jean fourastie

Here is the beginning of the second part of The causes of Wealth (Machinisme et Bien Être), translated and adaptated by Theodore Caplow.


PART TWO : Style of Life : introduction

The preceding chapters have only been able to present rather incomplete comments of complex phenomena. We have tried to give some indexes of an evolution so little known that in the Latin countries of Europe the very idea of economic progress is often contested, or considered more as a political slogan than as a scientific fact. Nevertheless, the problem of the level of living is simple in comparison with that of the style of life.

Styles of life are extremely diverse. The climate alone establishes profound differences. There is practically no resemblance between the living arrangement of the Negroes of the Cameroon and the Eskimos of the frozen North. The temperature, the length of days and nights, and the available foods are so different that the people hardly seem to belong to the same species. Differences in traditions, customs, and beliefs all add to the great disparities of geographic conditions.

How then shall we be able to treat scientifically a group of facts whose heterogeneity seems to restrict us to merely anecdotal description? Science consists of bringing causal relations to light, but what causal relations can possibly appear in such a welter of unrelated facts? First of all, we must limit our subject matter. We are not abstractly concerned with the customs of all the inhabitants of this planet, but only with the influence of technical progress on the style of life. This obviously excludes the study of the style of life of those peoples who have not yet profited from industrialization. More exactly, we are led to compare the situation of countries and even of individuals before and after technical progress. One of the most striking facts, when one tries to compare a highly mechanized style of life - such as begins to be realized in a few places in our world - with the style of life existing before 1800, is that this development does not seem to follow any simple principles. Doubtless, evolution has had some leveling effect. As the French love to point out: the clothing, the coiffures, the fashions, the diet, the use of leisure, are much more homogeneous since 1900 in the countries affected by technical progress. New means of transportation and of communication destroy the originality of regional folkways. There is an unquestionable tendency to homogenization along geographic lines. However, something must be added to this, which is less well understood and which therefore we must stress, namely that this inter-regional uniformity is accompanied by increased local differentiation. Before 1800, 80 per cent of the French population lived a peasant existence. In different costumes the styles of life from Dunkirk to Port Vendres were fundamentally the same : rising at dawn, sleeping at sundown, the somnolent winter, the busy and joyous summer. Everywhere the same preoccupations, the same fear or love of hail, rain and sun; the same church bells, the same prayers, the same general stability of conditions. The 20 per cent of the French who escaped this determinism of the land were in part the beneficiaries of profit, in part the merchants, the artisans, and the tiny industrial labor force. Furthermore, the style of life of this minority was not so different from that of the peasants as one might think. The absence of transportation, the scarcity of artificial lighting, the weakness of the media of intellectual communication, gave to the life of the cities a general atmosphere which was very little different from that of the country. Madame de Sévigné reports that at her friends, the X's, they used two candles per day, which means that it was necessary to dine at 4:30 in the winter and to go to bed before 6:00.

Occupational factors introduce powerful elements of differentiation into the style of life and consequently into the minds of men. These occupational factors eventually determine the whole evolution of the style of life. If the great majority of men had been forced to continue to work the earth, as they did before 1800, none of the transformations of the modern world could have occurred. The cities would not have grown, and there would be nobody to render the essential services of modern life: transportation, medical care, education, personal services. Nor would it have been possible to build the domestic machines which little by little are transforming the life of the housewife.

Subsistence is an inescapable problem for everyone as long as the essential needs of food and clothing are not satisfied. But as soon as these elementary problems of the level of living are resolved, men begin to attach more importance to the style of life. And very soon, they are ready to sacrifice some part, even an important part, of their level of living to improve their style of life. It is thus that, since 1900, by voluntarily reducing the duration of work, we have unwittingly reduced our possible level of living by about half. If we have sacrificed our level of living for a shorter work day, it is in part due to the complication and the fatigue caused by modern life. Nevertheless, there has certainly been some net gain. Modern man is able to pass many more hours at home than his grandfather, or even his father.

It is evident that the national product has correspondingly diminished. Whatever the technical conditions may be, production is always positively correlated with the duration of work; although not exactly proportionate to this duration, it is so at least to the point where physical or mental health are threatened.


The great economic facts that can be grouped under the heading of style of life, and to which a growing importance is conceded, are very numerous. They range from extremely subjective elements like the elegance of clothing, the pleasure taken in leisure, sport, promenades, the theatre, the possibility of going to libraries or attending lectures, all the way to such general and classic conditions as the duration of work, the length of schooling, hygiene, and housing. We cannot possibly enumerate these elements completely, and there can be no question of analyzing them here in any profound way. A whole group of preliminary studies which hardly exist yet are required. Here we can only give some general idea of the problems which present themselves.

The elements of the style of life can be divided into three major groups: (a) occupational elements; (b) individual and familial elements; (c) social or collective elements. This triple division corresponds to the three principal roles that men take. The way in which a man works is evidently a very important element in his style of life. The novelist, the film star, or the university professor, for example, have a much pleasanter style of life than the miner or the assembly line worker.

However, the individual and familial elements are even more important because they apply to everyone, to the mothers of families and to children as well as to the members of the labor force outside of their employment. These elements include housing, comfort, the household amenities, and everything that goes into the home. They also include personal services, the availability of bathrooms, personal care, and all of the household services. Finally, they include cultural activities and the use of leisure. Certain social factors overlap slightly with leisure - for example, all cultural and touristic resources, hotels, auditoriums, playing fields, skating rinks, ski-lifts, libraries, broadcasting stations. These things are both social and individual.

Other social elements are fundamental, such as those of hygiene and of health. All of us need to have clean and safe public places; hospitals, clinics and dispensaries as well-equipped and designed as possible. Another social element consists of the material organization of secondary schools and universities. The style of life must not be considered solely from the point of view of the healthy adult. We must also examine the style of life of children, of invalids, of the handicapped, of the sick, of madmen, convicts, prisoners, and recluses. We must observe to what degree economic development promotes or diminishes the comfort and security of invalids or children. The social factors lead to very general problems, somewhat outside the scope of this book, concerning culture, social morality, individual initiative and freedom. Here stands the boundary between welfare and happiness. It would be interesting and useful to know in what measure contemporary economic evolution, with its industrialization and technical progress, has been favorable or unfavorable to individual freedom, to the traditional or religious conceptions of life, and to the equilibrium of human existence. All we can do here is to prepare the way for such studies of these topics that would be so advantageous for humanity and that have not been successfully undertaken as yet, except in a limited way by novelists.


Thus described, the problem of style of life is almost limitless. It includes existing disciplines like hygiene and public health, sciences in the course of development like city planning and pedagogy, and almost non-existent bodies of knowledge like the science of housekeeping. There can be no question, as we have already said, of studying all of these problems here. Like a walker in the night, we can only distinguish a few confused lines in a vast landscape. More precisely, we shall limit our examination to certain aspects of the problem that, perhaps wrongly and certainly by guesswork, have seemed to us to be fundamental: the duration of work, the education of the young, the human habitat, and the domestic skills.