyment. Where Malthus feared that raising up the poor would degrade the worth and dignity of the few, the modern technological economy of abundance must be frightened of the exact opposite: that not abolishing poverty will destroy prosperity.

Marx's description of the change in the nature of work is now beginning to take place in the West. In the automated factory, the worker is indeed one who "watches over" the production process rather than being its chief agent. His theory that increasing consumption would become an economic necessity has been modestly recognized within the welfare state as a practical reform but not as a revolutionary principle of a new life. As technology takes over more and more occupations, as the working day, week, year, and life are contracted, his ultimate prophecy could come true: that it is the economic responsibility of the citizen to be free, leisured, to develop his own individual bents and proclivities, to consume, not simply manufactured goods, but freedom itself.

And yet, paradoxically, Marx did not realize one possible consequence of his own vision of cybernation and automation. He had assumed that a working-class revolution would transform the ownership of large-scale industry before the process which he described had reached its ultimate limits. The decadence of capitalism under conditions of abundance was not simply a decadence, since the system had created the historical agency for resolving its contradictions in a new way: trie proletariat. The humane possibilities of the new development would be made practical by a social class, by those who had learned how to live joyously in the future out of the sufferings and miseries of the past.

But what if the working class in the Marxist sense is abolished before, or simultaneously with, the emergence of the fatal capitalist contradictions of abundance? That now seems quite possible.


When Aristotle imagined the statues of Daedalus, he drew one main conclusion from their discovery: that there would no longer be any necessity for slavery and subordination.

Here I suggest that the situation is more complex than the Greek philosopher imagined. Abundance has not really yet arrived in the West, but its possibility -and the abolition of work as it has traditionally been defined in Europe and America - is within the range of commonsensible speculation. Even within the most prosaic Government statistics, one can note that the statues of Daedalus have begun to dance in our midst.

The coming of abundance will unquestionably mean a decadence. Much of the social wisdom of scarcity, that is to say much of man's history, will become irrelevant to the future.

What will replace the conviction that it is through arduous, unfree labor that man realizes himself? A void? Bread and circuses? The dictatorship of the programmers? Or new definitions of freely chosen work, work as creativity, the labor of love?

Will the ending of the economic compulsion to work allow each individual to discover reality in his own way and thus obviate the whole system of social discipline required by the struggle against scarcity? Or will it simply strip away all the extraneous historical guises from the innate destructiveness of man?

Will cybernation force the West to some kind of social humanity, providing practical reasons for making social and personal development the end of collective life? Or will the infinitely capable machines create surplus products and surplus people?

The options are of an extreme range, more so than Aristotle thought. Abundance could actually produce new slaveries, new subordinations. Or, as John Maynard Keynes once said, under such conditions, ". . . we shall be able to rid ourselves of many of the pseudo-moral principles which have hag-ridden us for 200 years, by which we have exalted some of the most distasteful of human qualities into the position of the highest virtues."