jean fourastie

Here is the first chapter of the second part (Level of living) of the translation from Machinisme Bien-être (1951), by Theodore Caplow (The causes of wealth, 1970)

 Chapter V


 Technical progress has tended steadily toward the increase of human occupations. Without going back to that distant age when hunting was perhaps the only occupation, it is evident that the specialization of work has not ceased to develop throughout history. For example, in the sixteenth century the cabinet makers split off from the carpenters, and shortly afterward, the furniture builders separated from both.

The industrial revolution accelerated this tendency considerably, to the point where the classic economists attributed the results of machinisme to the division of labor. In reality, the division of labor is not a cause of increased productivity. It is only one of the means, although extremely efficacious. Thus we find often but not always an association between technical progress and an increase in the number of occupations.

It is worthwhile to consider the changes that have taken place in the past century and a half in the nature of occupational life and some of the consequences for the geographic distribution of the population and for the duration of work.



Our object here is not to study men at work. Nevertheless, the attitudes engendered by an occupation little by little become part of the worker's personality. We cannot understand the twentieth century man without understanding the twentieth century worker. This area has been studied by Professor Friedmann and no brief discussion can take the place of his great work Machinisme et Humanisme[1]. All that we can do here is to recall the influence of the conditions of work on the style of life. We shall try to do it by isolating three series of important facts from the stream of recent development.


1) Machinisme and automatism

The machine of 1955 is very different, for the man who operates or who “serves” it, from the machine of 1900. We may sum up the change by saying that the machine of 1900 had to be fed by a man. It was a semi-automatic machine. The machine of 1950 may be entirely automatic, which is to say that its alimentation is also automatic.

I suppose that all of my readers have seen in factories how man is the victim of the machine. To serve the 1900 model machine - which is still found throughout French industry - it is necessary to make a fixed gesture, always the same, and this must be done as regularly as the period of the machine's operating cycle. For example, the operator must take little pieces of copper out of a box and put them in a definite position on a table. The machine drills the holes and usually ejects the piece, but it does not position the new fragment of copper that it must handle. The man must constantly repeat the same movement to feed the machine. This is the type of semi-automatic machine that was considered advanced in 1900. By contrast, the totally automatic machine that is coming into general use feeds itself. The difference for the man at work is that with this type of machine he tends to become a supervisor or a controller. He intervenes only to renew the supply of material upon which the machine works, for example, to insert a new ten-meter spool when the previous one has been consumed. Replacement of the ten-meter spool may take place, for example, once each half hour or each quarter hour. The replacement of the spool is a less purely mechanical task than the placement of the metal piece described above, for at the same time that he feeds it, the workman must check the machine that has been left to its own devices and is about to be left again. The second phase in modem labor, then, is to control and schedule the work of the machine, intervening only when the machine jams, or breaks down, or produces defective pieces.


2) Machinisme and aesthetics

We cannot say that factory work has been transformed to a truly human calling, promoting intellectual and moral progress for the individual, but there is certainly a favorable tendency. The machine of 1955 is less frightening, less brutalizing, less exhausting than the machine of 1900. This can be seen even in its external appearance. The machine of 1900 was a monster, hideous to see. We need only compare a locomotive of 1900 with a locomotive of 1955, or a motorbus of 1955 with its predecessor of 1920. Similarly, household machinery has assumed a more pleasing appearance. The modern washing machine, enclosed in a shell of white enamel, and fitting very prettily into the laundry or the bathroom, hardly resembles the primitive model of 1925. In fact, we can generally identify the date of a machine by its general appearance. The pre-1910 machine was covered with bristling projections; it was blackish, slimy, oily. It spit oil and fumes. It made a frightful noise for a relatively feeble output of power. By contrast, the modern machine gives an impression of force, of equilibrium, of sobriety, and of precision. It awakes sentiments of admiration and confidence.

The 1900 machine did not seem pretty to the men of 1900. Why then does a modem machine look beautiful to us? In my opinion, it is better adapted to man, and man understands it better, considering it almost as a friend. The impression of beauty is, in good measure, the intuition of a harmony between man and nature. What we call a lovely countryside is essentially a human countryside, a landscape in which men feel that it is possible to live, or feel that other men have been able to live, to act, and to develop their personalities. In order to find a machine lovely, it must give somewhat the impression of being a faithful assistant whose employment, far from debasing the man who uses it, can even exalt him.


