A Proposed Mass Technique to Promote Fuller Utilization of Human Resources in Developing Countries

Anthony Zimmerman
United Nations World Population Conference
Belgrade, Yugoslavia Belgrade
30 August to 10 September 1965
Reproduced with Permission


This is one of the papers contributed for the United Nations World Population Conference, 1965. It is reproduced as submitted and the views expressed are those of the author.These papers are for distribution to participants only.

Le present document fait partie des documents préparer pour le Congres mondial de la Population qui aura lieu en 1965 sous les auspices des Nations Unies. Il est reproduit sous sa forme originale et les opinions exprimees sont celles de l'auteur. Ces documents sont destinis aux participants uniquement.

1. Military service produces a number of side-effects which have significance in the constitution of a labor force; it acts as a steam roller smashing down social barriers; it operates as a refining mill into which is fed the raw material of an amorphous flotsam, of youth and from which issues a ram-rod erect column of finished soldiers; it frequently functions as a resevoir collecting manpower from areas of surplus and delivering it to areas of deficit. This paper is a trial balloon being launched to probe the possibility of employing a similar technique for the incubation of the emerging labor forces of developing countries.

2. We will concentrate attention primarily upon the raw material which is being pushed from overpopulated rural subsistence areas towards the urban conglomerations of developing industry; at the same time we will keep an eye upon the need to improve the efficiency of the rural labor force. The object of our study therefore encompasses huge masses of humanity, since we must assume that more than half of the labor force will be pushed or siphoned from the rural subsistence pool into the wage earning classes of the finished urbanites, in many of the developing countries; furthermore, the efficiency of the remaining rural labor force must be improved to fill the deficit of relative numbers occasioned by the rural-urban migration.

3. An analysis of some characteristics of the indicated raw material, and those of the desired and product, will help us to determine what functions are expected from a proposed mass technique to accelerate production and insure minimum standards.

4. First of all, a high percentage of youths in subsistence agriculture areas is illiterate. It ranges as high as 69.1% illiteracy of males 15 years of age and over in Sarawak, 71.1% in Pakistan, 80.2% in Iran. (1) Illiteracy is economically wasteful and socially undesirable for the end product envisioned, who is expected to survive in the surroundings of the more sophisticated urban wage earning classes The situation is improving rapidly, as can be seen from the statistics that 57.8% of the males age 5-14 of Sarawak are attending school, and 23.3% of those in Pakistan; in the latter case it rises to 31.1% in the age group of males 10-14 years old. (2) This nevertheless leaves a large percentage of illiterates who ought to be making the transition to more efficient methods of production during the coming decades. One of the aims of a mass-technique to improve the efficiency of the emerging labor force should therefore be to initiate and develop literacy.

5. A description of socio-economic conditions in which the raw material originates, perhaps somewhat exaggerated, will help to indicate the extend of processing which is required. In the rural subsistence surroundings the ceiling of per capita output is low and limited; modern science and technology have not yet been introduced; man accepts the world about him as inevitable; his power to manipulate nature is minimal; agriculture is the predominant occupation; political power lies in the regions, and the national government's role is still undeveloped; vertical social movement is inhibited by class barriers; a tendency to fatalism prevails, which is based on the assumption that life's possibilities have a narrow range. (3) Economically extravagant taboos are wasteful of time, efficiency, health.; knowledge of hygiene is minimal, and facilities are undeveloped; debilitating diseases and intestinal parasites are common heritage; housing offers little more than essential shelter from the elements; laborers are overworked during the busy season, but during the slack season they mark time; feasting during post-harvest festivals is followed by hunger before the next harvest is gathered; impersonal law has less influence than the direct supervision of elders; job's and crafts follow blood lines rather than personal preferences or abilities.

6. Diffusion of knowledge about modern economic and social life penetrates the villages only with difficulty, and application of this knowledge to production techniques is even more slow to follow. Penetration awaits, to a great extent, the slow method of family communications: relatives who have gone to the cities and made good return to reflect some of their enthusiasm and knowledge upon their relatives in the villages. However, a certain pall of depression hangs over the villages because so many of the more able and imaginative youthful laborers migrate to the cities, leaving the villages with a relatively high percentage of dependant population, and a strong trend toward conservatism because of the greater preponderance of elders. The future rural-urban migrants are thus reared in circumstances which hardly favor smooth transition to the technological production milieu in which many of them will soon find themselves.

7. Rural-urban migration under these circumstances entails much economic waste and social hardships. The fortunate ones find employment quickly, and living quarters. But the shanty towns and squatter areas which spawn around the new industrial complexes bear witness to the fact that tens of millions of migrants must pass years in a no-man's land of social and economic chaos, before they can pull themselves up to a plane of respectable living. Society seems to forget them during this nightmare of bitter loneliness, where disease and crime are rampant, physical and moral shipwreck are frequent. During this period their productivity is at a low ebb, even lower perhaps than in the rural area; but consumption cannot decrease appreciably. This is one source of the economic loss.

