The Outlaws of Political Economy
|‘I don’t have to show you
any stinking badges.’
Perusing Palgrave’s Dictionary of Political Economy from 1894 alerted me to the odd interaction of a pair of distinctions. The first distinction was between the study of “what is” and “what ought to be.” The second distinction was between “economic science” (or “economics”) and “political economy.” Economic science presumably distinguished itself from political economy by its strict focus on describing “what is” rather than on prescribing “what ought to be.”
Palgrave’s explains the latter distinction to have been at least partly motivated by the confusion that arose over just what kind of laws — legal or natural — so-called “laws of political economy” were. Even after the attempt at rebranding, however:
“…even well-educated persons still occasionally speak of “laws of political economy” as being “violated” by the practice of statesmen, trades-unions and other individuals and bodies.
You can’t “break” scientific laws. They are simply generalized descriptions of fact. A flying airplane doesn’t break the law of gravity. It conforms to a more comprehensive complex of physical laws. The law of gravity isn’t the only law.
Palgrave’s Dictionary further noted that the “great complexity and variety of circumstance which surround every economic problem are such as to render the enunciation of general laws, on a large scale, barely possible and if possible barely useful.”
So the whole “positive” economics rigamarole wasn’t just about methodological rigor. It was a purification ritual to rid the political economist of the stigma of dogma. Economists who invoke the violation of so-called laws aren’t only forfeiting any legitimate claim to economic science. They are contaminating their profession with atavistic hokum.
Speaking of atavistic hokum, I have been trying to track down ANY accessible published record of a trade unionist or advocate of the reduction of the hours of labor EVER overtly expressing the belief that there is a fixed amount of work to be done or a certain quantity of labor to be performed or whatever synonymous equivalent. There is none.
There is a reasonable explanation for this absence of evidence. The alleged false belief is expressed in abstract language that was not vernacular to the people accused of harbouring it. It’s the wrong answer to a question workers never asked themselves.
False belief requires two conditions to be fulfilled: 1. the idea is false and 2. it is believed by someone to be true. The matrix below shows the possible states of belief and falsehood. An idea does not have to be true to be “not false” and it doesn’t have to be believed to be false to be “not believed to be true.” The fallacy claim asserts a simplistic (and false!) polarization in which the beliefs of the “unenlightened” are “the opposite” of economic orthodoxy.
In an 1861 letter to the Times of London “A Master Builder” alleged that George Potter, secretary of the carpenters’ union, and his associates had “absurdly argued that there was only a certain amount of work to be done” during a 1859 strike and lock-out of the London building trades. There is a detailed report on the 1859 strike in an 1860 report on Trades’ Societies and Strikes published by the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science. The 23-page account presents several items of correspondence from Potter outlining the union’s position with not a hint of a lump in the load. The “certain amount of work to be done” was what Mr. Master Builder thought he heard when he mentally translated Potter’s argument into his own capitalistic patois.
There was something else interesting in the 685-page document — an overarching controversy about whether or not labor was a commodity just like any other and therefore whether or not unions violated the laws of political economy by trying to regulate wages and hours of work. The employers who maintained this were pretty dogmatic about it. “Rates of wages cannot be settled by mediation, but must be left to the free operation of supply and demand.” It’s the law!
This was not simply political economy It was vulgar political economy of the most self-serving and disingenuous kind. One has no difficulty whatsoever finding multiple evocations by employers of the so-called laws of political economy but the elusive lump remains “one of the most tenaciously held and generally least articulated of trade union beliefs.”
Least articulated? Least articulated is an understatement. Try NEVER articulated. There is no there there. The alleged false belief is a pure projection by the laws-of-political-economy crowd onto the unbeliever. The eighth annual report of the New York Bureau of Labor Statistics for the year 1890 contains the responses of over 600 labor union locals to the question of whether and why they support an eight-hour day. Not one claims there is only a certain quantity of work to be done.
Below is an example of what an overt statement of the theory of the lump of labor looks like. It is not from a trade union manifesto or a pamphlet of the eight-hour day movement. It is from a propaganda tract put out by Nassau Senior’s crew of Whig-Benthamites in defense of their New Poor Laws, which abolished outdoor relief and established the workhouse test:
The fact is, there is a certain quantity of work to be done, and the question is who ought to do it — those who live by their labour, and their labour only, or those who have thrown themselves on public charity.
