jean fourastie

Here is the English translation of the introduction of Jean Fourastié's "Machinisme et Bien Être": in french, 1951 ; in english, translated by Theodore Caplow, 1960. (See the original french text below).


MAN is beginning to understand the first consequences of the industrial revolution. In the course of the nineteenth century, he was satisfied with very vague forecasts of a predominantly emotional character: euphoric faith in a science that was going to be able to resolve all problems; fear of, or desire for, a social revolution; contempt for the previous centuries of irrational obscurantism-such were the essential elements of a summary and largely utopian philosophy.


It was by observing the conditions imposed upon the worker at work that the scientific study of the influence of technical progress upon human life began. This study was by no means disinterested. Its object was to facilitate production and to increase industrial profits. It was only after twenty years or so that a more objective study of man at work began to establish the bases of a new science, "A veritable conglomeration of techniques," as Georges Friedmann calls it[1]

However, the most important part of the problem presented by the development of industrial techniques has for all practical purposes not yet been raised. It concerns the consequences of machinisme[2], not so much for man at work, but for man outside of his work. Technical progress, indeed, does not only modify the conditions of work. It transforms the results of work, and therefore the facts of economic life. These, in turn, transform human life.

Until now, the study of this problem, so important for humanity, has been the sole preserve of novelists. About 1925, Toynbee and Spengler advanced the general idea that the decline of civilizations was incontestable and unavoidable. Many writers, novelists or philosophers, developed a romantic version of this idea, above all in Europe. Paul Valéry wrote the sentence which every French student knows by heart, "We know that our civilizations are mortal:" Georges Duhamel reinforced the classic pessimism of the French bourgeois with his "Scenes de la vie future." Aldous Huxley has treated certain tendencies to automatism in his witty and spirited Brave New World.

Our object is to proceed to a first approach to the problem on the scientific level, in other words, to take account of the empirical data that have accumulated in the last hundred years and of those facts that have both a serious importance for the human equilibrium and unquestionable reality. We shall study how machinisme modifies the traditional conditions of existence directly through occupational life and indirectly through economic life. We shall also examine how machinisme may lead to an occupational and economic development that deserves to be called social progress.




Although our program may be ambitious, we are not approaching the human problem in its total complexity. The object of study is limited to the material conditions of life in society. That is to say, to the problems which are classically economic problems-the relations of men with things.

The idea of human equilibrium involves many other factors besides economic factors. To get an idea of the evolution of civilization, it would be necessary to study organic equilibrium (health), affective equilibrium (happiness), intellectual 'equilibrium (intelligence), moral and religious equilibrium, the awareness of the future the place of the immediate present in the evolution of man and humanity, and above all, social and political equilibrium (inter-human relations). Such an examination of the living conditions of "the total man" exceeds the limits of this work. Nevertheless, it is certain that familiarity with economic conditions is an indispensable part of the study of the situation imposed upon man by the modem world. Economic conditions have an important influence on the total equilibrium; for example, it is very difficult to speak of intellectual life in the case of a population whose level of living does not permit intermediate education for any sizable fraction of the population. The moral life is meaningless for a man pressed by hunger.

It would seem then that the study of the material conditions of human life in the contemporary world would be one of the essential foundations of the history of civilization. We hope that this sketch of the economic history of technical progress, in spite of its gaps and defects, will possibly be useful to the general historian for whom economics and technology are only aspects of a complex ensemble which is primarily social and political.




The effects of machinisme on the general conditions of economic life have been obvious. They have resulted, in the first place, in the growth of the volume of production, and in the second place, in the creation of products that did not exist before or that were formerly very rare. As a matter of fact, until the industrial revolution, practically all production consisted of food staples; eight-tenths of the labor force worked at production of this type. All other consumption goods, furniture, cloth, works of art, means of locomotion, arms, and so forth, were the privilege of the minority who controlled the means of production (that is to say, the land and, until the abolition of serfdom, labor). Such goods were produced in very limited quantity and they were extremely rare, and contrary to the usual notion, they were highly priced. The luxury which the possession of the most powerful model of automobile represents nowadays for an American, or even for a Frenchman, is very far from the equivalent of that involved in 1700 with the presence of a mirror two meters square over the mantelpiece of a reception room in a mansion of the Marais.

