The Challenge of Today's Affluent Society
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 18 Oct 1962, p. 26-37
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Mutchmor, Right Rev. Dr. J.R., Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description
Canadians living "too high off the hog." An indication from sharp drops in the stock market values of the best of the blue chips, that the North American way of life should be a more disciplined one. A brief description and discussion of four elements of affluence: the technological society; the massive society; the equity society and the welfare society. A consideration of these developments as a whole. Some remarks from the viewpoint of a Churchman about the affluent society. The confused picture of Church and State relations in the affluent society. The role of the United Church of Canada in seeking to influence policy of the State. Specific philosophies and values that the Church wants to encourage.
Date of Original
18 Oct 1962
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English
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
THE CHALLENGE OF TODAY'S AFFLUENT SOCIETY
An Address by RIGHT REV. DR. J. R. MUTCHMOR Moderator of the United Church of Canada
Thursday, October 18, 1962
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Palmer Kent, O.C.

MR. KENT: Our guest today is Right Rev. Dr. James R. Mutchmor, B.A., M.A., B.D., D.D.

The Bacchelor of Arts was from the University of Toronto; the Master of Arts was in economics from Columbia University, New York; the Bachelor of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary, New York and Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degrees were conferred by United Theological College, Montreal and by Victoria College, Toronto.

During World War I, Dr. Mutchmor served Overseas for four years. He was wounded at the Vimy Ridge Battle while serving in the Canadian Artillery. Since 1920, when he was ordained in Winnipeg, he has, toiled there and in Toronto as a Minister and as the secreary of the Board of Evangelism and Social Service of the United Church. He has been actively engaged also on many other important boards and committees as the representative of his Church.

Dr. Mutchmor has been described as "the conscience of of the Church", because he has expressed definite views on every issue on which he has been interviewed. Some of these views have created much public discussion. They have been quoted in the press and on television frequently, and thus he has become a famous public figure and leader in Canada. With his election to the post of Moderator of the General Council of the United Church only last month, he will attain much greater prominence and his views will be entitled to greater weight and importance.

Dr. Mutchmor is married, has four children and eight grandchildren. He will now speak to us on the subject, "The Challenge of Today's Affluent Society".

DR. MUCHMOR: It is a privilege to address a meeting of The Empire Club of Canada, but as you may guess, I undertake this task on rather short notice. On the morrow of the World Series, it is in order to describe myself as a pinch-hitter. I have taken the liberty of choosing a rather general theme as a title for a big subject in which I will have room to move about. The content of this address will not be of much importance, but its headings may have some value.

At the very beginning, it should be noted that with our present austerity programme, the term "affluent society" may be challenged. We may, however, begin by admitting that Canadians have been living "too high off the hog". Caught as we were by a sudden drop in the Wall Street market last May, we find ourselves with a devalued dollar and a minority government. It is more important to note that the shock, occasioned by sharp drops in the stock market values of the best of the blue chips, indicates to all who are ready to see and learn that the Northern American way of life, including its Canadian sector, should be a more disciplined one.

From another angle, we may question the term "affluent society" by studying the wage rates of the gainfully employed men and women in Canada. It will be granted, that probably two-thirds of the wage rate scale is high or relatively high, but one-third is deplorably low. Moreover, when averages only are taken, the picture of the lower and lowest paid gainfully employed persons and their families does not come into a clear and sharp focus. It is a plain fact that tens of thousands of gainfully employed men and women in our country are working for small wages. It is also true that we have depressed areas, such as coal mining sections of Alberta, Vancouver Island and Nova Scotia. Moreover, automation or technological change has literally wiped out such trades as boiler-makers. The divisional railway repair yards, long established to service steam locomotives, have been hit hard.

With these and other qualifications which could be added, it is still possible to maintain that ours is an affluent society. To use a Macmillanian phrase, "we have never had it so good." Our affluence is most noticeable in our rapidly growing metropolitan areas and particularly in the urban sprawl and saints rest of the suburbs.