8. The system leaves much to be desired from the viewpoint of the employer. He has no say in the previous education and preparation of his future employees. He finds the new workers to be relatively unskilled and unstable, so that his investment in training is high, and this is compounded by a quick turn-over of not an inconsiderable proportion of the new laborers. Illiteracy, disease, malnutrition, instability, suspicion, tension because of unaccustomed conditions, crime, absenteeism, all compound the costs of the employer in building up his labor force.

9. Another disadvantage of the present rather formless system of the rural urban migration for employment is the somewhat rigid and irrational trend of this flow. The largest cities, especially the capital, the most prestigious centers, attract excessive labor, whereas areas where the social and overhead expenses associated with development would be lower are being by-passed. The fact that marriage occurs while the laborers are still so young hampers future mobility. This rigidness of the flow of labor is a factor of unemployment and under-employment, hence of further economic loss.

10. The conscription of youths into National Development Armies (NDA) as a means of providing a sluice gate for the rural-urban movement will now be considered. The system could be modeled on the military draft system, conscripting a selection of youths at about the age of 18 for about 2 years. The draft board, when making the selection, would be mindful of the aim of the system, namely to prefer a superior stock of youths as a rule, so that they can become leaders with influence after leaving the camps. Eliminated would be the weak, the unstable, the criminals, also only sons, students, etc. Perhaps a ratio of about 2-3 out of 10 would be a good norm. Age 18 gives reasonable confidence that the youths can live away from home, and that they are mature enough to follow strict discipline, and to absorb the training provided at the camps.

11. The army-like discipline at camps would require observance of strict hours and habits; members of all social strata and castes would have to mingle indiscriminately at manual labor, at the desk, in the dining room, in dormitories. After this discipline, which might amount to mild shock treatment at first, life as wage earners later on should be easy in comparison.

12. After basic training, many of the draftees would be required to learn the elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic. After this, or simultaneously, they might be processed through a series of specialized camps, where they can learn to handle tools, machinery, to prepare simple building materials and to set up hygienic and simple dwelling units; they would learn more about the use of money, of savings, of keeping accounts, of acquiring credit. Those expected to return to the villages would be instructed and exercised in crop management, in irrigation, use of pesticides and disease control, use of fertilizers, and of more advanced farm implements and machinery.

13. The objective of providing a future labor force which is healthier, better nourished, and more stable because of improved home life, would perhaps be achieved best by instituting a similar draft for women. These would be similarly processed in regard to discipline, use of money, etc., and their special training would be in the lines of home-making, sewing, nutrition and cooking, care of the baby, nursing the sick, use of medicines, basic hygiene, control of insects and pests, beautifying the home. If women are not included, the men should learn enough about these things to make demands of their wives later.

14. A side effect of the system would be a rise in the age at marriage of 3-5 or more years, which would result in an initial plunge of birth rates if the system were put into practice in a relatively short period, followed by a long-term moderation of the same. (4) This has been a common result of military service when a considerable part of the population participates. This, in turn, would increase the mobility of the male and female laborers who are not subjected to draft service. They would then be more free to gain experience in various occupations and to select from a wider range than at present. It would also reduce the percentage of dependents, since the years when natality occurs are delayed.

15. Another side effect would be the liberation of laborers from prisons of caste to which they are now confined. Where they are now constrained to follow occupations because of birth and caste, despite over-supply and diminishing returns in their employment fields, they would in future find a gateway to employment on the basis of skill and of demand.

16. In order to enlarge the framework of economic possibilities to operate such service camps, the pool of labor at the camps could be employed for useful and profitable services, especially during the second year. The Government could use this labor to build roads (a project in which army personnel of South Korea is engaged to a large extent), to extend irrigation and drainage systems, for reclamation work, rescue work, cultivation of government owned fields and plantations, perhaps for the construction of simple dwelling units to accommodate rural-urban migrants, including, themselves eventually. Special contingents might be employed to open new territories for cultivation and settlement (as the Tondei (Farmer-Soldier) corps did on the Island of Hokkaido, Japan, during 1875-1904). (5)

17. If women are included in the NDA, they could be employed in the maintenance of the camps as well as serving as aides in hospitals, nurseries, schools, and Government Offices.

18. Labor could be leased from the camps to private companies which agree to cooperate with the Government training program, for a price. Private companies might also be given the opportunity to recruit labor in these camps provided they pay a special tax for their upkeep.

19. Eventually the system could be utilized by Government Planners and by private employment agencies to distribute and channel labor to areas of greater opportunity and need, integrating the system with planning programs.

20. Labor unions could develop from such a system quite easily, which could put some pressure upon the employers of graduates from the camps to observe fair standards. Officials of Government Fair Labor Policy would also have improved facilities to observe how standards are being met in regard to graduates.

21. Graduates who are destined to return to the villages would have their training and practice orientated accordingly. A chief element of the course would be to condition them for open-mindedness towards new ideas, and for willingness to cooperate in future development programs of the villages, communities, and region.

22. Since this is a trial balloon, there is little need of developing the idea more in detail at present. Perhaps the idea could best be explored through pilot projects. If it should catch hold, it might also be wise for a UN body to set up a code of standards since explosive social and political problems are involved.