Technical progress permitted the liberation of a more and more important part of the labor force from agricultural labor, giving this labor force, on the one hand, the opportunity to produce other goods in growing quantity, and on the other hand, the means of lowering selling prices. Not only have famines ‑ organic elements of the traditional cycle whose tragic reality is easily forgotten ‑ practically disappeared in the countries which have benefitted from industrial progress, but also, for an increasing proportion of the population, expenses for food have ceased to be dominant, and have little by little made place for other needs. To illustrate this fact, a single example may suffice: Before 1800, agricultural production represented about 80 per cent of the total production of the richest nations of the globe. After 1940, however, in the United States, agricultural production represented less than 10 per cent of the total dollar value of production. It must be noted that this change in proportion was not obtained by a reduction in the absolute volume of agricultural production per capita of the population; on the contrary, the latter has grown constantly; it is by an even greater relative increase of non-agricultural production that the relative position of agriculture has thus diminished, and the structure of consumption has been correspondingly modified. 

This profound modification of traditional economic structures did not come about without difficulty and even suffering. Painful gaps occurred between the real and the desirable; economic depressions were the most obvious expressions of this lack of harmony. The fact that we record economic progress following technical progress need not be viewed as an apologetic argument in favor of the economic, social, juridical, or political regimes. On the contrary, it must be observed that progress was made not because of, but in spite of, the preservation of certain institutions. This is why it has been more rapid in the United States than in Europe and more rapid in Europe than in Asia. Europe, and France particularly, provide a favorable vantage from which to observe the long-term developments.

Traces of the past are more conspicuous than in the United States, and they are of a richer past, so that one sees better than in America how the new ways of life have displaced the old. The very slowness of progress is favorable for observation, and permits us to avoid certain errors of excessive enthusiasm.

The gap between the real and the possible, probably rather negligible before 1700, increases steadily before our very eyes.

Thus humanity, having lost the equilibrium of former centuries, pursues an equilibrium that becomes ever more remote, just because of previous gains. This period is profoundly demoralizing; it is easy for European people to draw pessimistic conclusions from the observation of present conditions. Because man is increasingly dissatisfied as he watches his opportunities increase, because he judges matters in terms of a past whose real conditions he has forgotten, he is tempted to misinterpret the progress already made and to misunderstand its conditions. It is these results and these conditions that we wish to analyze. It is for others to say if, from an intellectual or moral point of view, humanity has gained or lost. On a purely material basis, that of economics, let us try merely to prepare an exact accounting.

One more general remark is necessary to define the scope of our inquiries. M. Friedmann and I have given this work the title of Machinisme et Bien-Être, in order to emphasize the two most concrete elements of the economic problems presented by the industrial revolution. The word machinisme is taken here in its broadest sense to refer to the totality of technical procedures in production, consumption, and distribution. Among these procedures, the use of machines is the most striking; but it is more and more evident that the machine is only one of the possible means of advancement. Just as capital is not the cause of economic progress, so the machine is not the cause of technical progress. The true cause of technical progress is the scientific advance which furnishes the active possibility of producing an increasingly greater amount of goods and services in a given amount of working time. The machine is only one of the means of increasing this productivity. In fact, it becomes more apparent every day that other methods are claiming an increasing importance in economic life. These include the organization of work, the organization of markets, the design of the product, the technical control of material in process, psychology, applied psychology, sociometry, and all of the other applications of the new human sciences to work.

Thus, in the title of this work, the word machinisme could be legitimately replaced by such terms as technical progress, organization of labor, or productivity of work.