3) Machinisme, Productivity, and Individuality

The evolution of the machine has certain consequences that are even more important. Not only may we hope that with the passage of time the machine will become less brutal and easier for the workman and more beautiful and intellectually stimulating for the user, but as economic development proceeds, we may hope that the number of men engaged in serving machines in the servile industrial occupations will no longer tend to increase.

In the course of the long period of contemporary economic development, it was often thought that the future would bring the complete triumph of the machine. As technical progress proceeded, the countryside would be depopulated and the factories more densely crowded. Occupational evolution would transform every man into a factory worker and make all of us slaves of the machine. It is hardly possible to grasp the dolorous effect of this notion among the novelists and the writers of science fiction.

We know today that the real tendency of the world is very different. We note that, beyond a certain point, there is a tendency for the "secondary" population to level off and that this leveling should normally be followed, given the nature of technical progress, by a decrease. We realize that the sector which finally benefits from occupational evolution is not the secondary but the tertiary. This occurs because the machine increases productivity and is finally able to satisfy consumption needs with a reduced number of workmen.

Thus the labor force leaves the secondary sector, leaves the factory, and moves into the tertiary occupations that by definition are those of individual initiative, unaffected by the determinism of the machine. So technical progress gradually transforms the occupational structure. It moves men from agriculture towards the no mechanical occupations.

In these occupations, which by definition are technically unprogressive, the assembly line has no efficacy. As a matter of fact, when a new discovery in a tertiary activity permits assembly line production, there has been technical progress, and the occupation becomes secondary. In a field which has become secondary and involves mass production, the needs of consumption can be satisfied after a certain lapse of time with a smaller and smaller number of workers. By contrast, wherever there is no mass production, wherever mechanical energy cannot be used on a large scale, the productivity of labor is hardly greater than it was a hundred years ago and a growing demand can only be satisfied by a larger number of workers.

The typical activity of the man of our future civilization (like the present 50 per cent of the citizens of the United States or 30 per cent of the French - which is by no means negligible - or 45 per cent of the English or 20 per cent of the Russians) will be an occupation not much affected by technical progress. The general conditions of labor will not be very different from those prevailing in the world before the industrial revolution. They will differ, obviously, by the fact that the work place is no longer rural. But the methods of work will not be very different, because individual initiative will be required. The barber will work 50 years from now much as he worked 200 years ago. The substitution of the electric clipper for the scissors will not change the intellectual climate of his work. In the same way, the lawyer, the notary, the teacher, the pupil - for being a pupil is also an occupation - will work, at least in the near future, as they do now and as they did in the past.

Of course, this is only a general tendency. We cannot say that the general conditions of work in the year 2050 will be identical with those of 1700, but I am sure that they will not be as different as they are usually described and as might have plausibly been supposed when the civilization of the future seemed destined to be a secondary civilization. The fact that it will be a tertiary civilization confers new importance on the methods of individual work and on human relations, which have been familiar since time immemorial. What may take place in remoter centuries of the future is still impossible to describe.



Another very important factor in a comparison of the modern style of life with an earlier style of life is the duration of work. Even very strenuous and inhuman labor becomes supportable if it does not exceed a few hours a day.

It is obvious that our progress in this regard is already notable. I have presented some information on the traditional duration of work and on recent developments in La Civilisation de I975. This is an extremely important topic that, so far as I know, is not thoroughly treated in any book. Meanwhile, most of us have lost all memory of the traditional duration of work.


The traditional duration of work

Annual work schedules of the order of 3,500 to 4,000 hours were common until the end of the nineteenth century. These work schedules were first established in agriculture. They were simply transposed into industry. Originally, working time in industry was based upon the customary duration of work in agriculture[2].

However, there was an important difference. In the country, the schedule of 3,500 to 4,000 hours per years was accomplished to a very special rhythm. They worked, in fact, much more during the summer than the winter. There was a peak period in the summer at the time of the harvests, and a considerable slowdown in the winter. In sum, the 4,000 hours were actually worked, but at a rhythm that suited the human animal. The human animal - like other animals, incidentallyis better suited to work intensively at certain times with long rests in between, than to work regularly 12 hours a day for 300 days the whole length of the year. The traditional rhythm, regulated by the seasons, was better adapted to man than any mathematical regularity.

Moreover, agricultural work is the work of a free man, and this was even more so formerly than now. The worker is master of his own rhythm. He can chat with his neighbors, drink when he is thirsty, approach the road when a pretty girl passes - nothing of the assembly line, nothing of the automatic and coercive character of modern labor.

Thus the rhythm of 3,500 to 4,000 hours per year probably could not have been permanently sustained by humanity in the great industrial centers. Nevertheless, it was adopted and remained in use in Europe until about 1900.

