Thursday, 4 January 2018

The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1932)


The third in Wells's trilogy of Big Synthetic Books (as I like to think of them)—that is, works that aim to synthesize and accessibly re-present everything that is known about a particular topic or field of knowledge. The first was the Outline of History (1920), the second the biological Science of Life (1929-30). The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind was an attempt to consolidate everything that was known about economics, money-theory and social philosophy. You'll see, straight off, that this is a less well-defined subject-category than ‘History’ and ‘Biology’, and it has to be acknowledged that, though Wells laboured long on this volume and had the highest hopes that it would facilitate his ‘Open Conspiracy’ and effect real social change, it had by far the least impact of all three.

It had a troubled gestation. Wells had written The Outline of History pretty much solus, with some assistance from his wife Jane. With The Science of Life he recruited collaborators: Julian Huxley and his son Gip. In that case he was lucky in his co-workers; but with Work, Wealth and Happiness his choices were markedly less felicitous. He initially, in 1928, approached an old acquaintance from his Fabian Society days, Hugh Pembroke Vowles, along with another man called Edmund Cressey. They were offered a flat fee: generous—it seems Vowles was offered £6000—but not the percentage of copyright that Huxley and Gip had received (Wells also seems to have ‘advanced’, or possibly just lent, Vowles £800 up-front; the sum was disputed when the case when to law). Vowles worked for a year or so, before Wells's growing dissatisfaction with what he was producing reached crisis levels. Wells put the whole project on hold, effectively firing Vowles. Then Wells went on holiday. When he returned it was to discover that Vowles had taken his grievance to the Society of Authors (of which organisation Wells was also a member, and which he had supported vigorously through the 1920s and 1930s) and that following their intervention Wells was being sued for breach of contract.

Things got messy. Wells got more and more annoyed. The secretary of the Society of Authors, Herbert Thring, had urged Vowles's to seek legal redress, and Wells, feeling under attack, privately printed a pamphlet to distribute to members of the Society putting his side of the affair: The Problem of the Troublesome Collaborator (1930). This didn't help. Both Vowles and Thring considered themselves libeled by the document, and said a number of disobliging things about Wells. It all made the eventual legal settlement more complex and expensive. In Norman and Jeanne Mackenzie's words, ‘all three principals in the dispute behaved so foolishly that a reasonable agreement had become impossible’ [H G Wells: a Biography (1973), 361].

In the end Wells paid Vowles not the £6000 he demanded, but a substantial portion of it, and agreed to publish a new pamphlet (Settlement of the Trouble Between Mr. Thring and Mr. Wells: A Footnote to The Problem of the Troublesome Collaborator, 1930) retracting some of the things said in the first. Wells junked Vowles's work and, ill and unhappy as he was, for a while the writing of this book fell into desuetude.

But the project was too important to his sense of self to abandon. In H G Wells in Love [142] he says ‘I was disposed to anxiety; I thought my time was drawing to an end, and I was fussily urgent to get on with the scheme of work’ embodied in the book. In fact he wasn't dying. He took his exhaustion and ebbing life-force to a doctor and was diagnosed as diabetic in 1931, after which he responded positively to treatment, and enjoyed a renewed vitality.

Returning to Work, Wealth and Happiness Wells recruited new collaborators: he asked his old friend Graham Wallas to read the political chapters. Wallas was ill himself, and actually died in 1932; but he read and made various suggestions. Wells also recruited his old lover, and father of one of his children, Amber Reeves, now Amber Blanco-White, to work on the money chapters, and his current lover Odette Keun worked extensively on the project too (both Reeves and Keun received a one-eighth share of royalties by way of payment). Wells paid various other experts one-off fees (Alexander Carr-Saunders provided data on population growth and demographic change, for instance).