Can anyone find such an unequivocal articulation of the false belief by a trade unionist? Of course not. It’s not the way that workers talk about their work. Work is not an abstract, disembodied quantity to those who do it. It is part of a lived experience. “A certain quantity of work to be done” is political economy speak, plain and simple. It’s ceteris paribus and “all else being equal.”
Paradoxically, for old school vulgarians there both is and is not a certain quantity of work to be done. There is a certain quantity of work to be done when it comes to disparaging the idea that workers might increase wages their through collective action:
There is a certain quantity of work to be done, and a certain number of hands to do it; if there be much work and comparatively few hands, wages will rise; if little work and an excess of hands, wages will fall. It is self-evident that combinations and strikes cannot alter this law. They can neither increase capital, nor diminish population; and, therefore, it is utterly impossible, in the very nature of things, that they ever can procure a permanent rise of wages.
But there isn’t a certain amount of work when it comes to explaining why such foolish action isn’t even necessary:
There is, say they, a certain quantity of labour to be performed. This used to be performed by hands, without machines, or with very little help from them… The principle itself is false. There is not a precise limited quantity of labour, beyond which there is no demand. Trade is not hemmed in by great walls, beyond which it cannot go. By bringing our goods cheaper and better to market, we open new markets, we get new customers, we encrease the quantity of labour necessary to supply these, and thus we are encouraged to push on, in hope of still new advantages. A cheap market will always be full of customers.
Five years ago I compiled a database of over 500 instances of the claim in books and journal articles between 1890 and 2010 (Excel file). That’s 500 claims without a single overt statement of the false belief from an alleged believer. Six claimants (about one percent) named culprits whose argument “arguably depends upon…” “makes an error equivalent to…” “indicates a belief…” “seems hopelessly involved in…” “is an example of the strange conclusions to which one may be carried by clinging clinging firmly to…” and “are driven by implicit assumptions.” Each of those turns out to be a false alarm — an uncharitable, speculative inference. Five hundred boys crying “wolf” and not a single wolf to be seen?
This is an astonishing performance. This compulsion to repeat is not “careless” or “dogmatic.” It’s neurotic.
The patient cannot remember the whole of what is repressed in him, and what he cannot remember may be precisely the essential part of it.. He is obliged to repeat the repressed material as a contemporary experience instead of remembering it as something in the past.
The atavistic return of the repressed “laws of political economy” conforms faithfully to a description toward the end of chapter 3 of Beyond the Pleasure Principle where Freud talks about the experiences of “people with whom every human relationship ends in the same way” and gives as a “singularly affecting” final example the events in a romantic epic, in which the hero, Tancred, repeatedly slays his beloved, Clorinda, each time she reappears in a different guise. In this example, as Gavriel Reisner notes,
Freud reverses the compulsion to repeat, showing how we will sometimes injure others in order to avoid injuring ourselves. Freud concludes that we often project the internal, masochistic drive as the external, sadistic drive, victimizing others to redirect an intent toward self-victimization.
The utilitarian political economists styled themselves advocates for “the greatest good for the greatest number” and viewed opponents as apologists for narrow special interests. The supposed laws they discovered, which operated through isolated exchanges between individuals in the market, vindicated a system of natural liberty and consequently freedom entailed obedience to those laws. Collective action and collective bargaining violated the laws of individual exchange, resulting in sub-optimal outcomes. Such perversity could only be motivated by false beliefs. The false beliefs of the adversary were presumably the opposite of the true beliefs of the faithful: trade unions operated through tyranny and their bizzaro-world political economy assumed that less output meant more income.
Reality discredited that polemic of political economy and calmer heads sought to rebrand the enterprise as economics. The ersatz laws were scaled back to tendencies, which operated within the admittedly abstract ceteris paribus pound of the economist’s static model. Real life and the evolution of economic relations operated outside the ceteris paribus pound but maybe the static model could shed light on dynamic economic activity.
