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By the way means that we now have a military budget of 70 billion dollars a year that's GNP. Do we mean that we are producing today a billion a billion cigarettes a year. That's part of GNP. What do you mean when you say that gross national product is going up. This means in and of itself it means nothing unless you relate it to the quality of the world. In what respect. As the society grows and as a matter of fact a very distinguished economist Dr. John Robinson of Cambridge University has pointed out that the preoccupation with gross national product both in Britain and the United States serves actually a most unfortunate social purpose. Namely that it tends to divert public attention from the direction in which growth is perceived. We have made a fantastic fetish of GNP without realizing what it is that we're talking about. And if you will look
at an issue of Business Week of September 30th of this year you will find a very interesting special supplement on growth in the economy and kind of where the game is growth. And if you read the supplement very carefully you will discover that today has become an end in itself so far as American business is concerned. We've had fourteen hundred mergers in the first six months of this year. No real reason cited for these mergers other than the fact that the general economic environment has become so dangerous as seen by certain businesses that they want to seek shelter by joining some larger businesses aggregate. And so we're getting these fantastic conglomerates. It was a common company that manufactures a machine tools in the Middle Western
community also owns a chain of beauty parlors in California not to mention maybe a chain of restaurants in the Rocky Mountain region etc. etc. conglomeration for the sake of building a larger and larger joints in a vain attempt to derive some security out of magnifying the unit of organization to which one is related as a business. And this prompted the Wall Street Journal recently to suggest this tendency to suggest that it all may end up almost in terms of Edward Bellamy had in mind. It may end up with the formation sometimes of a company with some such grandiose title as American International consolidated everything incorporated and which everything would be part of one giant corporate complex. Now there's no reason for this. This is just for the sake of growth. It's a mindless
kind of growth and any good growth without any relation to economic efficiency without any relation to social consequences. Just for the sake of growth and I want to call your attention to the fact that we're so obsessed with the idea that the economy must grow because you know you're told every day that if it doesn't that nothing that stands still can live and you're told that it must grow in order to be viable. But a moment's reflection would cast some very serious doubts upon this because of the economists tell us that over a period of say the last decade about 14 percent or more of what we commonly believed was an increase in gross national product represents nothing more than the inflation that has taken place over the last decade. So it can't really measure growth because all it's measuring is just an
inflation. To that extent. Now growth would be a desirable objective for an underdeveloped society an underdeveloped society must show economic growth. We are not an instant society. We are not an underdeveloped society. Also as a gun to social policy might be justified if we you and the seller wrote index in the American economy to help the underdeveloped part of the world. But exactly the converse is the case. The richer the developed countries become and this is the law of our time. The richer the developed countries become the less they spend on economic aid to the underdeveloped countries. The United States by all odds the richest country in the world today now ranks about mine among the nations of the
world in terms of the percentage of gross national product that it allocates to the underdeveloped areas of the world. We spend a fantastic sum of money for military expenditures in the United States. We spend less than 1 percent less than one percent of GNP in terms of economic aid to the rest of the country. Now the situation is really much worse. It is really much harsher than I've indicated because the truth of the matter is that much of our current prosperity in the United States today is due to the way in which we actually exploit the underdeveloped areas of the world. Consider for example this report which is in the report of the Department of Commerce it says that between 1950 and 1965 the United States put something like nine billion dollars of investment funds into
underdeveloped countries while at the same time it withdrew all their flow into the United States. Twenty five point six billion dollars of profit capital from the same countries for a net inflow from the underdeveloped countries to the United States over this period of time of something like sixteen point six billion dollars. So we don't use growth. We simply do not use growth to aid the rest of the world. The richer we grow the less we spend in this direction. And you can justify economic growth economic growth if we use that or a large percentage of it to deal with social problems in this country. Even if we were reluctant to deal with the larger problem of the underdeveloped areas of the world the fact of the matter is that neither in Great Britain nor in this country has any
substantial proportion of the growth of the general economy been redirected towards the relief of the conditions of the really poor. In both these societies Richard Thomas and civilian studies in the British economy have shown that this is simply not true that for all of the welfare state in Great Britain etc. the real poor in Britain are as poor or poorer than they were before the welfare state. And Robert Lampman studies in this country show exactly the same thing. So the general rationale that is offered to us for economic growth is in my opinion simply not sustained by the facts. It would be growth for the sake of growth. It would be a viable objective in an underdeveloped country. It is not a viable objective in a developed country. It would be a viable objective here if we use that to help the
underdeveloped course of the world. We don't use it for any such purpose nor do we use it to relieve acute long standing poverty in this country. Now the third institutional inadequacy that I referred to is the mystique of money. We measure everything in terms of money and at one time perhaps this was an adequate guide. But it is long since ceased to be an adequate guide to social policy. And let me try and explain why. Today we say that in terms of the health of the economy we must produce and sell 9 million new cars. Concentration on the sale of nine million new cars leads to a myopic single purpose type of social planning. That is to say plan for highways we plan
