"Suppose that during the Armistice you bought a spool of thread in a
French department store. Not that it is a spool; the thread is wound
on a scrap of paper, for the thrifty French do not waste wood.
"It takes a few seconds to say, "A reel of cotton thread, please;
white, size sixty." With leisurely grace, the clerk takes the thread
in her hand, comes from behind the counter, and courteously asks you
to accompany her.
"She escorts you across the store, perhaps half a block, and indicates
your place at the end of a waiting line. In twenty minutes or so, you
reach the cashier's grating. He sits behind the bars on a high stool,
a wide ledger open before him, ink bottle uncorked, and pen in hand.
"He asks you, and he writes in the ledger, your name, your address, and — to your dictation — one reel of thread, cotton, white, size sixty.
Will you take it, madame, or have it delivered? You will take it. He
writes that. And the price? Forty centimes. You offer in payment,
madame? One franc. He writes these amounts, and the date, hour, and minute.
"You give the franc to the clerk, who gives it to the cashier, who
gives you the change, looks at the thread, and asks if you are
satisfied. You are. A stroke of his pen checks that fact.
"The clerk then wraps the thread, beautifully, at a near-by wrapping
counter, and gives you the package. You have spent thirty minutes; so
has she; the cashier has spent perhaps five. An hour and five minutes,
to buy a reel of thread
"French department stores were as good as the best in the world. The
French are expert merchandisers. They knew pneumatic-tube systems; the
Paris government owned one that carried special-delivery notes more quickly than anyone could get a telephone number. Department store
owners admired the cash-systems in American stores. But if they had
installed them, they would still have been obliged to keep the
cashier, his ledger, and his pen and ink.
"Why? Because in the markets of Napoleon's time, sellers cheated
buyers. Napoleon protected the buyers. He decreed that the details of
every sale must be written in a book, with pen and ink, in the
presence of both seller and buyer, by a third person who must see the
article and the transfer of money; the buyer must declare himself
satisfied, and the record must be kept, permanently, to verify the
facts if there were any future complaint.
"During this past century, French merchandising had grown enormously.
It had completely changed; but not this method of protecting buyers.
"I asked an owner of the largest French department store why Napoleon's
decree was not repealed. He said, But, madame, it has been in
operation for more than a hundred years! It cannot be repealed; think
of the sales girls, the cashiers, the filing clerks, the watchmen who
guard the warehouses of ledgers. They would lose their jobs.
"He was shocked. He saw me as the materialist American, thinking only
of profit, caring nothing for all those human beings.
I thought they were unemployed. They did not appear as unemployed on
any record, but the actual unemployment in France and throughout
Europe, was enormous. For every purchase in a French department store,
something like an hour's time was unemployed; millions of hours a day.
And the cashiers, the filing clerks, the watchers of those records,
never did a stroke of productive work. [The discovery of freedom, 1943, p.45 onward]
And then there is fascist (new)
politics Labour in all its glory.