It was no longer fashionable to denounce “The Evils of Collective Bargaining in Trades’ Unions” (Thomas Cree, 1898) because it was increasingly understood that the so-called laws of supply and demand operated quite differently with regard to the peculiar commodity of labor power (Richard Ely, 1886):
While those who sell other commodities are able to influence the price by a suitable regulation of production, so as to bring about a satisfactory relation between supply and demand, the purchaser of labor has it in his own power to determine the price of this commodity and the other conditions of sale.
But even as old-guard political economy was being gradually displaced by rebranded economics in the universities, employers’ associations and business journalism emerged to propound and propagate the old-time religion. The break with quasi-scientific, quasi-legalistic, quasi-religious pseudo-laws was ambivalent, the reconciliation surreptitious. Employers’ associations told the college teachers what to teach. Textbooks served up a smorgasbord of the obsolescent and the innovative.
In this twilight of science and superstition, the fallacy claim offered uncertain economists a distinctive advantage. It enabled them to continue to denounce violations of the laws of political economy without actually having to specify which laws were being violated. That left them exempt from any obligation to justify the validity of defunct laws. The burden of proof deftly shifted and the providence of economic science affirmed, albeit by default.
Economic science thus gets to have its “what is” humility… and eat its “what ought to be” hubris too! Evidence be damned.
That there was one particular offense singled out for condemnation by the self-appointed economic police is suggested by the example given in Palgrave’s Dictionary for the common confusion between the legislative and scientific senses of law: “Thus it is often said that to regulate the hours of labour, or to introduce differential import duties, is to break economic law.” The anachronism of such a view should require no explanation. The hours of labor are regulated.
Any proposal to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 on the grounds that it “breaks economic law” would no doubt be laughed at by Paul Krugman, David Autor, Jonathan Portes or Alan Manning. But, inadvertently, that is precisely the historical grammar of their lump-of-labor fallacy taunt. Although there is no logical imperative that links the law-breaking claim to the fallacy claim, they have been inseparably paired in usage from their inception. To invoke the latter is either to imply the former or it is a non sequitur.
At long last, economists, have you no scientific self-respect? On this labor day, 2016, would you still insist that regulating of the hours of work breaks the laws of economics?
It seems that you are talking a lot about the past laws of economics and how trade use to work or how it once worked and became “free trade” policy which has now become nothing more that one way trade in modern day times. To get a much better picture and perspective of the “political economy” please go see today’s Labor Day blog from PaulCraigRoberts.org. I’m sure that PCR is not going around saying “Happy Labor Day” when we have no real livable wage job creation to be celebrating. I like Trump’s idea of negotiating with each country individually to bring back a more fair and balanced trade to our country. This is where our true national security lies not is passing the current phony TPP that will further increase trade deficits and weaken our country.
It is not going to change. Automation has made a difference to the detriment of Labor. The solution lies internally..
This would be the same Paul Craig Roberts who wrote that Brown vs. Board of Education and the 1964 Civil Rights Act “resulted in stripping white males of their constitutional protections and turning them into second-class citizens.”
He also claims that the Sandy Hook shootings were staged by the government, the children were actually actors and no children actually died.
No thanks. I won’t be pondering his twisted thoughts about the labor markets on Labor Day.
In a sense, though, there is only a certain amount of work available. That amount is determined by demand and demand is strongly influenced, if not determined by, the affluence or lack of it of prospective customers. Henry Ford understood that fact. Krugman seems to, urging government to supply demand. It does seem to be obvious that without someone to buy there will be no jobs for those wishing to sell.
What I didn’t mention in this post is that there is a hidden premise to the fallacy claim that “trade will find its own level.” In other words, ASSUMING that an increase in demand AUTOMATICALLY follows from a decrease in price, there can never be a limit to demand. Essentially, this is what has come to be known as “Say’s Law.” Say’s Law IS a false belief in that it is both false and explicitly believed and defended by many people.
Jack, it IS obvious to anyone in the real world.
Maybe the way supply-side economics is supposed work is to assume that the hoi polloi will see all the goodies the well-heeled Joneses are purchasing with their tax breaks, and go into hock to keep up, thereby providing demand…………………..