Recently I heard a story about a young woman, an honour graduate in psychology who joined the staff of a large and long established University. Two of her senior male colleagues tried to size her up. One said to the other, "This new addition to our staff is wearing last year's clothes, but she drives this year's car and my guess is she is living off next year's income." This is an example of the affluent society in which a very large proportion of our people are asking and receiving more for doing less.

I add a further comment from a press report of an address by Dr. Robert B. Marin, Director of the Executive Health Centre, Montclair, New Jersey. He said: "We are converting a whole age of peasants into connoisseurs of the pleasant but unessential things in life."

He was referring to kidney-shaped swimming pools and Finnish steam baths in backyards, mink stoles, fur trimmed seat covers, weekends in Paris, his and her autos, cabin cruisers, ropes of pearls, jangling bracelets of gold coins and all the other outward symbols of the affluent age.

"We are spreading the wealth and the social standard. The plasterer, the brick-layer and the factory worker are now in pursuit of social status. They haven't had these things in the past, but they want them now."

Our subject, "The Challenge of the Affluent Society", will be more readily understood and its presuppositions and significance more easily determined by noting a few other titles for today's way of life and then relating these to the one chosen for the theme of this address.

Already, reference has been made to automation or technological change. Increasingly, many areas of the world are becoming technological societies. The 650 million people of Mainland China are suffering many hardships and literally tens of thousands of them will die in the process, but there is no doubt that this quarter of the human race are shifting rapidly from a primitive to a technological society. We are ready to help them meet their food crisis by shipping large quantities of our wheat under agreements with long term credit clauses. It is my humble view that Canada should give the hungry Chinese a large gift of wheat. Surely God has given us a bountiful harvest and just as truly the Bible says, "If thine enemy hunger, feed him."

Coming closer to home, the shift to more technological society can be illustrated by the increasing use of automated processes in the offices of larger corporations; in the production of steel and in such seven-day-a-week plants as oil refineries. Indeed, the demand for seven-day-a-week operation is becoming more insistent, in the pulp and paper industry. Automation processes are being introduced in breweries and distilleries. This is the "wave" of today's technological society. It is a big factor in the current demand for a seven day week including an open or just-like-anyother-day Sunday.

Recently a new unit was added to Algoma Steel in the Soo at a cost of some millions of dollars. A maximum of six men will be required to operate this addition to this large steel plant. It is common knowledge that trains may be operated without crews, jet aeroplanes will fly without human pilots, etc. More could be said on this interesting subject, but sufficient changes have been noted to indicate that technological change is not a continuation of the old mass production methods of stamping out forms, but rather the beginning of an entirely new period of production in which machines direct machines. The day of the Robot has arrived.

About three years ago, a top leader of the President Kennedy brain trust, Professor W. W. Rostow, a brilliant Jewish economist, gave a series of lectures at Cambridge, which were described by the London Economist as the major contribution to economic thought since the end of the second war. These lectures have been published in a small paperback. The author makes it abundantly clear that man has moved steadily from a primitive to an agricultural, to an industrial society, and now his progress is taking him into a new way of life, the massive society.

Here again, it is not necessary to elaborate. Day-today events make it very plain that the two great massive societies, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A., begin to feel the competition of a third one, namely, the European Common Market, into which Britain will enter as a rather late convert within the next few months. Reference has been made to China. Here in passing I note that the greatest event every day is the birth of 200,000 babies and of this number 50,000 are born in China. China will become the fourth massive society.

Canadians have a great country in terms of land space, but we are a little land of only eighteen million population. In the day of the massive society, little people can be squeezed unless they align themselves with one of the existing massive societies and this willy-nilly we do as we become ever more closely related to the United States of America.

