Monday, February 11, 2008

Formal Blog #2 - A bit late due to personal ailment

During a period of red scare and what apparently was an era of pro-capitalism, Fredrick Winslow Taylor, wrote the epitome of capitalist idealism: The Principles of Scientific Management. For what purposes did he write this short book (or essay)? He wrote it to explain how to maximize profit for both: the employer and employee. How does this affect me today, or even society as a whole? Not well, in my opinion.

A major argument in the book revolves around applying scientific management to laborers (examples he used was those that lay bricks or shovel) to increase their productivity (and their wage) which Taylor calls “soldiering”. He describes soldiering: “The greater part of the systematic soldiering, however, is done by the men with the deliberate object of keeping their employers ignorant of how fast work can be done.” (Taylor, 7) The main problem addressed with this theory includes paying for work done as opposed to just the simple time variable: time worked. He further explains that this is because in, certain jobs, the employer can be exploited by the workforce if the work force keeps the employer ignorant about the amount of work they are able to do. The result can be workers being paid more money than they deserve for working very casually and therefore being ineffective. By applying certain methods, employees, according to Taylor, can be rewarded with more pay, as the employer will make more profit and will have more money to hand out.

Now, comes the answer to my initial question: Why do I not think this is not a great idea and why it is not used universally today? Perhaps the answer lies on the first page where Taylor describes the main purpose of his essay: “The principal object of management should be to secure the maximum prosperity for the employer, coupled with the maximum prosperity for each employee.” I do not think that is the objective of business, or for that matter even healthy for society. I think a lot of businesses, that is worker and employer-relationship should have other standards and goals such as the satisfaction for the consumer. Perhaps I am an idealist in a hopelessly selfish world, but I think it is important to mention that I am an EMT. I believe in the medical profession, the most important thing that everyone should work for is the outcome of the customer (the patient).

Let us take the example of an EMT in the field. The amount of work done by one paramedic and one EMT is perhaps 4 or 6 hours during an 8 hour shift. Sometimes the work done is even less (and sometimes even more). So what does the EMT do while not working? The EMT waits for an emergency. If there is no emergency, the EMT was still ready and available all day – should his pay be penalized? No way should the EMT be penalized. The service he provides is not always needed, but when it is needed it may be the most important service a human could ask for. The same goes for many other professionals, such fire fighters, police officers, doctors, life guards and so on.

There are also other jobs where efficiency is not always important or for that matter the driving force behind pay. School teachers have an objective to accomplish in a time frame for example. Writes on the other hand strive for quality over quantity. Sometimes it is good for them to take a little bit more time with something but create a much better product. Either way, the consumer is the most important point for these two professions, too. That is, the student learning important things about life or readers enjoying the product provided to them by the author.

So essentially, I think the principles of scientific management is not the driving force behind economy and the work place today because it aims at the employee/employer relationship not the consumer/provider relationship which I deem to be more important. In the latter relationship, quantity is not always valued over quality which is what Taylor seems to have emphasized (the productivity of society).


Dan said...

I should have added that the essential effect of the scientific management, on me is the fact that they pay EMTs pretty poorly since they can't really pay us (and many other professions) based on how much work we actually do since our services are not always required but have to be available at all times. I am not sure how clear it was in the main blog, I am still kind of sick so my coherency suffered a bit.

Adam Johns said...

I enjoyed this post a lot. One implicit point behind this is that Taylor is so fixated on the factory model of labor (understandably, given his profession) that he almost seems to see the whole world as a factory, with our total productivity being, implicitly, equivalent to our total happiness.

I'm drawn to your addendum - your point that EMTs are paid poorly. Doctors, on the other hand, are paid very, very well (one reason health care costs are so high in the US is that doctors in the US earn about double what they do in Europe) - note also that doctors complain about the fact that their time is essentially micromanaged by insurance companies (the average consultation is about 7 minutes). So to me, you're arguing that the medical field should not be Taylorized - but you're also acknowledging that it _is_.