As a wise man once replied to the biblically based claim: “Man does not live by bread alone”: “Yes, but by bread”
That is at a basic level supply and demand for labor will always be controlled by subsistence, over the medium to long term a laborer and his (or her) family cannot live on literal starvation wages. Because they literally starve.
Which leads quite naturally to the Iron Law of Wages
which whether you attribute it to Malthus or (as the article does Lassalle – who I had never heard of) asserts that “real wages always tend, in the long run, toward the minimum wage necessary to sustain the life of the worker.”
What this ‘Law’ silently suggests is that any wage that IN PRACTICE allows for more than simple subsistence is a distortion of Natural Laws of Economics and therefore of Natural Law more generally. Which ‘Moral Philosophers’ such as Malthus were eager to claim a ‘Bad Thing’
Which raises some questions that are buried under the simple claims of “Supply and Demand”. Is there a moral case that workers SHOULD have claims on productivity in excess of simple subsistence or are any such demands simply claims on the charitable impulses of employers who would otherwise be perfectly justified falling back on the Fetters of the Iron Law.
Which is to say that claims that labor markets SHOULD clear right where they do and that this is just a natural result of Supply and Demand are burying a moral argument that near starvation wages are just and that any demands for wages above that are distortions. Nay beyond that simple violations of Natural Law.
It seems to me that the defenders of Capital that rest their argument on specious claims that the opponents are relying on Lump of Labor are simply dissembling (and perhaps to themselves) and obscuring that their real fundamental belief rests on the aptly named Iron Law.
“Hey it is not ME that is keeping you poor! Take it up with the Universe!!”
In practical application the Iron Law works as follows:
You are a manufacturer who has a factory with 100 workstations and a market for everything that you can produce. And lets assume that the skills needed are such that workers can be up to speed in short order and that workers cannot simply exploit skill and experience differences between new and old. What then is the proper wage for the 100 workers?
Well if you are a firm believer in the “laws of economic science” then a perfectly justifiable answer is “where the market clears for the 100th worker”. That is after all clearly “the going rate”. But this is just to normalize and indeed morally validate the Iron Law. Because in extremis the “going rate” will cause the labor market to clear close to subsistence.
And this isn’t just theoretical, it is implicit in claims you see all the time that “hey you can be replaced, there are plenty of guys who would be grateful for this job”. Well YEAH. Nobody likes starving. Or seeing their kids starve.
BTW what is missing in all my discussion is the idea that wages are ultimately controlled by calculations of labor productivity. Nice theory but doesn’t seem borne out in practice. Instead wages are set by a much more foundational mechanism, at least when considered system wide: wage prices are set where the market clears. And absent an actual shortage of labor overall the level where the market will clear WILL be set by the Iron Law of Wages.
Bruce, as far as the marketplace for labor is concerned, it depends on how badly the employer needs the labor. Consider the farming industry throughout our country scrounging for cheap labor to help cultivate and harvest crops. If illegals are excluded, the price goes up.
If the skills required are rare, the price of the laborer goes up. If labor is allowed to organize, the price goes up. Why does the employer, “the source of the work” have some privilege over the provider who can do the employer’s work which the employer cannot do by him/her self?
In short, the only “law” involved is that of supply and demand but many things, including regulations, influence what those elements are and they change over time.
JackD Sandwichman was (in part at least) making a point as to how conveniently selective the adoption of “economic laws” can be.
The Iron Law of Wages is a case in point, it normalizes and naturalizes and so moralizes an outcome by thrusting it on the Universe rather than examining it is a pure power relation. I am certainly not endorsing it.
And historically it is simply not true that “If the skills required are rare, the price of the laborer goes us”. Not historically, at least not over the medium term. Examine the history of the Statute of Laborers and related legislation starting after the Black Death in the 14th century. The response of employers to a shortage of labor and labor skills was to enlist the coercive power of the State to enforce wage controls. Which is to say that when the “natural law” of supply and demand actually looked to be coming into play due to externally restricted supply (a substantial portion of the previous labor force now being dead) suddenly the Laws of the Universe were waived in favor of the Power of the Point of a Bayonet (or Pike back then).
