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Lewis Mumford on the 1929 crisis


The important thing to bear in mind is that the failure to evaluate the machine and to integrate it in society as a whole was not due simply to defects in distributing income, to errors of management, to the greed and narrow-mindedness of the industrial leaders: it was also due to a weakness of the entire philosophy upon which the new techniques and inventions were grounded. The leaders and enterprisers of the period believed that they had avoided the necessity for introducing values, except those which were automatically recorded in profits and prices. They believed that the problem of justly distributing goods could be sidetracked by creating an abundance of them: that the problem of applying one’s energies wisely could be cancelled out simply by multiplying them: in short, that most of the difficulties that had hitherto vexed mankind had a mathematical or mechanical–that is a quantitative–solution. The belief that values could be dispensed with constituted the new system of values. Values, divorced from the current processes of life, remained the concern of those who reacted against the machine. Meanwhile, the current processes justified themselves solely in terms of quantity production and cash results. When the machine as a whole overspeeded and purchasing power failed to keep pace with dishonest overcapitalization and exorbitant profits–then the whole machine went suddenly into reverse, stripped its gears, and came to a standstill: a humiliating failure, a dire social loss.

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