1. Since ancient, prehistoric times, men have lived in communities, initially small perhaps, then larger. Just as we do today, at those times too they sought the company of others for enjoyment, cooperation and security from wild predators and the elements.
Even then, some form of differentiation existed in their labour. Males would hunt, fish or forage for the plants and fruits of the earth. Some were makers of tools and weapons. Females stayed behind, tending the children, the sick and the elderly, and generally looking after their homesteads.
This differentiation and specialization intensified and became more necessary as the population increased, knowledge expanded, technology developed and civilization progressed. Today, no one can be a farmer, builder, carpenter, electrician, tailor, doctor and teacher- all at the same time.
Huge skyscrapers rise up from the labour of architects, specialized ironworkers, carpenters, builders, plumbers and electricians. Hospitals employ doctors that are specialized in various pathologies. In the markets, different tradesmen engage in furniture, tools, fuel, foods, textiles, financial services and banking. Universities have professors and lecturers that specialise in different subjects. Authors write, artists paint, dance, sing and act.
It is in this way that wealth is produced – the vast variety of goods and services and works of art and culture that are available even to the poorest among us, in the more advanced economies of the West.
However, wherever a man must build his own house, fashion his own furniture and clothing, produce electricity, grow his own cereals and vegetables and go hunting or fishing, he will remain poor and, in all probability, will pass away before he can produce a fraction of the above wealth; and, of course, he will have failed to develop much of his dormant potential.
Social life is necessary, firstly because the feeling of companionship is common among most men, secondly, because it gives security and mutual help and, thirdly, because, through specialisation, it frees men from deprivation and crushing want, so that they may secure their living, then develop and manifest subtler talents.
2. Within the framework of society, humans engage in transactions by giving and taking. They discover that no matter how pleasant it is to be on the receiving end, it is much nobler to give; this provides greater satisfaction – giving oneself wholly to one’s family and work and thus living more fully.
In the long term, giving is the best part of a man’s life.
One’s work is a form of giving. With their labour people give away their energy but, at the same time, they are filled with satisfaction as their potential is developed and their skills become more robust, vigorous and refined. In this way, their subtler artistic talents are also developed.
What people give through their labour, they have firstl received it from the Universe. All their skills, abilities and talents have been provided by the Universe and will one day return to it.
To live and to enjoy satisfaction in the fullest, one must work. The sensory impressions, the light and air that are so immediately needed are also directly given and given freely – a truly important gift of Nature.
Foodstuffs and nutrition are also provided by Nature. But to enjoy these one must work. Men must go to their source and claim them. Many people work with the water company so that water can reach our homes, in transport and agriculture so that food can reach the market, in an orchestra to perform one of Mozart’s concerts or in the theatre for the production of a Shakespeare play.
Labour is nothing else than the use of our inherent talents, intelligence, senses and instruments of action such as our hands and legs. And, with the exemption of some unfortunate occasions, all men are endowed with these powers.
3. But it is here where something goes wrong.
Some refuse to give, thinking that it will result in loss. They prefer to take, believing that in this way their living will be more secure.
It is a strong tendency in human beings to obtain the best result with the least effort.
Some men are endowed with more strength, greater power. The most cunning among them, instead of supporting the weaker ones, lure or force them into slave labour, and then reap the fruit of the slaves’ labour. Slowly, with the passage of time, this regime is rationalized through the invention of an arsenal of theories and excuses with ostensible references to Nature, religion and whatever else they can think up.
It is in this way that injustice is established in human affairs. It is not God’s doing, nor of any other Power in the universe. It is the doing of men. Some do not want to give and live off the labour of others.
Documented human history begins around the year 3000 before the common era (=B.C.) and is full of examples and variations of this situation. Slavery may have officially ended sometime around the end of the 19th century, yet it continues in some places were barbaric practices still hold.
Herein lies the first difficulty, the first obstacle, the first knot.
There are, of course, other forms under which men take advantage of other men, but the refusal to give is the primary cause.
On the next post we will examine another cause.
Click here to read other posts on the Political Economy series.