Labor price obviously reacts to supply and demand both of raw labor power and specific skills. But it ultimately settles at a market clearing price that is itself bounded at the bottom by subsistence and at the top by a combination of state power and competition between EMPLOYERS. If the factory owners can hold their solidarity, and control the political system to the extent that they can claim the powers of State police coercion to suppress worker organization they can, have and will suppress wages. No matter what theoretical calculations of pure supply and demand might argue. And certainly calculations of labor contribution to productivity.
That is it is a Power relation. Only when workers are successful at gaining some influence over political power is there ANY space for sucessful labor action. Which is why you have so many essays today exploring the question of whether capitalism and democracy can ever really be reconciled. In the face of an old consensus that the rule of capital over labor was simply the operation of Natural Law.
“regulations” are simply one expression of political power, one that privlieges Democracy to Laissez Faire. (Okay occasionally they are the result of an intra-class struggle between Land owners and Merchant/Factory capital, still fundamentally political and focused on the control of political institutions).
“Labor price obviously reacts to supply and demand both of raw labor power and specific skills. But it ultimately settles at a market clearing price that is itself bounded at the bottom by subsistence and at the top by a combination of state power and competition between EMPLOYERS.”
Yes, but it is important also to note, with regard to the hours of work, that the laws of supply and demand operate differently for labor power. If the hourly wage falls below the worker’s subsistence level, this tends to induce an increase in labor supply. Usually a decrease in price is supposed to result in a withdrawal of supply from the market but workers near subsistence level cannot afford to have a reservation price below which they will not sell.
Well, I did say that among other things regulations will affect the “law” of supply and demand. The aftermath of the Black Death notwithstanding, it remains a fact that all power does not reside in the employers.
A friend who runs a factory lamented recently that he can’t find “qualified” personnel for his operation. Consistent with one of the current trends, his process is computerized and he needs computer savvy people to operate it. It’s not that there aren’t any available. It’s that they won’t work for what he’s willing to pay. He says, “it’s just a factory job”. Well, apparently not. This being the United States, the government won’t order those people to work for this guy.
Then too, when really pressed, one gets the Russian revolution. Law can be a slippery concept. Less violent but still effective was the Rouge River confrontation in our own country and numerous incidents in our labor history.
Or how about Curt Flood?
“It’s that they won’t work for what he’s willing to pay.”
Well then unless you are explicitly defining “willing” as “economically able without himself starving” you are conceding that the power resides in the employer.
There is a possible world where enough power resides in the hands of organized labor that firms are in fact driven right out of business. The problem is that the right/controllers of capital seem to insist that we are already in that world or on the verge of it even at a time when the stock market is at record highs and p/e’s and companies are sitting on huge stores of cash. And yet increasingly insist on externalizing the cost of advanced training of their workers even while only offering entry level wages.
Now certainly there are operators who for reasons of scale or suffering from price controls on things like commercial rent from above can’t compete on labor price at the “going rate”. But that is no reason to ignore the larger scale power imbalance between labor and capital.
Run75441 I agree with you notion that we must solve this internally but automation does not have to be a detriment to workers.It must become our friend if used and applied wisely and not portrayed as an abusive tool against labor. I remember a few years back being told that I have 10 guys who must do the same amount of work as 100 china men. It was true we did it with automation and the displaced workers had to become automation or robot technicians or it software technicians which is exactly what happened. So their pay would naturally go up with increased demand for their higher skills demand. The same trend is now widely expanding into many other areas and soon many truck drivers fleets will become displaced and forced up the technological and wage ladder once again. Being Lean, productive and efficient does Not go against technology. “Do not let your current knowledge obscure opportunities for new learning.” Shingo…As for BillB. I would advise that you go to the PCR home page and read his profile to get a better more accurate opinion.
Adam Smith predated Malthus.
http://www.econlib.org/library/Smith/smWN3.html#B.I, Ch.8, Of the Wages of Labour
Oddly enough I was aware of the existence of Adam Smith. And thanks for the link which provided this passage which summarizes a point I have been making often and for years using the example of the Statute of Laborers:
“It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit their combinations,*10 while it prohibits those of the workmen.*11 We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer.”
