The Corpus Callosum

In Praise of Idleness

Some things never change.  These are words from the remarkable Bertrand Russell, from 1932:

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend
them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the
public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment
for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his
money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in
Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical
habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends
his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even
if he spent it in drink or gambling.

Although he has a lighthearded tone here, he is in fact entirely
serious.  This is evident from reading his other works. 

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when
savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises
succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these
days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means
that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to
producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing
machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone.

It is true that most enterprises fail.  I think of this whenever I
hear that government should be run like a business. 


I suppose I don’t know this for sure, but I do recall learning in high
school business class that something like 75% of businesses are closed
within three years.  Why would you chose as a model, something
that fails more often than not?   Perhaps one should say that
the correct model is not business per se, but successful business.  Surely, any true Scotsman would say so.

Go ahead and read the entire thing.  It is hilarious, especially
if you happen to be afflicted with the incurable form of logical
positivism. 

One final excerpt, just to show that some things really don’t change:

First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first,
altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface
relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so.
The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and
highly paid. The second kind is capable of indefinite extension: there
are not only those who give orders, but those who give advice as to
what orders should be given. Usually two opposite kinds of advice are
given simultaneously by two organized bodies of men; this is called
politics. The skill required for this kind of work is not knowledge of
the subjects as to which advice is given, but knowledge of the art of
persuasive speaking and writing, i.e. of advertising.

Nowadays we would call it lobbying, but that is really just a
specialized form of advertising.  The other thing is that it is no
longer just men who do this.  Women have gotten into the game,
too.