for bridges with plan for those things that will facilitate the movement of automobiles around the country etc. because we must produce 9 million new cars per year. But recently the planning section of the city of San Francisco made a very detailed study and this study comes up with the astonishing proposition that every new regular commuter car. That crosses the Golden Gate Bridge is coming into San Francisco every new regular car that is where a commuter comes in five days and we regularly cross that bridge into San Francisco in an addition of twenty five thousand dollars to the long term capital expenditures of the city of San Francisco for streets access highways and parking facilities. Now if you made those cars pay what they should pay because they create this
kind of problem. This study indicates that every commuter car should pay $4 a day. That crosses Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco because it would take $4 a day for every new commuter car to advertise this $25000 additional capital cost over a period of time. Now we don't charge these commuters $4 a day or anything like $4 a day so our bookkeeping is wacky. Our bookkeeping measured in terms of dollars and cents makes no sense at all. Or let's consider a related issue. The question of whether we should have a national read board Redwood's part in California. The director of the Bureau of the Budget says that within the budget there's only 60 million dollars that can be spent for the purpose of creating and establishing a permanent national Redwood's Park in California. Now why just 60
million dollars. Why not. Fifty nine million dollars or conversely one hundred million dollars. Or conversely why not 20 million dollars wide just 60 million dollars. How does he arrive at any kind of estimate of this kind. Well the estimate is maybe not in terms of the estimate is made in terms of the restrictions and the budget itself so that this question the question of whether we should have a redwoods park and if so how much of a part is determined by what we're spending on other things. Now 60 million dollars would would would would only represent the cost of a few miles of highway on the highway program that goes uncontested. Everybody seems to think that's a perfectly valid purpose. But how would you recommend the value of a Redwood park in California. How would you determine that in terms of dollars and cents.
The truth of the matter is you can't point to dollars and cents evaluation. And AGAIN and AGAIN And AGAIN in this society we sacrifice values of the most incontestable sort because they cannot be kept alive. We cannot fund them. We cannot measure them in terms of dollars and cents. What is a dollars and cents back of that medal on Fifty third Street that William gave to the city for a little respite a place where you can sit in the middle of the city you enjoy a moment of relaxation. And so what is the value in that how would you capitalize that. How would you reckon the value of that in the cities but has no way of doing it at all. No way of doing it don't consider for example the supersonic transport. There have been studies and studies and studies
about the property damage that a super sonic transport plane would cause it would break so many window panes it would do so much damage to national monuments etc. etc.. But neither in France nor in Great Britain nor in the United States has there been so much as one study of the biological consequences of the supersonic transport. How do you measure the damage in terms of loss of sleep to individuals disruption of sleep lack of quiet lack of privacy. You can measure these bad dollars and cents terms and because they can't be measured in dollars and cents terms they are completely disregarded. They're not reckoned as part of the price that we pay for progress. And I say the price is too high because we buy our present cost accounting methods don't even know what the price is. Listen
to Condit a very brilliant economist at Stanford University talking about why it is that our cost accounting is oh hey why. He says the supply of wilderness areas in the United States is not merely any lasting it is fixed. That is to say you have a fixed supply of wilderness areas in the United States. Actually in the scarcity situation which we face when you have a fixed supply of wilderness areas and it completely in the last think demand for wilderness areas. The value of bonus areas approximates to infinity. Ponder that statement for a moment. Supply wilderness areas completely completely expanding
demand for space for wilderness areas. How much there for is 10 square miles of wilderness area worth. How do you evaluate the evaluated in terms that would be recognized by the Bureau of the budget. You can't so we're trying to apply a monetary scale things that can't be valued evaluated in that way. And the fourth institutional in adequacy that I mentioned is that there is an inherent drive for expansion in American life. Here I don't have time to go into this in any detail. I merely want to call your attention to what I think is one of the most remarkable recent American books a book called The New Empire by Mahler's a favorite book which details how deep seated in American life has been the drive for for expansion the drive for
marketers the drive for raw materials. This is not something that relates just to the America of the last quarter century. Mr. Lefebvre shown that the drive was there a long time back that it was noticeable in the 1840s it became strikingly evident in the 1870s and the 1880s in the 1890s. And he suggests the reason for that as we were developing in the country a surplus particularly And at the outset essentially of agricultural products that we couldn't market at a profit within the domestic economy. So we wanted to get rid of the surplus on that on a larger scale. Therefore we began to expand the power of the United States outside the territorial limits of the United States to farm markets essentially. And initially for agricultural products. And we have been
pursuing that policy ever since. This creates a disposition to ignore our domestic problems to feel that you can always cope with any kind of domestic problem whether it's a race problem or a poverty problem or a problem of congested areas in cities by some further expansion of the United States. The issue of the American market outside the United States. It's like that famous phrase in Huck Finn. Well Huck said that he was always thinking about lighting up for the territory. This is the drive in American life to go somewhere else to avoid the problems of trying to create a real sense of community here in the United States by doing something else by going somewhere else. Currently the fashion forces to go to the moon and to spend it on space exploration et cetera et cetera. But this this deep
seeded historic bronze for expansion as a means of covering up for the failure to have a confrontation with certain longstanding social problems is an aspect of American life that goes very deep indeed. One more book title that I'd like to call your attention to and that's William Appleman Williams book The Great evasion. And what William says that the historic invasion of the American nation has been exactly this. The attempt to find an expansion. The answer to two problems that have been found through confrontation or to put it in his terms the manipulation of nature to avoid confrontation with the human condition and with the challenge of building a true community. Now it is these four institutional in adequacy that in my judgment account for the fact that we are