Some recent writers are pointing out that ours is also an equity society. To an increasing degree, we enjoy more and own less. Such enjoyment, particularly by a steady stream of stock market manipulators, land them in gaol. We are paying and paying and paying for houses, cars, clothes, world journeys already taken, and, "all the way down the line." The equity society is a credit card society. Our billfolds bulge with little printed cardboards, that indicate that without money, but not without price, we can get hotel rooms and meals and plane tickets and gas for our cars, and entertainment by the year, because we are members of an equity society. Sometimes I have said this is a paper-chasing economy in the development of which we are erecting a multitude of flat-chested office buildings and high-rise apartments. 1 claim that in not a few of these office buildings, much of the work is of the paper-chasing kind with little or no more economic value than could be provided by digging post-holes and filling them up again. Paper-chasing is a modern form of motion without productive movement. It does not make sense.

The technological, massive and equity aspects of our society are paralleled by another important development, namely, the welfare society. The welfare society is the answer of Western democracy to Communism. Both are forms of collectivism: The Moscow type being autocratic and our kind built from the ground-up by democratic procedures.

If there were time, it would be quite possible to trace the record of such outstanding economists as Marshall, more recent leaders such as Keynes, Pigou and Beveridge. Many here will recall the Beveridge report, the product of a group of British Economists under an able Scottish economist who now carries the title of Lord Beveridge. In the distribution of printed materials in my office, not a few ministers wrote in for copies of this report, but for some unexplained reason, they spelled the noble Lord's name, "Beverage."

It is hardly necessary to point out that there are heavy political overtones as well as economic factors in the rise and growth of what was formerly the Welfare State and now must be accepted as the Welfare Society. It must be granted that in North America, there continues a bitter struggle between those who are doing their utmost to streamline and improve our free enterprise system, and those who call for more planned economy. At this point, we should note that a leader, such as Governor Nelson Rockefeller, claims that North America's productive capacity should increase at a rate of not 2 % or 3 %, but 8 % or 10 % per year, to enable the people on this continent to compete on world markets and also to provide funds for the burgeoning areas of our new welfare society. Certainly there is need right now for more reasonable and understanding relations between big industry and big labour, in order to create the necessary increased wealth to support the welfare society of today and tomorrow. In the face of this need the strike weapon is in part outmoded.

This development of the welfare society has brought a new word into a sharp focus. This word is "Medicare". More than the people of Saskatchewan are going to become excited about it in the very near future. It is a current index word of the Welfare Society.

It was a Canadian, John Kenneth Galbraith, a native of Elgin County in Ontario, and for some years a leading economist in the U.S.A., who gave the Western world this new term, "The Affluent Society." Like Marshall and other economists before him, Galbraith, taking a sabbatical year, spent some time in Switzerland with special opportunity to continue his studies. In the clear air of this lovely mountainous country, he delved deeply into the meanings of today's way of life and came up with a book entitled, "The Affluent Society." It has become one of the most popular publications of our time and its author has been honoured by being made the American Ambassador to India.

I began this address with some general references to the affluent society and with particular reference to the qualifications or what one might call amendments to this general term. We turn now from these more narrow and critical comments concerning the affluent society to consider this development as a whole.

In spite of wisecracks and indeed in spite of much honest and fair criticism it is to be conceded that we now enjoy a much better way of life than our fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did. Though we have more mental hospital beds than ordinary hospital beds, we can claim that our health record is the highest yet obtained by any society. Though the Indian poet Tagore, whose centenary we now celebrate, has said that modern man is reducing himself to a minimum to make way for his machines, we are happy that we have them, including the automobile. The "four wheels" have done more things to our way of living than any other single factor. In 1962, the car production and sales record will be one of the highest in North America. Certainly the truck and automobile have added both zest, comfort and widespread means of communication to our store of good things.

I will not go on to speak about the obvious improvements in our housekeeping, except to point out that surely the new refrigerator is much better than the old ice box, the quick heating and cooking electric or gas stove an improvement over the old wood or coal burner and our means of heating and lighting much superior to the days of the box stove and the coal oil lamp, not to mention candles.

