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Guenther Moewes | Labor, Society, Ecology


1. All work that converts material and energy produces physically so-called “entropy”: according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, work constantly transfers material and energy to an eternal, irreversible unavailability. All work that expends material and energy irreversibly consumes the world. With the coming of industrialization, this consumption took on historically threatening dimensions.

2. At the same time, industrialization is humanity’s great millennial dream: millennia have almost fevered for this moment. Over the course of history, billions of slaves to labor, sweating and bleeding, have dreamed of the machines that would one day relieve them of their work and earn the money for them. All pre-industrial architecture is a singular dream of industrialization: the dream of symphonies of the serial, the cascades of identical columns, capitals, and pinnacles. For millennia, builders have tried to simulate this music of mechanical production, the constant reproduction of fully identical parts, with highly inadequate craftsman’s tools.

3. When finally the great hour of industrialization arrived, the millennial dream suddenly turned into its opposite. The preindustrial architectural music of the serial became the idiocy of washed concrete boxes, prefab construction, and monotonous urbanism. The millennial dream of liberating humanity from work became the scourge of unemployment, the new slavery of the employment state, reemployment measures, and Taylorism.

4. Today, things have gone so far that business owners who delegate human labor to machines are branded irresponsible. Although for the last forty years the liberation of man from labor—today called “unemployment”—has never been in decline over a significant period, politicians and economists refuse to accept this. Although the “departure from the labor society” fills entire bookshelves, and in 1981 was even the subject of a bill introduced before the German Parliament, they still today promise “the immanent turn on the labor market.” They desperately attempt to create work by continuing on and on to produce entropy, wasting resources, destroying the environment, and fighting wars. Because of the inevitable failure of these attempts, governments are toppled and will continue to topple.

5. How has this all come to be? Already with his cynically termed “social legislation,” Bismarck insisted that workers should take care of their own insurance against the results of industrialization, so that the side of capital, undisturbed, could harvest the fruits of industrialization. This principle of the effortless accumulation of capital has today been developed to a level of unimagined perfection, from compound interest, stocks, and profits to “private equity” and the “hedge fund.”

6. By way of compound interest and the compulsion to grow, this system is “exponential”: wealth and poverty, private fortunes and government deficits, resource waste and environmental destruction: as in G¸nter Jauch’s “profit table,” it all doubles with the passing of each temporal interval. And each step is as large as all proceeding steps put together.

7. But effortless capital accumulation is itself never value creation. It must instead always be created first by “labor” executed by man or machine. Now we see why the mathematical law of exponentials must constantly produce physical entropy: if only for reasons of self-preservation, effortless capital accumulation must prevent the “liberation of man from labor” at any price. It can only continue to exist if it relies on eternal labor creation, be it in Gameboys, camera phones, or Playstation, or resource waste, environmental destruction, or war. It is also evident where a system where capital accumulation is better paid than social labor will lead. Before the court of history, compound interest, compulsory growth, state debt, and labor creation will someday play the same fateful role as pre-World War I nationalism: also something people once fanatically believed in.

These thoughts are explored extensively in the following two books:

Moewes, Guenther: Weder Huetten noch Palaeste. Architektur und Oekologie in der Arbeitsgesellschaft. Birkhaeuser, Basel, Boston, Berlin 1995

Moewes, Guenther: Geld oder Leben. Umdenken und unsere Zukunft nachhaltig sichern. Signum-Wirtschaftsverlag, Muenchen, Wien 2005

// Octocer 2006
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