paying at the present time much too high a price for the civilization that we have that the price will go up unless we do something about it. And that in the near future the price could become could become prohibitive. With this in mind and in for a film of mine promised at the outset what can be done about this. Or as Brecht would say What are the measures to be taken. Well I think first of all we have to dispel these myths. This mystical this mystique that we can measure everything in terms of dollars and cents. This failure to face the fact that we are an expansionist nation and always have been. And this failure to see that we have the kind of video logical vacuum in the American society then I would suggest that we need to
cultivate a sensible system of social cost accounting in this in this country. We need to reckon the incidental cost of technological innovation. Every time a technological innovation is proposed we should ask ourselves how much of that going to cost in ways that are not apparent on the face of the project. We know what it will cost to build a supersonic transport or a model for supersonic transport. But how much of the social costs that we would have to pay if we succeeded in building that transport. These are questions at the present time that go unanswered. Now I think it's very interesting at the present time that there are some people in the Congress in the Senate who realize that this has become a very serious problem and who are groping around for ways and means of coping with it. I would call your attention for example to
Senator Walter Mondale's proposal for a new kind of sofa looking at the standard Mondale of Minnesota wants to try and set up studies in the federal government that would give us some of the double figures on the side of progress. What are the costs of growth. How much are we paying for growth at the present time. Senator Muskie of Maine wants to set up a permanent Senate Committee on technology and science. He wants to know what the indirect costs of technological innovation are. And he wants to set up some means of anticipating the hazards that are implicit in technological advancement. And Representative John Tani of California has introduced a bill that would call for a council of ecological advisors. It
wants the government to be advised about what he calls the ecological backlash. It's an interesting concept. How much see in other words is the cost. Of disregarding the damage being caused by air pollution water pollution traffic congestion noise unnecessary noise in the society and so forth. How do you estimate the namin is to the environment and the quality of the environment by factors of this kind. You can't measure them really in terms of dollars and cents but you can get some wind of the damage that is being caused and you could take some means to minimize that damage. In other words these are measures which if we pursued them might keep the price of progress right might keep that price from becoming prohibitive.
Finally there is in Europe today a very interesting attempt to engage in a science of future forecasting. This last year in Oslo the second annual conference of scientific super forecasters met 70 or 80 distinguished European scientists. Now what they're trying to do is to work out ways and means of anticipating. So far future developments are concerned some of the incidental costs that I've been referring to. We're trying to work out ways and means by which you could not exactly and not scientifically really but better than anything we have at the present time. You could determine some of the future costs of technological innovation and tech ways and
means of coping with them before this injury or this damage has taken place. Finally I want to suggest that we can't cope with the institutional inadequacies of the kind that I've suggested without radical political action. These are institutional faults in American mind. They're not going to remedy themselves. They will have to be remedied by political action and not by conventional political acts. They will have to be remedied by radical political action. Let me quote to you something the JJ plum. Of Cambridge University said and British Spectator July 29. I think this is the best statement of its kind I've seen anywhere he said. Environmental problems get too easily abstracted from social problems and social problems become abstracted from their historic roughs. How can planning work in a
society which has sharp social distinctions due to disparity in wealth as well as disparate differences in color. How can plan work in a society in which profit personal or corporate must be more urgent than control or concert conservation. So long as society is structured as it is there will be slums. No amount of thinking about environment no amount of planning in optimum space and minimal come you know communal facilities can be affected except for the advantages already. That is unless we have political action and that means political action of a radical nature. You heard Carey McWilliams editor of the nation as he spoke on the topic. What price civilization. This was another programme in the series. Peace love and creativity the hope of mankind. On
our next program the speaker will be guest of the Chomsky of the Institute of Psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. Mr. But the subject will be the natural and unnatural violence of mankind. These programs originate at the Cooper Union forum in New York City and are recorded by radio station WNYC. The programs are made available to the station by the national educational radio network.
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Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind
What price civilization?, part two
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features the second part of a lecture by Carey McWilliams, editor, The Nation.
Series Description
This series presents lectures from the 1968 Cooper Union Forum. This forum's theme is Peace, Love, Creativity: The Hope of Mankind.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Speaker: McWilliams, Carey, 1905-1980
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-10-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:27:45
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Chicago: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; What price civilization?, part two,” 1968-03-29, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
MLA: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; What price civilization?, part two.” 1968-03-29. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 23, 2024. <>.
APA: Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; What price civilization?, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from