Staving Off Social Collapse
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty,
While the poor experience privations, the wealthier parts of the
world have quite recently come to suffer in different, and apparently
Until the 1970s, it was widely believed that the spectre of
mass-unemployment had been banished forever from developed countries.
Today this is very clearly not the case.
In some countries, unemployment is still rising. In others, formal
unemployment is low or even completely absent; but those countries
frequently experience military conscription and employ great numbers
of people in 'defence' activities. In all advanced countries great
numbers of people seem to be employed -- often by governments -- in
functions which appear of little value either to the individuals
concerned or to the community.
It is often said that all production essential for a high standard of
material well-being can be achieved by a small fraction of the present
labour-force; and if that is not true today it almost certainly will
become true in the near future in consequence of technological
improvements. Yet there is much to suggest that a "leisure state"
would be for most people a great disaster; that few people desire
prolonged idleness, and that many people are quite literally killed by
The association between labour and production has been so close
throughout all human experience, from the most primitive
hunter-gatherers to the most sophisticated dwellers in advanced
civilizations, that until recently it has appeared almost complete,
save for activities which were recognised by all as hobbies or
Some people once thought that industrialism would bring in the "leisure
state". They were proved wrong, or perhaps premature, in their
judgements. Technological improvements have created new "needs"
so rapidly that most people have continued to work hours not much
shorter than those of their remote ancestors; although the rewards
they have drawn from their labour have vastly exceeded the rewards
obtained by earlier generations.
Yet we are now reaching a point where (as "Greens" have
rightly recognised), further dramatic advances in living standards, at
least among the developed peoples, are likely to trench on the
environment to such an extent that irreparable damage and perhaps
social collapse as well, must necessarily result.
GEORGISTS and "Greens" both have important contributions to
offer in the direction of a solution to this appalling problem.
The Georgist doctrine that people have equal rights to "land"
means that authorities which have been freely chosen by those peoples
may rightfully prescribe the use of particular pieces of land in the
general interest of all. "Greens", equally justly assert
that much land should be preserved in a more or less "natural"
condition, or even should be allowed to revert to that condition from
its present use; but they also emphasise that land which is employed
for production should be used to the best effect without damage to its
These doctrines are complimentary not contradictory.
Environmental conservation, however, is not just a passive process of
leaving "nature" alone, with minimal human interference.
People are likely to show much more interest in the conservation of
nature if they are able to see a lot of nature for themselves, and
understand something of how nature "works". Intelligent
conservation therefore implies, for example, the provision of access
routes, and many different kinds of educational programmes and
literature. The satisfaction of such needs is often highly
Wise nature management entails a great many other positive human
actions as well. In the remote past, for example, woodlands or
prairies or even areas of the oceans were often "conserved"
by complex interactions between organisms which today are scarce or
extinct, and which for a variety of reasons cannot be replaced by
adequate natural substitutes.
The best mankind can do to "conserve" such environments
today requires a great many positive activities:
- coppicing trees in one place, devising engineering works to
preserve wetlands in another;
- planting trees in some places and cutting them down in others;
- destroying harmful introduced species, or actively encouraging
the reintroduction of species locally extinct.
These activities are, if anything, even more labour-intensive than
the former kind of "conservation". Ecology, which will
certainly become increasingly important in conservation, is a science
no less complex and intellectually demanding than any other science,
and the development of ecology to ensure the most effective
conservation of the environment will require a growing corpus of
highly trained scientists and technologists.
There is every reason for thinking that the demand for human
labour in a society properly concerned with the environment will be
quite enough to ensure the achievement of "full employment".
IF, THEN, we are moving rapidly towards a society in which the demand
for productive labour will be greatly reduced, and yet the labour in
conservation and conservation-linked aspects of education and science
will increase no less rapidly, it will be necessary to offer
employment in such activities on a scale several orders of magnitude
greater than that applying at present.
If sceptics reply that this will prove immensely costly, they are
right; but it will probably prove little if any less costly than to
pay people for living in the kind of enforced idleness which -- as
current experience shows -- encourages vandalism and crime.
It is important to remember that conservation work may well have an
element of production in it. Most kinds of forestry and woodland
activity, for example, yields valuable timber. It is by no means
inevitable that such activity should be conducted by public
authorities. Profit-making bodies, such as workers' cooperatives or
private corporations may well play a substantial, and perhaps a
dominant part -- although, of course, there must be strict overall
control to prevent environmental damage resulting.