Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968). rn The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.

The Wastes of Capitalism
(From “The Laws of Social Evolution”)

Theodor Hertzka

(An Austrian economist, one of the few in the world who have dealt with the real problem of economic science, the elimination of waste and the rationalizing of the system of production. In the following passage he investigates the question what proportion of human labor is lost through our competitive methods of industry. The passage has been frequently quoted, in a mistranslation which obscures its real significance. The following is not so much a translation as a summary of the essential statements)

WE are to investigate what labor-power is required, under circumstances now existing in Austria (1886), to produce the most essential food-stuffs, and suitable housing and clothing. For every family has been allowed a separate, five-roomed house, about forty feet square, and calculated to last fifty years. I have reckoned all men between the ages of sixteen and fifty as capable of working: there being of such in Austria about five million. I find that it requires the labor of 615,000 workers to supply the population of 22,000,000 with food, clothing and shelter: that is to say, it requires only 12.3 per cent of available labor-power, and each worker needs to labor only six weeks in the year, in order to provide for himself and his family the necessary means of life.

In order that no one should conclude that the production of the luxuries of the better situated part of the population consumes the balance of the available labor-power, let us add the labor-cost of all the luxury-industries in the widest sense. Including the labor-cost of transportation, these require 315,000 workers, or 6.3 per cent of the available labor-power. As a precaution, I increase the total of 18.6 per cent to 20 per cent, and so find that by working sixty days in the year, the actual existing consumption should be fully satisfied. There remains now this double question: What becomes of the additional two hundred and forty days, which are actually spent in labor? What abyss swallows up the other 80 per cent of the nation’s labor-power? And second, how can it be that in spite of hard work, the majority are the prey of misery, when at the utmost 20 per cent of the available labor-power should suffice for the maintenance of all?