This harsh era, in spite of being so close to us, is almost forgotten. I cite here a text which I cannot read without a painful reaction. These are the first pages of a popular text, much used in the elementary grades until 1914. The edition cited is of 1898. It shows the spirit of classical social literature only little more than a half century ago[3].

Francinet enters his apprenticeship. One Friday, early in the morning, young Francinet, in the company of his godfather Jacques, made his entrance as apprentice in the great textile factory directed by M. Clertan.

The gate was located just opposite Francinet's home. There was only the street to cross. Often before this day, Francinet and his little brother Eugene, seated on a fence near their house, amused themselves by watching M. Clertan's mansion. When a servant opened the double gate to let the master's carriage pass, the two urchins were able to inspect the great sandy court, planted with trees. In the middle a pretty lawn described an oval with a bank of flowers at each end. At the end, the high walls covered with climbing plants made a green horizon which satisfied the eye. More than once the two children had wished for a closer view of these pretty things as well as the interior of the factory from which the sound of work and machinery could be heard all day.

On that day, Francinet followed Father Jacques nervously along the path which surrounded the lawn. After having crossed the court, they entered a rather dark corridor which led to the dyeing shops where Francinet was going to be employed. His work would consist of turning the indigo mill. The room where the mill was located was a sort of dark cave. A single small window admitted light from the entry court, but it was masked by a curtain of ivy. However, the curtain was not thick enough to prevent a view of what went on in the court.

Certainly Francinet's work place was not gay or pleasant, but the child, already used to a dark, poor and sad house, hardly noticed this at first. Following the instructions of Father Jacques, he sat himself down on a small plank at the back of the cave and began to turn the mill courageously. It was not so difficult and it required more patience than force. Once started, the mill ran without great effort. Father Jacques let Francinet alone and went to attend to something else. Our little worker did not remain unsupervised, however. Just above his mill there was a large square opening giving onto the next room where there were other workers. From time to time, the foremen came to see what the child was doing.

The first half hour did not seem very long to Francinet. He thought of his dead father; he remembered the words which his mother had spoken more than once: "You are the oldest of the boys, you must behave, because you will later be the head of the family." Francinet, who had a good heart, felt proud to be helping his mother to earn their daily bread; and he had reason to be so, for it is a great and fine thing to work for your family and so to return to your parents part of what they have given you...

At 8:00, the owner of the establishment, M. Clertan, appeared. He was a tall, old man - dry, lively, alert, with an eye on everything. He carried out a sort of inspection of the factory from high to low, encouraging some, scolding others, noticing the smallest omissions, just as a good master should do. Finally, he entered the cave where Francinet was. Father Jacques was also there.

"Come here, little one," said M. Clertan in a sharp tone. The child approached, hat in hand. "How old are you?" "Nine years old, sir." "Can you read?" "Not much, sir." "You would be better off at school than here, my boy." Francinet bowed his head. "The mother is a widow, M. Clertan," said Father Jacques, "she has three children and before teaching them to read she must keep them alive." "That's true," said the old man. "What is your name, my little man?" "Francinet, sir, at your service." "Very well François, Francinet, you must work courageously. If we are satisfied with you, your pay will be raised, but if you are a lazy one, we shall send you away

Francinet had not been used to sustained work, because his mother never had the time to supervise him. The widow Roullin left for her work at 7:00 in the morning. She did not return until evening, sometimes very late. Francinet and his little brother, always alone, wandered in the street outside of class hours. One can see how difficult steady work must have been for Francinet. Nothing, truly, is more difficult than to escape from a settled habit, and it is for that reason that we must form only good ones. It did no good for Francinet to resist the desire to leave his work.

He finished by forgetting the task which was assigned to him, left his mill, and consoled himself for not being able to play by at least watching M. Clertan's daughter play a few paces away. Francinet had been there for only five minutes when a harsh voice shouted at him. "So now, lazy bones, this is the way that you earn the day's pay that you'll get tomorrow?" The shame-faced boy returned to his mill, hardly daring to look at the severe expression of the foreman who had just scolded him... When 9:00 sounded, all of the workers stopped work and removed their aprons. They washed their faces and hands in the river which ran alongside the factory, then they crossed the fine sanded court of M. Clertan and went home for lunch...

When the workers were gone, Aimée, the daughter of M. Clertan, picked up her book again. She read with close attention because she had a lesson to learn by heart. The book which she studied was the Bible...