David C Smith is full of praise for the resulting volume:
The book is an astounding work, especially when one considers than nothing like it had ever before been published. It features strong material on banking, economics, the increase in leisure time, and a history of educational ideas. Perhaps its most outstanding feature (for 1932) were histories of leisure time, games, the theatre and entertainment. Short discrete sections on manufacturing discussed plastics, paper, resin, iron and steel, the transmission and generation of power, production of food, the development of architectural ideas, labour unions, legal education and ideas, banking, the gold standard and its recent abandonment. [Smith, Desperately Mortal (1986), 266]
My reaction to the book is less dithythambic, but only because it strikes me as, frankly, a hodgepodge. A congeries of interesting snippets, gathered together under a loosely Baconian/Diderot-esque encyclopedic logic. Just listing the contents page gives a sense of how variegated the whole is:
INTRODUCTION: THE OBJECT OF THIS WORK AND THE WAY IN WHICH IT HAS BEEN WRITTEN

1. An Account of Human Activities Throughout the World and of the Reasons for These Activities
2. The New Education
3. Apropos of Roger Bacon
4. The Outline of History and the Science of Life
5. The Urgent Need for Sound Common Ideas about Work and Wealth
6. Some Difficulties and Problems in the Writing of This Book. Museums of Industrial Progress. The Device of an Imaginary Encyclopaedia

CHAPTER ONE: HOW MAN BECAME AN ECONOMIC ANIMAL

1. Economics Is a Branch of Biology
2. Primitive Man Haphazard as an Animal
3. The Dawn of Social and Economic Life
4. The Domestication of Animals
5. The Beginnings of Settlement and Sustained Work
6. The Rest of the Historical Overture

CHAPTER TWO: HOW MAN HAS LEARNT TO THINK AND GAIN A MASTERY OVER FORCE AND MATTER

1. Directed Thinking
2. The Criticism of the Instrument of Thought from the Beginnings of Directed Thinking Onward; Nominalism and Realism; Experiment; The Renascence of Science
3. The Practical Nature of Renascent Science
4. Ultimate Truths Are Outside the Diagrams of Experimental Science
5. The Organization of Research
6. The Conquest of Substances
7. Some Typical Modem Materials: Pastes, Enamels, and Cements; Cellulose; Milk Products; Resins; Animal and Vegetable Oils; Dyes; Rubber; Petroleum
8. The Story of Iron and Steel
9. The Conquest of Power. Sources of Power
10. Transmission of Power
11. Points of Application

CHAPTER THREE: THE CONQUEST OF DISTANCE

1. The Increasing Range of Modern Life
2. Railway and Steamship
3. The New Road and the Airway
4. The Transmission of Fact. The Present Moment Becomes World-Wide
5. Print and Film

CHAPTER FOUR: THE CONQUEST OF HUNGER: HOW MANKIND IS FED

1. The World Eats
2. Fertilizers
3. The Mechanized and Electrified Farm
4. The Spectacle of Cultivation: The Vineyard and the Bee-Keeper
5. Substitutes and Adulteration
6. Dining and Drugging
7. The Peasant, the Basis of the Old Order
8. The Passing of the Peasant
9. The World’s Catering Is Still Unorganized
10. The Limits of Plenty

CHAPTER FIVE: THE CONQUEST OF CLIMATE: HOW MANKIND IS CLOTHED AND HOUSED

1. The Wardrobes of Mankind
2. Cosmetics
3. The Dissolution of the Home
4. The Landscape of Homes and Cultivations
5. Modem Architecture and the Possible Rebuilding of the World
6. The Lighting of Town and Countryside
7. Protective and Regulative Services of the Modem Town and Countryside

CHAPTER SIX: HOW GOODS ARE BOUGHT AND SOLD

1. Old and New Shopping
2. Teaching People to Want Things
3. Fluctuations and Vagueness in Distribution
4. Co-operative Retailing

