Intertel is a project for international understanding through television. The full title is the International Television Federation. The members of it are the National Educational Television and Radio Center and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Rediffusion Television Ltd, London.
The two Intertel programmes contrast poverty and abundance. The United States is the richest country in the world. Vast car parks full of automobiles reflect this richness. Consumer goods pour out. Yet as machines increasingly take over, the awesome surplus of people grows. So do the dole queues – and despair. Homes, too, range from luxury apartments to shacks.
America is a land of abounding factory production and conspicuous consumption. where success is measured mostly by material standards. Now, with the march of the computors [sic] and the spread of automation, she moves on again from affluence to the ‘edge of abundance’, and the American conventions and assumptions, even the whole American system of values, comes into question.
The programme traces the short but galloping history of America as an affluent society, shows how the mind of her people has formed, and examines the questions that the United States must face for herself – and on behalf of all the other nations that follow her route of development.
The greatest fact of American history was the Louisiana Purchase by which – hardly more than a century ago – she came into possession of what was probably the largest stretch of temperate and fertile land still undeveloped. Although there was title to the land there was not vacant possession and it had to be wrested from the original red men. Yet. within a century the area had a population of fifteen million whites.
During the century of expansion, a hard, pioneering mind was formed. The tough, mainly Protestant people sang their Lutheran hymns – ‘Work – for the night is coming when we shall work no more’. The business of America was conquest and each man’s ambition was to leave his mark on the wilderness. Cities, fords, mines, mountains and counties were named after people.
The expansion complete. America went through the first of two major social revolutions. She changed from an ‘extractive’ society, with more than eighty per cent of the people exploiting the earth by farming and mining, to a manufacturing society.
Now the business of America was business. The conquering spirit moved into industry. It was the time of the self-made millionaires who started life selling newspapers. New immigrations built a bigger and bigger labour force. Skill at making things was followed by a growing skill at selling things. Work meant money, money meant possessions. Possessions could be expanded with credit. Credit meant more work to keep pace with the payments. It was the Affluent Society – and the age of the ulcer.
But now the second great social revolution looms. While America has not yet finally come to terms with the change from an ‘extractive’ to a manufacturing society – particularly in respect of her farming policies – the new change to an automated society is under way. Already over the horizon is a new slave state in which, this time, the slaves are machines. Her driving technological progress has produced ways of working which already need fewer men. and those of greater education and training. The boy who once left school early to sell newspapers and build a fortune is now called a ‘high-school drop-out’- and he’s a problem. The computors are doing the work of the white-collar men in the banks and insurance offices. The self-directed machines are taking over from unskilled and semi-skilled workers. It is the tragedy of the American negro that he came into industry just as industry began to organise for a smaller, higher-grade labour force. How fast is the second revolution moving ? It is said that already all the lamp-bulbs used in America are made by sixteen men. Already the job of re-training displaced operatives for other work is being overtaken by the fact that the other work in turn is being automated.
How can a people whose minds are trained to the idea of work and its rewards face an age in which a minority of the people can manage the nation’s work? It looks as if the business of America will, to a great extent, be leisure.
A boom in leisure means that people must have the means to enjoy it. Booming production from automated factories means that people must have the means to consume it. Yet the system assumes that people are paid high wages for work and only subsistence when they are not working. Can the planning needed to solve these problems be faced in a country where too much planning meant too much government to interfere with private enterprise? Can the system of values be adjusted to accept the idea of a good life not dependent on hard work and its rewards? May the slave state – this time with slave machines – bring a flowering of culture and civilisation such as came from slave societies of the past?
The programme dramatises the rapid history of American affluence and the dilemma of ideas which the onset of abundance brings. Already you can find cities where the factories are prosperous and the streets around are dark with unemployment. Traditional economists, accustomed to the idea that buoyant production means buoyant earnings, are brought up sharply by the spectacle of boom and depression at the same time in the same city. The world’s greatest technical nation is checked in its optimism by sociological problems. Here are some of the things being said on the ‘Edge of Abundance’.
ON THE EDGE OF ABUNDANCE
THE DOLLAR POOR