However, it was getting later in the evening. Aimée would have liked to return because she was anxious for a reconciliation with Francinet. But M. Clertan, who had important business at his farm, had ordered the farmer's wife to prepare dinner for them, so that it was 8:00 in the evening when the carriage of M. Clertan brought him home. The workers had just left.

...9:00 sounded. The silence was so complete in M. Clertan's house that Aimée could count each stroke of the great clock. Then the clock itself fell silent and Aimée heard nothing more. But a moment later, a small dull noise caught her attention. It was like a steady ticking coming up out of the ground. Aimée thought suddenly of Francinet, because this sound resembled that of his mill. As the little girl's room was above his cellar, it was not surprising that she heard it. "But," said Aimee to herself, "Francinet is still up? Grandfather does not usually let the children stay up. The work must be very pressing. Poor Francinet..."

And little Aimée, joining her hands together, began to repeat in a sweet voice the beautiful prayer of Our Father. Francinet responded in his turn. They were there, both of them, on their knees next to one another on the sand of the cave: The one, poor, dressed in rags; the other, rich, dressed in silk muslin; but their two equally young little voices, equally pure, united fraternally to address God by the same name, Our Father.

When the prayer was finished, Aimee rose, "Goodnight, Francinet," she said, "Now I can sleep without remorse. Until tomorrow."

One hour later, the overtime was finished, the doors shut, and all the world asleep in M. Clertan's house. "


The reduction in the duration of work

The reduction in the duration of work began in the United States because of the weakness of traditions there and the very strong pressure created by the intensity of industrial effort. The 60 hour week was quite usual in the United States after 1860; it did not become so in Europe until 1900.

At the beginning of the movement, the reduction of the duration of work was determined by the agreeableness of the occupation. In the industries which were least fatiguing and closest to agricultural labor, the long working day was preserved longer. There were many examples on the railroads, where the work of a section hand or the station agent at a little country station takes place virtually under traditional conditions. By contrast, the work of locomotive engineers, mechanics and so forth is quite different and the reduction in the duration of work began with them.


However, after a time, the reduction in the hours of work came to be considered in political rather than economic terms. The working classes, without understanding very well that they were sacrificing the level of living to the style of life, and the length of schooling for children to adult leisure, demanded a general reduction of the duration of work. From the standpoint of most militant workers, the reduction of the duration of work appeared as a victory of the working class over the managerial class, as if it had involved a curtailment of profits or rents. On the contrary, the general reduction in the duration of work, by reducing the total national product, necessarily diminished the quantity of goods disposable, and increased the incidence of scarcity and, consequently, the profits and privileges of acquired wealth. Whatever the economic system of a country, whether collectivist or capitalist, a reduction in the duration of work has the same effect upon consumption as a reduction of productivity. If the average productivity of a nation is p, and the level of living is L, and the duration of work is reduced from 2,000 to 1,800 hours per year, the level of living then becomes:

n’ = (1800/2000) n

The same value which would be obtained if p were reduced by ten percent. In fact, in both cases, the national product is reduced by ten per cent. We see, therefore, that there were childish and dangerous elements in the policy promoted, albeit in good faith, by the International Labor Office between 1920 and 1939. This policy aimed at obtaining, by legislative enactment, the same duration of work in all the countries of the world. In political and social terms, this equalization appeared necessary and easy. The I.L.O. did not realize that it was impossible or harmful because of existing differences of productivity among the nations. Equalization involved invisible sacrifices for the working classes of those countries with low productivity, which were much greater than the visible advantages obtained by the increase of leisure. Thus, by adopting the same standards as the United States, after 1920, France held down the level of living of its inhabitants, and also ceased to modernize its industry. It is obvious that if the length of the work week in France had been maintained at 50 hours from 1920 to 1939, as it was from 1900 to 1920, World War II would have been avoided, because French industrial power would have been sufficient to discourage the Nazis' ideas of revenge.

Moreover, this working effort would soon have given the people of France an industrial machine whose productivity, instead of stagnating, would have doubled in twenty years. By working as much as, but not more than, the generation before it, the past generation could have increased its level of living, avoided a war, and left to the present generation a standard of productivity such that it would now be possible to reduce the duration of work to 40 hours while maintaining a level of living worthy of a civilized people - a level of living that we do not yet have, and that, in spite of the current speed of scientific progress, we shall need twenty years to attain.

This example shows very clearly the importance of time in the modern economic scheme. To try to gain time at the wrong time is to lose it, for economic efficiency is closely bound to investments and any premature reduction of the duration of work is made first and foremost at the expense of human and industrial investments. The erring country, badly equipped, leaves the normal route of progress to linger in a backwater of mediocrity.