But what I am not finding at your link is anything that valorizes the Iron Law of Wages. Instead Smith concedes that employers will always seek to reduce wages to that level but does not argue that the result is just a natural result of the workings of the Laws of Economics. Instead we have this:
“Thus far at least seems certain, that, in order to bring up a family, the labour of the husband and wife together must, even in the lowest species of common labour, be able to earn something more than what is precisely necessary for their own maintenance; but in what proportion, whether in that above mentioned, or in any other, I shall not take upon me to determine.*16
There are certain circumstances, however, which sometimes give the labourers an advantage, and enable them to raise their wages considerably above this rate; evidently the lowest which is consistent with common humanity.”
Now it may be that I am somehow missing your point. But since you have not actually exerted yourself to actually EXPRESS that point but instead seem to think I will be abashed by this simple naked link to Adam Smith (as if I wasn’t aware that the history of economic thought did not just begin in the 1840s) I think I can be excused here.
Or what WAS your point?
My point was only that Smith stated the point before Malthus.
My point was that he didn’t. Because my point was explicitly about the Iron Law of Wages. Which as I tried to point out in as pointed a fashion as I thought necessary to drive the point goes somewhat beyond the general point expressed by Smith.
If you get my drift. And point.
“[What] I am not finding at your link is anything that valorizes the Iron Law of Wages.”
I’m sorry, but I do not understand your use of the word VALORIZE in this context. All I know is this definition: “to provide for the maintaining of the value or price of (a commercial commodity) by a government’s purchasing the commodity at the fixed price or by its making special loans to the producers.”
give or ascribe value or validity to (something).
“the culture valorizes the individual”
raise or fix the price or value of (a commodity or currency) by artificial means, especially by government action.”
If you assign a positive value to something purely on the basis of it being a ‘Natural Law’ you have both valorized and validated it. Which on my reading was what Sandwichman was discussing.
“The first distinction was between the study of “what is” and “what ought to be.”
thus leading to:
“an overarching controversy about whether or not labor was a commodity just like any other and therefore whether or not unions violated the laws of political economy by trying to regulate wages and hours of work. The employers who maintained this were pretty dogmatic about it. “Rates of wages cannot be settled by mediation, but must be left to the free operation of supply and demand.” It’s the law!”
Or in my example: “It’s the Iron Law!”
Smith = “what is”
Ricardo/Malthus = “what ought to be”
The real meat in my post is the link to a spreadsheet with over 500 invocations of the fallacy claim.
It’s called data. The fallacy claim is empty of evidence. In contrast, I present an exhaustive compilation of evidence. Evidence-empty claim after evidence-empty claim after evidence-empty claim… and repeat 500 more times.
Here again is the link to the spreadsheet file:
If there was an intellectual honesty court, hundreds of economists and journalists would at least have their license to practice suspended for a few months. 😉
The “tenaciously held and least articulated” belief has NEVER been shown to have been articulated.
Why would this even matter?
Because the reduction of working time is one of the critical vulnerabilities of capitalist hegemony. Limitation of the hours of labor kills plutocracy.
Can’t have that.
A new modern operating agreement does not use old platforms of make work or piece work. I know I lived it. The modern trend goes to Lean principles and concepts. The past concept of rule with and iron fist is long outdated and proven to fail. Many political leaders today unfortunately know little about Lean principles and concepts and still resort to the iron fist. This exploitation is what keeps unions in existence with the collective bargaining power to negotiate and strike for wages benefits and working conditions. Also a private sector union is a far different entity than a government union where there is no push back on any cost or efficiency. The old iron fist mentality may have worked in the past but surely will not work in the future.
“The old iron fist mentality may have worked in the past but surely will not work in the future.”
Horseshit. It works fine even now. In the U.S. you find this kind of iron fist work to metric in both warehouse fulfillment (Amazon) and in call centers (Apple Support). I just spent six months in Apple Support and the business model was deliberately set up so that no one could realistically meet all official expectations of Apple and/or the 3rd party vendor that actually on paper employed us. Not only were all of us officially “at will” employees, the system was set up so that almost anyone could be fired “for cause” at any time.