In the same way, the word "welfare" (Bien-Être) is schematic, because the economic transformations of the modem world often involve problems that did not exist formerly, for example, in connection with housing. In sum, our object is to study the evolution of the material conditions imposed upon men by economic evolution, without regard to their favorableness.




The human consequences of contemporary economic evolution can be grouped into two orders of fact: level of living and style of life.

"Level of living" is a measure of the consumption of all goods and services that can be valued in money, that is to say, those obtained with salaries and other money which constitutes "purchasing power."

Studies of the level of living involve the comparison of income with the price of a group of consumed goods. They lead to the examination of the structure of expenditure. The structure of expenditure is not at all the same in the working class and in the employer class. In the poorer classes, expenses for food have a predominant place. They absorb practically the entire income. For the comfortably situated consumers, the proportion of food expenses is much less. This same disproportion of budgets can be found from one period to another, as, for example, between the working class consumption for 1700 or 1800 and the budgets of today. The historical development and the contemporary variation are phenomena that must be studied together and that are mutually illuminating.

Taking account of the differential structure of budgets, the level of living can be measured, at least approximately, and with suitable precautions and reservations, by a single figure expressed in a given monetary unit and referring to a specific date. Thus the level of living is a "synthesizable" element.

In contrast, we group under the term "style of life" those areas of consumption where a monetary evaluation is difficult and rather futile, as, for example, when there is such a difference between the price of the service and its importance for the purchaser that the price loses all significance. The case of penicillin is relevant. It is obvious that penicillin has a price, but in certain cases a small dose of it can prevent the death of a human being. The price of penicillin is practically useless for evaluating the advantage conferred by its discovery.

The sphere of the style of life extends thus from hygiene and prosthetic devices all the way to leisure-the length of the working day. It includes a whole series of non-quantifiable elements like climate, housing, neighborhood and urban facilities, heating and air conditioning, what we call comfort, the domestic arts, the use of elevators; even intellectual equipment such as libraries, research centers, record and film collections. The style of life includes a very numerous and heterogeneous array of facts. It is impossible to combine them for analysis. To bring them into the picture at all, we must therefore rather arbitrarily select a certain number of factors for examination. The field being so vast and practically unexplored, our study will have-much more than for the level of living-the character of an outline. On some points we shall be reduced to simple inventories and hasty samplings.

The reader should then consider this book as an introduction to a body of fascinating but complex data. It is to be hoped that this essay will lead him to the study of other books and stimulate concrete research that will progressively renovate .the social sciences and give to man a more and more solid grasp of the realities of the physical world.

The author would like to express his appreciation to at least a few of the English-speaking authors whose research has helped or stimulated his own: A. L. Bowley, Dorothy Brady, Yale Brozen, Colin Clark, Shepard B. Clough, Frederic Dewhurst, Allan B. Fisher, Siegfried Giedion, J. R. Hicks, Lewis Mumford, John U. Nef, J. E. Thurold Rogers, P. A. Sorokin, William F. Ogburn, Faith Williams, and Carle C. Zimmerman. He would also like to mention the very worthwhile Conference on Quantitative Description of Technical Change which he had the honor to attend in April, 1951, at Princeton.

Special acknowledgment is due to Allan B. Fisher for his book, The Clash of Progress and Security, published as early as 1915.·Among .the critical appraisalsof the viewpoint which the present book embodies, are those of PierreJaccard of the University of Lausanne, Politique de l'Emploi et de /'Education(Paris: Payot, 1957), and Martin Wolfe, "The Concept of Economic Sectors,"Quarterly journal of Economics, August, 1955.

[1] G. Friedman, Problèmes humains du machinisme industriel, Galimard, Paris, 1946.

[2] The French word machinisme has no precise English equivalent, and therefore has not been translated in many places throughout the book. Machinisme includes not only the technical fact of mechanization, but its sociological implications as well. T.C