Duration of work and level of living

Let us sum up in scientific terms: The man who wishes to reduce the duration of his work must realize that this improvement in his style of life can only be realized at the expense of his level of living. He must realize, above all, that if the reduction is premature to the point of interfering with technical modernization, progress will be stopped and the future compromised[4].

Another aspect of the political reduction of the duration of work is that it is accomplished almost uniformly in all the sectors of economic life. From a strictly economic point of view, it would be normal to reduce the duration of work in those industrial occupations in which the work itself is very hard and exhausting. Moreover, this particular reduction would be relatively easy because the productivity of such labor tends to increase. However, working time has been reduced simultaneously in tertiary occupations, those in which there has been practically no change for a hundred and fifty years. We have reduced, for example, the duration of work of office messengers, museum guards, lawyers, and clerks, although practically all of these employees do their jobs under the same conditions as a hundred and fifty years ago. This is not to say that the duration of work should have been kept at 3,000 hours per year for clerks and notaries, but simply to note the economic and social consequences of the practically uniform reduction in the duration of work in occupations subject to very different rates of technical progress.

In those callings that were much affected by technical progress, and where the productivity of labor had increased, the reduction of labor time was achieved without hiring supplementary workers. A part of the gain from technical progress was absorbed in this operation, but the social structure of the occupations involved was not changed. However, in the tertiary occupations, reductions in the duration of work immediately involved either a reduction of output or an increase of personnel. Thus the reduction in the duration of work retarded the depopulation of the secondary sector, and by contrast, increased and hastened the crowding of the tertiary.

Consequently, a reduction in the duration of work without a change in technology, involves not only a reduction in the level of living, but also a redistribution of the labor force. As a further result, it accentuated the disproportionate increase of tertiary prices in relation to secondary prices.

The reduction in the duration of work in the tertiary sector accentuated the natural rise in tertiary prices. This much is easy to understand. Let us suppose, for example, that the duration of work was reduced from 3,000 to 2,000 hours per year in an insurance company. If 300 employees were sufficient with the former working schedule, 450 are probably required now. To house those 450 employees will obviously require larger offices, more desks, more inkwells, more typewriters, more telephones. To service this larger working force, more people will be needed in the payroll department and other services. In consequence, tertiary expenses are appreciably increased whenever the duration of work is reduced.

This phenomenon shows itself in the "overhead" of every enterprise. Since "overhead" is predominantly tertiary, it increases continuously in proportion to direct expense. The reduction in the duration of work hastens this process.

It may appear necessary in the future, if new reductions in the duration of work are desired, not to make them uniform in all occupations. For example, we may be led (as is sometimes done now), to make special reductions in the duration of work in those occupations which remain "servile," in the special sense which, following Marc Bloch, I give to that word: those occupations based on muscular strength and involving strenuous physical labor. Such occupations, like coal mining, have difficulty maintaining their necessary rate of recruitment.

Two important observations should be made concerning the reduction of the duration of work by general political action. The first is that the laws and decrees limiting working hours have, by custom and the force of circumstances, been badly and belatedly applied to agriculture. We are thus led to the economic paradox that the reduction in the duration of work has been more noticeable in the tertiary than in the primary. The level of living of the cities has increased to the detriment of that of the countryside. The economic crisis of agriculture has been aggravated.


The duration of intellectual work

The second result of statutory limitations on the duration of work has been to equalize the working hours of intellectuals and those of manual workers. The traditional assumption was that intellectual work could not exceed seven or eight hours per day if it was to be efficient. The length of vacations in the courts, the ministries, and administrative agencies, was much the same in the traditional epoch as it is today. Working time was limited in the winter by the absence of efficient lighting and heating, in the summer by the motive of allowing the intellectual worker "vacations for reflection." Thus, in England, high functionaries still have two months of vacation per year. In France, only judges and professors have preserved certain remnants of these customs. The present situation is that the director of a ministry in France works 3,000 to 3,500 hours per year, and his office messenger 2,500. (The situation was reversed in 1800.) This arises from the fact that the high functionary always works more than the required schedule. Eventually, it is felt that a director who doesn't pass 60 hours a week in his office is not doing his duty. The situation is almost the same in private business. As a result, the effectiveness of public and private administration in France cannot compare to what it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Top executives, absorbed in bothersome minor tasks, are no longer in control of their affairs. We have arrived at that disastrous situation described by Sauvy in Le Pouvoir Et L'Opinion, where the high official no longer has time to think. The machinery collapses and futile chores accumulate around the wreckage. We have forgotten that the essential function of the executive is to plan and organize for the long run, and that to do this well, he must have the same conditions for reflective thought as the man of science reviewing his experiments.

