Nearly all of us are also-rans

Frederick Winslow Taylor, who as a young foreman in a Philadelphia steelworks in 1880 started measuring work performance compared with time taken to do the work, was the first time and motion study expert, the man who pioneered the science of efficiency in management.  He was not popular among ordinary workers.  It was pointed out, for instance, that Taylor’s showcase labourer, a man called Schmidt, earned 61% more pay, yes, but for that he performed 362% more work. A Congressional Committee was set up to investigate Taylor’s methods. Taylor himself was questioned and at one point he spoke of how much “the first-class man” profited under his system. The Chairman of the Committee then asked a pointed question about the fate of those who were not first-class. To this there was no very good or exact answer – nor has there been ever since.

A great question in the world is how to look after the also-rans. After all, not everyone can be a winner in competition. In fact there are many more losers than winners are there not?  And in any race there are always competitors way down the track and even one, remember, who comes dead last. So what happens to the losers, especially those really far back in the race?  It may not be for want of trying desperately hard to succeed that they fail:  every sportsman knows that effort does not always equate with success.  So are such losers to be consigned to the scrap heap?

Must life in the real world be organised like a sporting event in which only winners get a prize and the others get nothing?  That is what is implied, for instance, by Jack (Neutron Jack) Welch, Chairman of General Electric in the USA, American’s favourite businessman for a long time, who closed down dozens of plants and fired tens of thousands of workers in the cause of greater efficiency. As Neutron Jack said at a shareholders meeting in 1989, “The events we see rushing towards us make the rough, tumultuous eighties look like a decade at the beach.  Ahead of us are Darwinian shakeouts in every major marketplace, with no consolation prizes for the losing companies and nations.” Is this really the kind of world human beings should want to create?

So what happens when a nation and people strive for greater efficiency and get it, when they achieve impressive gains in productivity, when they reduce unit costs significantly, when they improve the investment climate greatly and perfect the tax laws and other conditions for multinational foreign investment – what happens if people work hard and achieve all these things and still are not among the winners because, remember, others are striving too and not everyone can come first or even second or third? I wish there was some Worldwide Congressional Committee to ask such a question and get some answers.  The world, life itself, is made up mostly of the second and third and fourth class and no class at all.  How are they to be catered for?  Are there, indeed, to be no consolation prizes?

What is utterly repugnant in the dominant modern ideology is the way it so barefacedly favours the strong over the weak.  If there are competitors is it not obvious that the competitor with most access to advanced technology, skilled manpower, ample funds for investment and advertising and promotion, superior organisation and the backing of powerful state resources and organization is going to win?  Please tell me what is to prevent this happening.  Insisting on reciprocity or equal treatment is the equivalent of insisting that one party, guess which, is going to lose and suffer.

“There is no free lunch” is another favourite mantra. Any sensible person understands that there can indeed be no free lunch in the sense that resources for that ‘free’ lunch have to be generated from somewhere.  But sensible and reasonably compassionate people also realise that there are countless human beings – the young, the helpless old, the handicapped, the destitute and indeed even those who have lost but not for want of trying – who qualify not only for a free lunch but also for a helping hand in any decently organised society or world community. To think otherwise is a negation of our common humanity.  Why is this a concept that so many seem to find it almost embarrassing to enunciate?

We should certainly try to do our very best, as good sportsmen preparing for competition, to make ourselves as fit and as strong and as fast, in other words as competitive, as possible so that we can perform as well as we can. But it does not follow that the real world must be organised as if it was a race or a jungle where the loser’s fate is zero.  Surely mankind has come far enough to find that completely unacceptable. Let there be gradations, yes, but gradations from winners who get the most to losers who all get at least enough – that should become the objective of us all and the basis of all our decisions.

Comments  

Beware the self-righteous

One of the worst aspects of the self-righteous is that those most guilty of it most vociferously deny that they are guilty at all.

By ,

Brexit

It is tragic to see a great nation bringing itself to its knees.

By ,

Thinking, already, about the next general election

In a vibrant democracy elections should be a cause for celebration, an ever welcome occasion regularly marking the successful outcome of what in any country’s history has always been a long struggle to overcome authoritarian, and often brutal, rule.

By ,

Misfortune

In a long life I have on a number of occasions been asked to address various groups graduating from school or university or making the transition from one stage of life to another – for instance, new recruits in a company or first-time members of a national sports team.

By ,

What poetry teaches

I find it difficult to convince friends – or anyone – that poetry is worth reading.

By ,

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly.

We built stabroeknews.com using new technology. This makes our website faster, more feature rich and easier to use for 95% of our readers.
Unfortunately, your browser does not support some of these technologies. Click the button below and choose a modern browser to receive our intended user experience.

Update my browser now

×