It is equally obvious that our means of transportation are much improved. Last week returning from Vancouver on a T.C.A. jet, we were told by the Captain that with 150 mile tail wind, we hit a speed of 705 miles an hour. This is just another example of new things in the affluent society. Without describing it at length, I conclude this part of my address in description of this affluent society by reference to the wonders of the space age and the possible terrors of the thermo-nuclear one. Though we do not talk much about it, the dreaded fear of a possible nuclear war persists because today and tomorrow man and his society stand in fear of a handful of dust. It is a plain fact that the thermonuclear danger or power will not pass away. It cannot be driven like a goat into the desert or exorcised like a mediaeval demon or made the object of a Briand-Kellog pact to outlaw war.

All the efforts of well-meaning organizations working for peace, will not rid us of the thermonuclear power. It remains both as a threat and a promise. It provides the deep undertones and rumblings that keep us shaken out of our complacency lest we be too much at ease in the affluent society.

As a Christian minister of the Word and the Sacraments, you may expect me to make some comments as a Churchman about the affluent society. I can attempt such an assignment in two ways: generally or specific. Probably by condensing my remarks from this point on, I can say something significant on both points.

In general, it may be said that the Christian Church's relationship to society or more specifically to the State, has not and does not now present a uniform pattern. In the first century or two in the Christian period, there was little division among those who bore witness to their risen Lord, but from the time that the Emperor Constantine officially recognized the Christian Church, in the early part of the fourth century, there have been variations in the pattern of Church and State relations.

For several centuries after Constantine, the Christian Church was divided into two parts, east and west, Orthodox and Roman. The Constantinian period, as it is generally known, was one in which the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed both power and privilege. This great Church, which today is holding its significant Council in Vatican City in Rome, has held through the centuries that the Church has authority in things spiritual and properly exercises a rather large measure of control in things secular. Obviously it is not necessary or wise in this kind of company for me to pursue this matter further.

From the time of the Reformation, the Lutheran Church has held that a rather great gulf separates Church and State. It was due to this pattern that Hitler was enabled to gain great power without much objection from the Lutheran Church in Germany and while this is over-simplifying the story, this philosophy of separation of Church and State, had some bearing upon the failure of the Church to protest effectively the slaughter of some six million Jews.

The Baptist Churches have held rather consistently to a definite separation of Church and State, but their leaders have written a fine record of prophetic utterances out of Christian teaching that have shaped often the affairs of State. We know quite well that the Non-Conformists from the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers until well after the War of Revolution had much to do with the U.S.A.'s constitutional separation of Church and State.

The Presbyterian Churches and more recently the Methodists, and I may say in Canada the United Church, have held the view that the Church must be the conscience of the State.

In Canada, these various viewpoints have all found expression. On the whole there has been a happy and creative relationship between Church and State. It is varied from the maximum influence of the Church in Quebec to the relatively lower levels of influence in our most secular province of British Columbia.

In today's affluent society, however, the picture of Church and State relations is confused. We have moved rapidly from a simple to a pluralistic way of life; from a primitive to a complex society. One obvious result of this change is evident in this city of Toronto where we have three daily papers. Not one of them appears able editorially to set forth any cleancut standards of public behaviour. For them there is no white or black, only a variety of shades of grey. Under the current affluent society pressures, there is a danger that our Toronto papers will become publications of irresponsible amusement and not journals of considered and fairly reported news and opinion. All parts of today's society are being pressed to trade principles for expedients. At a time when there should be a great army of convinced Christians to stand up to convinced Communists, there are too many amiable nonentities pushed around by events until they die.

I take this opportunity to indicate briefly some of the areas in which the denomination in which I serve seeks to influence the policy of the State in these days of the affluent society. The United Church of Canada is happy that conditions of life in our country are more pleasant and enjoyable. We have many positive things to say in thankfulness about the progress of Canada and her provinces. We rejoice in the record of improved housing; in the story of social security; in such recent development as our country's hospitalization plan; in the fact that though there have been many difficulties, we have an Unemployment Insurance Fund; that family allowances are well established; and that there is increasing care and benefits for senior citizens, and so on down the line.