In giving our major administrators the tasks of bureaucrats, we have paralyzed the progress of administration. Here as everywhere, an hour of creative work may save hundreds or thousands of hours of application. If the labor of creation is suppressed, it is certain that the efficiency of the labor of application will suffer.


It is very likely that the near future will see the great hope implicit in the reduction of the duration of work better utilized than in the past. Those laborers whose physical or intellectual work is the most unpleasant will be relieved. Special care will be taken to provide time for thought, by giving sufficient leisure for reflection to the rare workers who are capable of new ideas.

I have discussed in Le Grand Espoir du XXeSiècle the reasons why it is probable that the era of great general reduction in the duration of work is now finished in Europe and in our generation. Only a few countries, by the way, would dare any large scale experimentation today.

The scarcity of tertiary services is making itself felt in the most advanced countries - services demanded by the population in the form of commerce, transportation, housing, medical treatment, instruction, personal care and so forth - services that are required by civilization itself. The more complicated civilization becomes, the more the effects of technical progress are felt, the more need there is for coordination and interconnection among enterprises and collectivities of all kinds. Technical, political, or economic action increasingly involves great numbers of men and can only be effective through their rational collaboration in a common effort. This implies good communication, a continuous process of integration, and scientific research, all of which involve an inevitable complexity of public and private administration.

This growing complexity cause and consequence, price and reward of technical progress, may be observed everywhere in the world, as well in the United States as in the Soviet Union. In spite of automation and cybernetics, it marks a limit or at least sets a brake to the improvement of the productivity of labor and, in consequence, to the improvement of the level of living and of social conditions. It is not possible to resolve these administrative problems rapidly. The solutions must be found and put into operation gradually. The scarcity of tertiary services will long maintain the concomitant restraints of labor and scarcity that have traditionally framed human life the work necessary for production, the earnings necessary for distribution[5].



The trend to the reduction of the duration of work has doubled the leisure time of adults in Europe and tripled it in the United States. To understand this phenomenon clearly, we must remember that the rhythm of the seasons gave leisure in the traditional epoch a very different character than it has today. The absence of light and the inadequacy of heating, the excessive labor of the spring and summer, gave to the life of the average worker a vegetative quality which can still be observed in the poorest rural areas.

This is not to say that the 1,800 to 2,300 annual hours of leisure now at the disposal of the city worker are used to the best of his capacities and possibilities. We shall have a word to say in the following chapter about the utilization of leisure for intellectual, artistic, moral, and religious development. Yet it cannot be denied that the average man is almost permanently molded at the age of twenty-five. After that age it is difficult for him to adapt himself to new ways of seeing, feeling, or understanding. This is why a man's leisure can only serve to deepen what he has already acquired, and if he has acquired nothing his leisure remains sterile.

Hence it is only the leisure of the young that can be the source of a true civilization. Happily, technical progress has not limited itself to the reduction of the working time of adults. It also reduces the number of years during which a man must deliver himself over to a job. And so the problem of national education is posed in every modern nation.

The educational consequences of these Powerful economic movements are obviously very numerous and very important. Just as it was not possible to treat the problems previously raised in detail, so we cannot here consider this fundamental problem in any profound way. Nevertheless, it is possible to array the facts that appear essential by grouping them into two categories: the increase in the school population on the one hand; the separation that has developed between the French educational system and the real needs of youth, on the other.

The increase in the school population appears, as previously suggested, not as the result of fashion or of transitory impulses, but as a structural phenomenon related to the whole of contemporary economic evolution. This increase results directly from the rise in the average level of living and from the reduction of the duration of work necessary for a given national production. It is thus a direct consequence of technical progress, and will continue as long. Since it is certain that technical progress is still going on, the educational boom is nowhere near its peak. It shows no signs of exhaustion in the United States even though four out of five adolescents receive secondary instruction there, as against one out of five in France[7].

We must suppose that economic conditions will lead, within the next 15 to 20 years, to the quadrupling of the school population of the French lyes and a quadrupling of the population of the universities. However, this movement will lead France no further than the present position of the United States.

