Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hard Times

Today's Times


Any capitalist . . . who had made sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, always professed to wonder why the sixty thousand nearest Hands didn't each make sixty thousand pounds out of sixpence, and more or less reproached them every one for not accomplishing the little feat. What I did you can do. Why don't you go and do it?” 

 Charles DickensHard Times

Hard Times: The novel appeared in serialized form in "Household Words," a weekly periodical in which Dickens held a 50% ownership stake; this is a cover shot of the first page: Saturday April 1, 1854.
Credit: Bradbury & Evans, 1854
Source: Wikipedia

In 1854 Charles Dickens published Hard Times, a novel set in the fictitious English industrial city of  Coketown, its name intimating its significance and thus setting the tone of the novel, a combination morality tale and educational discourse on the evils of utilitarianism. It met with commercial success; its literary critics were more muted in their enthusiasm.

The times, for many working-class men, was hard and grimy. Such was part and parcel of the Industrial revolution that overtook Britain and much of the industrialized west. While machines made it easier it also made it necessary for poor men to work and sweat even more. Those of the middle-class fared better, and those above them even better in a pyramid structure of wealth, priviledge and power that manages to survive its many and varied attempts to dismantle it.

Which brings us to today and our "hard times." It seems preposterous to suggest that we are today living in similar circumstances to those Dickens described a mere 150 years ago. After all, things are good in the post-industrial world, replete with all manner of electronic amusements, multiple modes of communication, inexpensive consumer goods, cheap vacations to exotic spots, and air-conditioned offices, condos and cafes;  are all within the means and easy reach of many professionals secure in the knowledge that they deserve all they have. Or at least have earned it.

Perhaps they have. But many others work hard, equally hard, if you count sweat, blood and tears, and yet in the unequal outcomes in acccordance with the laws of universe such individuals have little to show for it. For such individuals, sufficiently sincere and honest in their ways (but not always and not less than others, no doubt), hard work equates to hard times. Not everyone except the select few, some say (pre)ordained by God, will achieve economic success. It makes perfect sense to some. Such is the way it has always been, the way it now is, and the way it will always be. It's the natural law of the universe, its proponents bleat.

Is it?