Sunday, March 24, 2013

Those Mills Closed Decades Ago

After grousing about Thunder In The East, which I hated, I thought it might serve as counterpoint to describe an old movie I liked: The Man In The White Suit illustrates a similar principle.

The original Obi Wan Kenobi was played by Alek Guinness, who was quite a handsome young buck back in the early 1950s. He starred in a humorous parody as a rather naive young chemical engineer working in for a major textile manufacturer as a laborer.

First off, because he's just a laborer, he can't get anyone in charge to pay attention to him and he has to do his research on the down-low. He has in mind to invent a new synthetic fabric that has a number of desirable attributes: it does not wear out, it rejects dirt, and it does whatever other Good Things you'd like to find in a miracle fabric.

His experiments pan out, he gets management support, and he has a tailor make a suit of the miracle fabric. Since the fabric rejects all dyes, it is a white suit. A very white, glowing suit.

Trouble starts when the union members at the mill discover that this nice young man has invented this fabric that will never wear out and they expect that after one production run of this miracle stuff, management will close down the plant. And think of the launderers who'll be idled if clothes never get dirty.

Since this movie was made in the 1950s when labor unions held great sway in Britain, this is a major consideration.

Trouble escalates when the other mill owners catch wise of this invention, and they realize they will not be able to stay in the textile business if this invention gets out. They conspire with Alek Guinness's boss to suppress the invention.

This leaves Alek Guinness with a wonderful boon to mankind that has both management and labor  in cahoots to suppress. He's kidnapped, held captive, and escapes. Only to be chased through the darkened streets of the mill town in his glowing white suit. Hilarity ensues.

Now comes the irony. All of those mills were shuttered a generation ago. They were all idled as the labor unions predicted, and the mill owners' capital investments in factories and machinery were rendered just as useless. In the story, Alek Guinness's invention does not pan out and everyone goes back to business as usual.

In reality, the entire story is a funny anachronism because free trade has done more to toss unionists out of jobs and shutter factories than anything imagined of Alek Guinness's invention.

Yet, has the world ended? Hardly.

Pretty much everyone on the planet enjoys a much better standard of living than they did in the 1950s. New technologies and free trade disrupts markets and they force everyone to adapt to new ways of doing business, but in the end the consumer gets better stuff cheaper.

1 comment:

  1. A nice observation. I wish more doom-sayers would read this post.


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