The number of students reaching the baccalaureate in Sweden was 434 in 1866. This is a low number. The baccalaureate is more difficult in Sweden than in France. It is usually attained at about the age of twenty there, and at about seventeen in France. Our object is not to make comparisons between the Swedish and the French systems, but to follow the evolution of each country separately. In 1866 then, there were 434 graduates; in 1939 there were 3,713, ten times as many. The school-age population had not varied in the same proportion. There were 377,000 persons between 15 and 20 years of age in 1870, and only 550,000 in 1939. The size of the school population had increased from 1 to 1.4, while the number achieving the baccalaureate had jumped in the ratio 1 to 9. The same general rule applies to the universities: more people attended school and they remained at school a longer time, since the number of students in higher education increased by a factor of 5.5.

Sweden has been taken only as an example. It is common knowledge that the same sort of development has occurred in all of the industrialized countries.

France does not make a very favorable showing. Since 1900, the teaching professions in the United States have seen their numbers more than doubled. They have remained unchanged in France. Moreover, the average age for the termination of schooling is approximately 17 years in the United States against 14 years and 9 months in France. The number of young people in active attendance in higher education, which was 10 to 15 per thousand of the adolescent population in 1880, now reaches 160 in the United States, 50 in France.

The only obstacles which might oppose this movement would be a sudden arrest of technical progress, which is un-likely, or grave political disasters such as wars, revolutions, the isolation or blockade of continents.

It would be criminal to retard this evolution, either by deliberately sacrificing our children to the premature reduction of the annual duration of work of adults, or, as is actually done today, by examinations which debar children of eleven from secondary and higher education. The real problem is not how to select the elite and to reject the others. It is rather to welcome and to educate, each according to his capacity, the hundreds of thousands of children and young people whom technical progress has liberated from physical labor. It must be recognized that the civilization of 1975 will include the opportunity of secondary education for the entire population. Either technical progress will be erased, or the average age of beginning work, which was nine years in 1830 and which is 14.9 years now, will be advanced to 17 by normal economic determinism.

It is already possible to note the appearance, happily still inconspicuous, of an idle adolescent population whose parents cannot send them to the lycée but do not yet wish to send them to work. A quota policy in education would increase these bitter fruits.

Although the civilization of tomorrow will have 25 percent of its young people reaching the level of higher education and profiting from its advantages, this does not mean that they will all become ambassadors or university professors. Most of them will be farmers, merchants, garagists, construction superintendents, barbers, photographers. People with degrees will be found in every modest employment. Nonetheless, they will be cultivated and civilized men.

Such is the problem to be resolved - not to deform young people by disciplines which are inappropriate for the life which most of them will lead, not to consider education as a kind of machine which selects recruits for a ruling group and rejects the great majority to outer darkness, but on the contrary, to construct an educational system that welcomes all young people, however modest their capacities and ambitions may be, and urges each one as far as he can go without discouragement.


This program implies a great extension of the material resources of today's educational system. More schools, more teachers, more money will be needed. It is not a question of making education obligatory, but of creating sufficient means to satisfy the natural demand. Two hours more of weekly work in industry and commerce is an extra year of schooling for each of our children.

This program also implies a change in the spirit of education. A greater and greater gap appears between what one learns at school and what one must do in life, between what the teacher talks about and what the father talks about. The classic French education is the heritage of our great seventeenth century. It is largely oriented to the shaping of the gentleman, for whom work is less important than talking of Euripides or Racine in the parlors of beautiful women. To this core, there has been hastily and reluctantly added some hasty summaries of what people like Descartes, Napoléon, Ampère, Newton and Einstein were or did. We are thus led, more or less consciously, to that self-image that the gentleman develops by accumulating a large store of miscellaneous information. From insufficiency and mediocrity, we expect a fruitful synthesis. Our average secondary school graduate, poor or mediocre in geometry, in arithmetic, in algebra, in ancient history and modern history, in geography, in physics and chemistry, in Latin verse, in English, in Greek, in French grammar, in literature, in the history of art, in geology, in natural science, in cosmography, has neither the scientific spirit nor the literary spirit. He has not grasped any of the fundamental ideas that make up human progress and dominate daily life - the scientific method and the moral tradition. Hence, this nervous, unquiet and skeptical generation. Who can resist the fragmentary and proliferative education that requires so much money and so little initiative? Each year I see the best minds nearly overwhelmed by it.

It would be better to give our children an education that is not general in the sense of involving familiarity with a great number of facts, but general in the sense of facilitating the knowledge of those facts which they will meet again and again in the course of their lives. It is not a question of learning a little bit of everything, but of preparing to live by making the acquaintance of the fundamental facts of the contemporary world.

