How Wealth Accumulates and Men Decay by G. B. Shaw – BA English – Comprehension

How Wealth Accumulates and Men Decay

About the author: George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was an Irish novelist and playwright, who even today is regarded as one of Britain’s most revolutionary thinker, political philosopher and crusaders against human attraction towards materialistic pleasures. He was a socialist by conviction, and through his participation in the Fabian Society engaged in numerous debates and talks to convince people to eschew luxury that comes, most often, at the expense of the underprivileged sections of the society.

Shaw had an unhappy childhood. His family constantly struggled to make both ends meet. His education remained incomplete, and most tragically, his forays into the world of literature were utter failures. He struggled to find a publisher for the first five oof his books, and newspapers refused to give any space to his articles. Such was the challenge Shaw, who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature, had to face at the start of his long and illustrious literary journey.

Shaw turned a vegetarian, never married and remained rooted to his socialistic ideals.  Among his books, ‘Man and Superman’, ‘The Pygmalion’, ‘The Intelligent Woman’s Guide’, ‘Love among the Artists’, are just a few that brought him great name and fame.

During reading discussion …

  1. What are the operations involved in making a pin?  
    Ans : The wire needed for pins has  to be bought, It needs to be cut to the desired length. One end needs to be made pointed, and the other end blunted to a spherical shape. Then an ornamental piece needs to be fixed to this end. Lastly, the pins have to fixed to a paper to ease packing.
  2. What was called ‘pin money’? Why was it called so? 
    Ans : It’s the money wives got from their husbands to buy the decorative pins for their dresses. The pins were quite costly  during those days, and therefore, the amount was called ‘pin money’.
  3. What did Adam Smith boast about with regard to making a pin?  
    Ans : Adam Smith applauded the advent of a new age when goods were produced in vast quantities by dividing the production cycle to multiple stages, so that one worker did only a small part of the whole job. A pin’s production, for example, didn’t need a single expert and all-rounder artisan, but a group of workers each doing just one small part of the whole process.
  4. Why is the writer critical of what Adam Smith boasted of as a triumph of civilization?  
    Ans : The writer is not the least enthused by the new and more efficient production technology that produced vast quantities of a certain goods, although employing more hands. He feels, division of work leads to deterioration of skill levels of workers. It results in wastage of the intelligence of the workers, and aggravates their boredom.
  5. Why does Shaw call the poet Goldsmith a far—sighted economist?  
    Ans : Goldsmith had foreseen that the switch to mass production based on machines would add to the wealth of people in a significant way. At the same time, people would become lazy, greedy, and utterly bored. They would, then, indulge in degrading ways to spend their leisure hours.
  6. How did machines take over the control of manufacturing from men? 
    Ans : Machines were specifically designed to automate the many steps of the production process. One single human operator of such a machine could do the work of many more workers. The result was, no doubt, high production at low cost, but a steep fall in the ability of the workers to utilize their innate skills, and be creative. Thus, the machines made the men running them their slaves.
  7. What was the outcome of such take-over? 
    Ans : The prices of goods fell, but so did the tendency to waste. It led to a sharp fall in the artisanal skills of the workers.
  8. What worried thinkers such as John Ruskin and William Morris?  
    Ans : Both of them felt availability of goods at very less prices would encourage wasteful consumption.
  9. How did the modern worker become ignorant and helpless? 
    Ans : The modern worker does only operate the special purpose machine. He is unaware of the way the machine is designed. Similarly, he does not get to know how the raw materials are purchased, and the finished products are sold. He loses his entrepreneurial skills.
  10. What other examples do you get about the modern workers’ ignorance and helplessness? 
    Ans : The writer has cited the way woolen garments are mass-produced in factories that do the complete of slaughtering the lambs, skinning them, and processing the hide to produce garments. The buyer buys the woolen clothing, but remains ignorant of the process involved. If the factories stop producing, the consumers will be left high and dry.
  11. Why was an unmarried woman called a spinster? 
    Ans : In the past, the process of killing a sheep and extracting the woolen skin from its body was done in homes where young women took active part in the job along with the men folks. This is how the sword ‘spinster’ came to be used.
  12. What are the demerits of the capitalist system? 
    Ans : It leads to accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few people. The inequality results in social discord, and exploitation. Secondly, earth’s resources are senselessly exploited resulting in aa distorted eco system. People waste items, and become lazy and immoral.
  13. How is the world a funny place under capitalism? 
    Ans : Mechanization off production curbs skill-building, increases the tendency of ordinary people to look to others for help for the simplest of things, and robs them of their creativity and intelligence. So, the writer calls the capitalist world a funny place.
  14. What happens if we don’t use our mental faculties? 
    Ans : We will lose the sharpness of our intelligence, and become lazy and dependent on others. In course of time our mind will rot and waste away.
  15. How does Adam Smith appreciate the value of labour?
    Ans : With the passage of time, manufacturing practices evolved to boost the productivity of individual workers and factories. Instead of a single artisan performing the whole cycle starting from buying of raw material to manufacturing the product to selling of the same, the process was split into multiple stages. Individual workers were asked to do a small part of the whole process. The labour force swelled, but the production increased many times more. With rise in productivity, profits rose, and the country, as a whole, increased its wealth. Adam Smith welcomed the change and became a strong advocate of the practice of ‘’division of labour’.
  16. How does division of labour affect human intelligence and skill?
    Ans : When a worker was asked to do a small part of the manufacturing process instead of the whole, they lost their desire to acquire additional skills. This blunted his brain, and stifled his skill-building. Thus, ‘’division of labour’ had a deleterious on human intelligence and skill.
  17. How do machines make humans ignorant and helpless? 
    Ans : A factory worker just operates the machine as he is told by the machine’s manual. He is not told anything about the design, manufacture, or even the maintenance of the machine. Thus, he is reduced to the level of a robot-type operator, and not an intelligent engineer. Quite clearly, his power to think, learn, adapt and innovate gets eroded drastically. His mind rots.
  18. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the capitalist system? What weighs more, the advantages or the disadvantages?  
    Ans : Undoubtedly, the capitalist system has numerous advantages. It makes products cheap, creates employment, aids technical progress, and above all creates enormous wealth. However, it also stifles multi-dimensional growth of the mind, encourages exploitation, increases inequality, and reduces humans to the level of robots. In my view, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

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