This is the blog of Oisín Gilmore.
I’m an economist, working primarily in economic history.
Currently, I’m a PhD candidate in Economics in the University of Groningen. I’m researching western European working hours in the first half of the twentieth century.
This topic, the decline in working hours between 1900-1950, gives one obvious reason for the title of this blog: “Losing Time”. However, there are at least four other reasons.
The first other reason is a simple joke: a blog is a waste of time. I’m losing time writing it. Obviously, this joke raises the question why write the blog? The answer is simple. I want to be wrong. I have found myself somewhat immobilised in recent years by the fear of being shown to be wrong. This fear of has, to some degree, prevented me from saying anything. And I have found myself becoming silent. I want to combat this fear by being openly, publicly wrong. Obviously, I don’t want to be deliberately wrong, but I want to be start writing when I am 90% sure of what I’m saying, rather than 100%. You can never be 100% sure.
Second, ‘losing time’ refers to a sense of personal urgency. I finished my BA in 2007, just at the start of the Great Recession, and like many people of my generation, I feel like my twenties have been life-on-hold. I’m not where I want to be and as the years go by I’m losing time.
Another reason for the blog title is a sense of collective urgency. The development of capitalism and its environmentally destructive implications continues apace. Simultaneously, the horizon of a better society, where humanities productive capacities are put at the service of human happiness, fades from view. This decline of the socialist alternative and the now tangible approach of environmental catastrophe creates a sense that we are losing time.
The final sense goes back to my research topic: the development of capitalism and the decline in working hours. The notion that hours of work can and should decline is not a new one. Indeed, in one of the very few passages where Marx talked about post-capitalist society he said that it would be defined by the measure of wealth being free-time rather than labour time. So rather than losing time being a problem, as in all the above reasons, this plays on the notion that losing time should be our aspiration:
“The creation of a large quantity of disposable time apart from necessary labour time for society generally and each of its members (i.e. room for the development of the individuals’ full productive forces, hence those of society also), this creation of not-labour time appears in the stage of capital, as of all earlier ones, as not-labour time, free time, for a few. What capital adds is that it increases the surplus labour time of the mass by all the means of art and science, because its wealth consists directly in the appropriation of surplus labour time; since value directly its purpose, not use value. It is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development. But its tendency always, on the one side, to create disposable time, on the other, to convert it into surplus labour. If it succeeds too well at the first, then it suffers from surplus production, and then necessary labour is interrupted, because no surplus labour can be realized by capital. The more this contradiction develops, the more does it become evident that the growth of the forces of production can no longer be bound up with the appropriation of alien labour, but that the mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labour. Once they have done so – and disposable time thereby ceases to have an antithetical existence – then, on one side, necessary labour time will be measured by the needs of the social individual, and, on the other, the development of the power of social production will grow so rapidly that, even though production is now calculated for the wealth of all, disposable time will grow for all. For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.”
– Karl Marx, The Grundrisse, 1858