In this contemporary world, economic facts take on increasing importance. They are at the base of many political and social movements. They constitute the essential material of the working life of executives and many other tertiary workers. It is inconceivable under these conditions that economics can rest entirely outside the curriculum. Nonetheless, in most countries, and especially in France and the other Latin countries, the essential facts of labor force distribution, of the business cycle, of unemployment, of the level of living and the purchasing power of wages, of technical progress - all of the facts discussed in the present work - are overlooked in primary and secondary education and just barely mentioned in a few centers of higher education.

Still, if technical progress is a cause of the increase of the school population, it must be recognized that it is also a result.

Technical progress permits popular education, but popular education is necessary for the pursuit of progress. Not only does the gradual abolition of physical work permit the increasing utilization of intellectual talent, but more specifically, the development of the tertiary sector requires that an increasing number of workers be introduced to the essential mechanisms of economic life.


Contemporary economic civilization, by freeing youth from the servile labor formerly necessary to insure subsistence, opens to increasing masses of men and women the material possibility of receiving secondary and advanced education. This essential fact is the hope of future civilization.

The duty of our generation is to wait, before electing any new reductions in the length of the adult work day, until the terminal age of schooling for our children has been raised to eighteen or twenty[8].

[1]. Machinisme et Humanisme: Vol. I., La crise du progrès; Vol. II., Problemes· humains du machinisme industriel (American edition, Industrial Society [Glencoe,Illinois: The Free Press, 1955]).

[2] For numerical and statistical data on the duration of work, see the corresponding chapter of La Civilisation de 1975. Intellectual work (administration, teaching, etc.) formerly benefited from special privileges.

The working day of 13 to 15 hours, with 1.5 to 2 hours off for lunch (therefore 11.5 to 13 hours of actual work) was common before 1860 in the factories of the north and east of France. More detailed information on this important subject can be found in Villermé, Tableau de l'état physique et moral des ouvriers, 1840,Vol. I ; Reybaud, Les populations ouvrières et les industries de la France (1860); and Audiganne, La condition des ouvriers en soie (1859). The latter gives the hours of work at the unbelievable figure of 17 hours a day. Paul Louis (Histoire de la classe ouvrière en France), in a perfectly matter-of-fact manner, describes the situation before 1860 thus:

At Mulhouse, the shop opens at five in the morning and closes at eight or nine in the evening. The day is thus 15 hours long, with a break of an hour and a half for lunch. At Thann and Wesserling, the conditions are identical; at Bischwiller, the working day is 16 hours. At Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, the day is 14 hours with a break of an hour and a half. At St. Quentin, the working day is from 14 to 15 hours, without counting travel time to work. At Rouen, 15 to 15 and a half hours constitutes the normal day, with an hour and a half for lunch. The weavers put in 17 hours. At Tarare, they have a 13 to 14 hours working day, with 12 hours of actual work. (This is the minimum for this era.)

At Reims, the workers are held under orders for 14 hours, the actual work day being 12 and a half hours. At Sedan the clothing workers, work up to 14 hours a day.

[3] G. Bruno, Principes élémentaires de morale, d'économie politique. Francinet (Paris: Librairie classique Eugene Belin, 1898), p. 1 ff.

[4] The C.1.0. has undertaken a campaign for the 30 hour week. But what is good for the United States is not necessarily good for other countries. In my opinion, in a country where schooling stops at the age of 14, the work week cannot and should not be reduced.

[5] I cannot sketch here a theory of the relationship between wage differentials and the productivity of work. From the purely economic point of view, a salary appears as a ration ticket which gives the right in periods of scarcity, to a part of the total production, proportionally equivalent to the individual salary. As early as 1925, Reboud proposed a remarkable theory of wages which should have opened the way to larger developments. As long as scarcity exists, that is, as long as production remains insufficient to satisfy potential demand, a system of rationing must be maintained. The wage level has resisted control, no matter what the political regime.

[6] Cf. Our articles in L’éducation Nationale, Dec. 8, 1949, and in the Cahiers pédagogiques pour l'enseignement du second degré, Jan. 1, 1950.

[7] La Civilisation de 1975, p. 22. The ratio increases each year.

[8] The superior intellectual development and manners of the aristocracy of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were due to their education and that of their predecessors. It is reasonable to think that if a majority of the young received a university education, the artistic and intellectual life of a society would greatly improve. In contrast to the eighteenth century, when 2 per cent of the population was educated, true civilization would be extended to a larger and larger proportion of the people. However, it would be necessary to know more than we do now about the distribution of talent. In the poor societies of the past, economic inequalities have been preponderant; in the society of the future the risk will be that of intellectual inequalities.