The United Church, and indeed all Christian Communions, are deeply concerned that Canada continues to enjoy a reasonably observed Sunday or Lord's Day. We believe we need this one day in seven, for rest, recreation and refreshment, and above all, for placing at the centre of our nation's life the primary element of worship, of spiritual fellowship, and of deeds of mercy-out of all of which come the quiet and strong ways of life that make a people good and great.

Our Church with other Communions desires more common honesty. Without a larger measure of this essential ingredient today's affluent society will rot. It is surely obvious that of our nation to which much is given, much is required. The advent of technological change, for example, does not warrant feather-bedding by either management or labour. There remains the need of giving a fair day's work for a fair day's pay. It is equally evident that the great complex of advertising must be inherently honest. Van Doren-isms will not do. The number of stock exchange scandals must be reduced.

Again our Church like other Communions believes that the weak should be protected from the strong. We realize many mothers with small children must work but Church and State ought not to allow the children to suffer. Let us tax ourselves more to provide decently for the many thousands of little ones who are parked indiscriminately in odds and ends of places in our great metropolitan areas.

We know the big corporation is efficient but it must not be allowed, willy nilly to drive the little man to the wall. The Big Discount House that sells gasoline as a loss leader must not be permitted to put a long established filling station operator out of business. Here is a point at which the Christian Church must proclaim the New Testament teaching that the Strong should help, not hurt, the Weak.

The United Church stands ready in support both of law enforcement and a more disciplined way of life. We deplore attacks on police who seek to do their duty. We are concerned to read such a press account as describes six young men raping a 14 year old girl. Likewise we deplore waste and debauchery. These all too evident and alarming aspects of today's affluent society must speedily be brought under control.

I said earlier that the Church's views about the affluent society could be stated in a general and also in a specific way. I have had some experience in both areas and conclude with a few remarks about being "specific."

You will probably know from recent press stories, radio and TV programmes, that I have had my share in the hurlyburly of Church and State, of the primitive and also the pluralistic society and in the less and the more affluent ways of life.

I would remark that it is only when an issue becomes a hot one, that Canadians pay attention to it. I believe there is a value in striking the iron when it is hot. To change the metaphor, I believe there is value in calling a spade a spade. I would argue that there is much to be said in favour of plain talk. Let us have more basic English; let us use shorter sentences; let us say plainly what we mean; let us get rid of gobbledegook.

I end with a story about the $64,000. question-a programme initiated some years ago by Revlon and brought to a sad end by one called Van Doren. At the beginning of the $64,000. question programme, I was asked by the press to make a comment. I said the programme was a "menace and it should be abolished." This remark received rather wide coverage on the Canadian Press and as a result I got several letters, including anonymous ones: also many 'phone calls. One of the 'phone calls was from an irate Scot-a continuing Presbyterian. He shouted at me in vivid Old Testament words, but not used in a scriptural setting that The United Church had no right to criticize "free deals." "Good heavens", he remarked, "at the time of the Church Union (1925), you took everything that we, the Presbyterians had. That surely was a 'free deal'."

Out of long experience, I have learned to wait on the receiving end of a 'phone call of this kind. This was my tactics in this instance until suddenly, I shouted at my critic, "at the time of Church Union, who got Knox College in Toronto, a College worth several hundreds of thousands of dollars." This question caught the Scot off guard. He paused, and then he said, "I am not wanting to be specific, I am making a general statement.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Paul H. Mills.

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The Challenge of Today's Affluent Society


Canadians living "too high off the hog." An indication from sharp drops in the stock market values of the best of the blue chips, that the North American way of life should be a more disciplined one. A brief description and discussion of four elements of affluence: the technological society; the massive society; the equity society and the welfare society. A consideration of these developments as a whole. Some remarks from the viewpoint of a Churchman about the affluent society. The confused picture of Church and State relations in the affluent society. The role of the United Church of Canada in seeking to influence policy of the State. Specific philosophies and values that the Church wants to encourage.