CHAPTER SEVEN: HOW WORK IS ORGANIZED

1. Putting the Personnel into the Picture
2. Guild and Trade Union
3. Industrial Democracy: Workers’ Control
4. Profit-Sharing
5. Continuous Employment and Waiting About: the Possibility of Lifetime Jobs for All
6. The Amelioration of the Factory
7. Vestiges of Slavery and Tropical Forced Labour. Putumayo. Congo Rubber
8. Rationalization
9. The Co-operative Movement
10. The Public or Private Direction of Big Industries and General Services
11. Grades of Social Organization

CHAPTER EIGHT WHY PEOPLE WORK

1. The Persona and Conduct
2. The First Class of Persona: The Peasant Persona and Types Mainly Derived from It
3. The Second Class of Persona: The Typical Nomad’s Persona and Its Variations
4. The Third Class of Persona: The Educated Persona and Its Derivatives
5. The Civilization of the Entrepreneur
6. The Idea of Property
7. The Education of the Lawyer
8. “Scientific” Property
9. The Complexities and Mutations of the Money Idea
10. A Resume of the Co-ordinating Motives in a Modern Community

CHAPTER NINE: HOW WORK IS PAID FOR AND WEALTH ACCUMULATED 1. The Counting House Comes into the Picture
2. What Currency Has to Do and What It Is
3. The Inflation, Deflation, and Devalorization of Currencies
4. The Gold Standard
5. Currency Schemes
6. The Bank
7. The Contemporary Evolution of Banking
8. The Modern Fragmentation of Ownership
9. Contemporary Investment Practice
10. Is the Investing Public More than a Transitory Excrescence upon Economic Development?
11. The Elements of the World Depression of 1929-31
12. The Suspension of the Gold Standard by Great Britain in 1931 and the Situation Thus Created

CHAPTER TEN: THE RICH, THE POOR, AND THEIR TRADITIONAL ANTAGONISM

1. Short Studies in the Acquisition or Attempted Acquisition of Wealth. Hetty Green as an Uncreative Accumulator. The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, the Rothschilds, and National Loans. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and Railway Development. J. D. Rockefeller and the Organization of Oil Production. Thomas Alva Edison. Henry Ford. Alfred Loewenstein. Men Who Have Gone Beyond the Permitted Limits
2. The Contemporary Rich
3. The Alleged Social Advantages of a Rich Class
4. The Ideal of Equal Pay for All
5. Do the Modem Rich Want the Poor to Be Kept Poor?
6. The Poor
7. The Paradox of Over-production and Want. Community Buying
8. The Attempt of Soviet Russia to Abolish Rich and Poor Together
9. The Race between Readjustment, Disorder, and Social Revolution

CHAPTER ELEVEN: THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE WORLD'S WORK

1. How Far Sex Need Be Considered in This Survey
2. Women as Workers and as Competitors with Men. The Keeping of Wives and Families in Relation to Feminine Employment. Social Neuters
3. The Inherent Difference of Physical and Mental Quality between Men and Women
4. Motherhood and the Dependence of Women because of Motherhood
5. Some Moral Consequences of the Traditional Inferiority and Disadvantage of Women. Feminine Acquiescence and Disingenuousness. Prostitution. The White Slave Trade. The Gigolo
6. The Power of Women through Reassurance and Instigation. Woman’s Role in Determining Expenditure
7. Is a Special Type of Adult Education for Women Needed?
8. Possibilities of Distinctive Work for Women in the Modern Community

CHAPTER TWELVE: THE GOVERNMENTS OF MANKIND AND THEIR ECONOMIC AND MILITARY WARFARE

1. Political Organizations
2. A Short Study of the British Government at Work
3. The Permanent Official
4. A Collection of Governments
5. Assent
6. Frontiers and the Official Intercommunication of Governments
7. The Custom House
8. War Preparation as an Industry
9. The Role of the Armament Industry in Fostering Belligerence. Sir Basil Zaharoff. Alfred Krupp
10. Spying and Spy Hunting
11. The Service Mentality. Police
12. Passive Pacificism
13. The League of Nations and Other Experiments in Internationalism
14. Projects for Cosmopolitan Synthesis: Necessity Drives Us Towards World Controls