After that I worked briefly for DirecTV, once again via a 3rd party employment vendor and never made it through the full training period. Because their business model was even more punitive than the Apple vendor. Rather than monitoring your output to the second and only holding it over your head when they wanted to get rid of you (Apple Support) they monitored your performance in live time from adjacent stations and literally yelled your name out if you took too long after a call, even where that was spent doing needed documentation.
You can say that past concepts of “rule with an iron fist” are “long outdated and proven to fail” and yet both Apple Support and DirecTV have some of the finest customer support ratings out there. But trust me the actual day to day and literal minute to minute experience of the people who work there is nothing like the glossy ads.
And of course any and all complaints are met with the “reasonable” observation that the bulk of support operations for both companies are actually ALREADY outsourced to India and the Philippines, U.S.call centers mostly being reserved for people who have paid for upgraded service of one type or another and like their service people to have American (or British) accents.
But don’t kid yourself that 19th century factory operating styles are out of fashion, they exist today and a large percentage of the working population has held jobs that utilize them. Because the turnover in these places is both extreme and deliberate. My supervisor let slip that Apple’s metric for acceptable turnover of front line support staff was 95% per year. Meaning you were “up” (a tiny percentage being taken on full time in Quality or Training) or “out”. DirecTV’s third party vendor had a similar setup, The expectation was that anyone who made it six months would be elevated to a lead or training position, it was typical for the level of management above that to only have been with the company for two years. Stick it out for six years and you were in line to be Facility Director. Because of course the same time pressures and metrics that ultimately fell on the Floor originated up the management chain and propagated down through every level. Compassion not being an option when you knew for a fact you could be replaced by someone with six months experience. That likely being your own path to where you were at.
Finally I fail to see the fundamental difference between “Lean principles and concepts” and “Iron fist” when it comes to operational realities. Because the latter is more often than not how you produce your cost savings/efficiency.
Bill I don’t know your lived experience either in the immediate present or the past, but I have spent the last 10 years in and out of entry level employment and in and out of the prospect of near term or actual homelessness. And in that world of employment for wages between actual minimum and $10 an hour every day is “take it or leave it” and workers are disposable units. Because no matter how bad you have it there is always someone worse off. Which might be you yesterday and of course you tomorrow.
Thanks for saving me the effort.
Well said, Bruce. And it’s not just at the low end. I know one aerospace company that expects their engineers to work 50 hrs. per week (getting paid for only 40, but they don’t tell you that in the interview, of course). They generously pay overtime (NOT time-and-a-half, mind you), if you go over 50 hours in a week.
In many places, if you don’t work (unpaid) overtime, you’re “not a team player.” And if you DO work unpaid overtime, well, come raise time, “Why do you have a problem getting your work done in forty hours?”
Hi Bruce I sent you some photos of old Jack Maschhoff who received to Air Mens Medal in WWll and soon after he became original organizer and international representative of the UAW. He worked very closely in the art-advertising department and was very close to Walter and Victor Reuther…Now flash forward to today. All employee abuses and exploitation that companies do to employees is the very reason that unions exist. When you get a union contract established you gain respect and worker right of which you must build on. Believe me if the UAW represented all those companies you mention they would Not be getting away with all those employee abuses…But then comes the “legacy cost ” of having a union and employee rights, pay, safety,benefits and respect is often looked upon as additional unnecessary cost. This is fallacy. This cost is the price of having happy vs. unhappy workers which will make a huge difference in the companies longevity and long term success.. So many companies were allowed to flee the country (with no penalty from the government ) to avoid unions. You know this story and Not every company has a business model of abuses to think they are succeeding. This is why the TPS business model of Toyota has become so widely acclaimed, emulated and successful world wide…But still even today with all the modern abuses the inions do still need to make union busting a felony and to better control the inflows of imports to a more balanced trade agenda through the variable rate tariff that will eliminate the current use of currency manipulation…Enough said, but remember Jack was a true passionate fighter for worker rights and respect that I do not see much of anywhere. Today people are afraid to organize and most don’t really understand the benefits that a union and collective bargaining can provide to them. they are afraid the company will move out of town and are rightly so because there are currently no penalties for doing so. The power of collective bargaining and the strike should not be underestimated especially in the private sector of the economy…