Friday, January 19, 2007

Household Management

We moderns like to congratulate ourselves for overcoming the abusive backwardness of our ancestors who enslaved other human beings to do their work for them. Yet, as with humans in all times, we are myopic about the ways in which we are not self-sufficent: our self-congratulation is built on a different platform of leisure, now granted through the "employment" of some different "workers" on our behalf. Consider this portion of a speech by Hyman Rickover delivered in 1957. I came across this via a speech delivered two days ago on the floor of Congress by Republican congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland.

"With high energy consumption goes a high standard of living. Thus the enormous fossil fuel energy which we in this country control feeds machines which make each of us master of an army of mechanical slaves. Man's muscle power is rated at 35 watts continuously,'' little more than you are working, but you have got to sleep, ``or one-twentieth horsepower. Machines therefore furnish every American industrial worker with energy equivalent to that of 244 men, while at least 2,000 men push his automobile along the road, and his family is supplied with 33 faithful household helpers. Each locomotive engineer controls energy equivalent to that of 100,000 men; each jet pilot of 700,000 men. Truly, the humblest American enjoys the services of more slaves than were once owned by the richest nobles, and lives better than most ancient kings. In retrospect, and despite wars, revolutions, and disasters, the hundred years just gone by may well seem like a Golden Age.''

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