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: THE NUMBERS AND QUALITIES OF MANKIND

1. The Increase of the World’s Population
2. Impact of Races and Cultures
3. Eugenics

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: THE OVERFLOWING ENERGY OF MANKIND

1. A Short History of Leisure
2. The Travel Bureau
3. The World of Sport. The Sporting Element in War, Insurrection, and Many Murders. Betting, Gambling, and the Lottery
4. The World of Entertainment
5. Art as Overflowing Energy

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: HOW MANKIND IS TAUGHT AND DISCIPLINED

1. What Is Education?
2. The Nature of Primitive Education
3. Religions and Education
4. Universities
5. Education Outside the Classroom
6. Mental Training
7. The Education Needed for the Modem Progressive Community
8. The Role of an Encyclopedia in a Progressive Civilization
9. Open Conspiracy
10. The Recalcitrant

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: THE OUTLOOK OF MANKIND

1. The Next Phase Latent in the Present Situation
2. Uncertainties in the Human Outlook
3. Hope and Courage Are Inevitable
See what I mean?

I offer only brief notes on this volume: my posts on this blog have been overlong lately, and I could't get into this book without sprawling for thousands of words. As you can see, Wells is still—in 1932!—banging on about eugenics (‘there is every reason for the temporary or permanent sterilization of ... certain types of defectives’ [13:3]) and the eleventh chapter, on women, is hamstrung by Wells's belief that raising children and therefore the domestic sphere is the proper arena for womankind although he does propose various ways of improving their lot otherwise.

I think one problem is that the science in this book has aged less well than is the case either in Outline of History or, more surprisingly, The Science of Life. Economics does not admit of objective truth in the way that biology and physics, I suppose, do; and the technological and sociological components of Work, Wealth and Happiness often strike an ungainly, or a deflatingly quaint, note. Can't exactly blame Wells for that. It's a matter of timing, isn't it—before the 1930s were over a war would come that would accelerate technological and therefore social changes on an unprecedented scale. Of course, Wells wasn't to know the colossal importance, say, plastics would come to have. That doesn't stop his account of them reading as drolly musty and old-fashioned:
Other synthetic mixtures are also made, to which coal tar does not contribute. Some of these false resins become harder and insoluble under the action of heat. The natural ones exhibit a contrary behaviour. These artificial products are used in varnishes and as insulating material for electrical apparatus. Since they will withstand a high temperature they have an advantage over rubber, ebonite, and celluloid. Bakelite, for example, which has become popular in a hundred varieties of bright-coloured ware, retains its form and properties when most other materials would soften or decompose. It is one of the most important insulating materials used in the electric industry. Another variety of resin is made from urea, or from thiourea, a by-product of the gas works, treated with formaldehyde. This can be tinted and is used for table and decorative ware of extraordinary delicacy and colour. [Work, Wealth and Happiness, 2:7]
But the biggest disappointment, for me, is the dearth of properly penetrating analysis of the emergent popular culture of the 20th-century. At roughly the time that Adorno and Horkheimer were doing the preliminary work that would bear fruit in The Dialectic of the Enlightenment (1947), with its (love or loathe it, you have to agree) extraordinary and influential anatomy of popular culture—Wells is piddling around with a over-obvious thesis that ‘leisure used to be only for the rich, but in the future everybody will have a lot more of it’ and penning creaky-old Victorian-y lists like the following:
Leisure has spread down from class to class in the last century or so, and new occupations have been found for it ... [we] would classify man’s leisure activities roughly after this fashion: as (i) exercise and sports, (2) hygienically unprofitable games, (3) sexual dissipation, gluttony and drunkenness, (4) gossip, parading in costumes and loafing about, (5) seeing shows, (6) wandering and travelling to see and leam, (7) making things for pleasure or, as the Victorians called it, "hobbies,” passing insensibly into (8) art, (9) philosophy, scientific enquiry and experiment. [14:1]
Wells loses focus in this great pudding of a book, I'm afraid.

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