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On Technology and Unemployment

This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and one of his disciples took place in Geneva, Switzerland.

Devotee: In a recent speech a politician in India said that eighty percent of the Indian people live in rural villages. His proposal was to increase the technology on the farms. Instead of people having to harvest the wheat by hand, they would have motorized harvesters, and instead of having to use bullocks to pull the plow, they’d use a tractor.

Srila Prabhupada: In India many men are already unemployed, so to introduce more machinery there is a not a very good proposal. One hundred men’s work can be done by one man working a machine. But why should there be so many men unemployed? Why not engage one hundred men instead of engaging one? Here in the West, also, there is much unemployment. Because in your Western countries everything is done by machine, you are creating many hippies, frustrated young people with nothing to do. That is another kind of unemployment. So in many cases machines create unemployment.

Everyone should be employed; otherwise there will be trouble. “An idle brain is a devil’s workshop.” When there are so many people without any engagement, why should we introduce machinery t6 create more unemployment? The best policy is that nobody should be unemployed; every-one should be busy.

Devotee:But someone might argue, “The machine is freeing us from so much time-consuming labor.”

Srila Prabhupada: Free for what? For drinking and doing all kinds of nonsense. What is the meaning of this freedom? If you make people free to cultivate Krishna consciousness, that is another thing. Of course, when someone comes to our Krishna consciousness movement, he should also be fully engaged. This movement is not meant for eating and sleeping, but for working for Krishna. So whether here in Krishna consciousness or there in the outer society, the policy should be that everyone should be employed and busy. Then there will be a good civilization.

In the Vedic civilization, it was the duty of the head of society to see that everyone was working, either as a brahmana [an intellectual or teacher], a kshatriya [a military or political leader], a vaishya [a farmer or merchant], or a shudra [a laborer]. Everyone must work; then there will be peace. At the present moment we can see that on account of so much technology, there are unemployment and many lazy fellows. The hippies are lazy, that’s all. They don’t want to do anything.

Devotee: Another argument might be that with technology we can work so much better, so much more efficiently, so the productivity of those who do work goes way up.

Srila Prabhupada: Better that more men be employed doing the work less efficiently. In Bhagavad- gita [18.48] Krishna says,

saha-jam karma kaunteya
sa-dosham api na tyajet
sarvarambha hi doshena
dhumenagnir ivavritah

“Every endeavor is covered by some sort of fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work which is born of his nature, O son of Kunti, even if such work is full of fault.” And a Hindi proverb says, “Bekari se begari acchi hai.” Bekari means “without employment.” And begari means “to work without salary.” In India, we have seen many villagers come and request a shopkeeper, or any gentleman, “Please give me some work. I don’t want a salary. If you like, you can give me something to eat. Otherwise, I don’t even want that.” So, what gentleman, if you work at his place, will not give you something to eat? Immediately the worker gets some occupation, along with food and shelter. Then, when he’s working, if the gentleman sees that he’s working very nicely, he will say, “All right, take some salary.” Therefore it is better to work without any remuneration than to remain lazy, without any work. That is a very dangerous position. But in the modern civilization, on account of too many machines, there are so many unemployed people, and so many lazies also. It is not good.

Devotee: Most people would say these ideas are very old-fashioned. They’d rather have their technology, even if it creates a high unemployment rate, because they see it as a means of freedom from drudgery, and also as a means of freedom to enjoy television, movies, automobiles—

Srila Prabhupada: Technology is not freedom. Rather, it is a free way to hell. It is not freedom. Everyone should be engaged in work according to his ability. If you have good intelligence, you may do the work of a brahmana—studying scriptures and writing books, giving knowledge to others. That is the brahmana’s work. You don’t have to bother about your subsistence. The society will supply it. In the Vedic civilization brahmanas did not work for a salary. They were busy studying the Vedic literature and teaching others, and the society gave them food.

As for the kshatriyas, they must give protection to the other members of society. There will be danger, there will be attack, and the kshatriyas should protect the people. For that purpose, they may levy taxes. Then, those who are less intelligent than the kshatriyas are the vaishyas, the mercantile community, who engage in producing food and giving protection to the cows. These things are required. And finally there are the shudras, who help the three higher classes.

This is the natural division of society, and it is very good, because it was created by Krishna Himself (catur- varnyam maya srishtam). Everyone is employed. The intelligent class is employed, the martial class is employed, the mercantile class is employed, and the rest, the shudras, are also employed. There is no need to form political parties and fight. In Vedic times there was no such thing. The king was the supervisor who saw that everyone was engaged in his respective duty. So people had no time to form false political parties and make agitation and fight one another. There was no such chance.

But the beginning of everything is to understand, “I am not this body,” and this is stressed again and again by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita.