Thursday, March 23, 2006

Productivity Gains While Humanity Loses

Commentary by Martin Kelly
April 30, 2004

How do we measure our fellow man? The outward signs are the least reliable. Too many hypocrites hide their misdeeds behind false and misleading ‘principles’. Except in the most public cases, we don’t have the ability to look into men’s souls, so we must find other criteria by which we can meter him. One of the most common is the corporate criterion of ‘productivity’.

Productivity is an effective tool for measuring economic worth. Obviously the more a man produces, the greater his value. A man with a strong work ethic will produce more than one without, so the harder worker has a higher value and should earn a premium for his labour. He should, shouldn’t he?

Not quite. Every aspect of economic life is now so subject to rules of productivity that it has become not a guide to performance but the overseer of a rapacious, insatiable culture that is nothing to do with capitalism and everything to do with corporatism. Instead of rewarding steelworkers in Indiana who can roll more than every other plant in Gary combined, their productivity means they are now more expensive to reward. They have therefore become ‘uncompetitive’.

It is not extreme to say that, for all of the alleged social advances made in the workplace over the past fifty years, from maternity leave to sick pay, people with jobs are more dis-satisfied than ever. They really shouldn’t be – there is more available for them to consume than at any other time in history. The economic cost of this prosperity has been well recorded, however, the human cost is almost always ignored. It is a healthy thing to work hard, however, when productivity is measured not in days but in seconds, that turns the person being measured into nothing more than a machine, satisfying the classical definition of pornography, that of objectification of the human.

Socialists are big on productivity. Still reeling from the loss of the Cold War, they cling like limpets to the language of their ideas masters. Why else would magazines write stories on how much a stay at home mom would cost to hire? Even housewives, whose vocation is just as strong as that of any doctor or lawyer, must have their productivity measured according to the baldly mercantilist criterion of cost.

When are we going to start monitoring priests and ministers? Will they have to fulfil criteria on how many baptisms they perform (too dependent on third parties) or funerals (that could be dependent on location – you would get false statistics in areas with large retired communities)?

The socialist and allegedly conservative elites couldn’t care less why people are unhappy at work. In every workplace, you will get the loser whose lack of personal responsibility has brought them to the pass that they’re at. You can’t breed common sense – as any professional will attest, having been a lawyer, I have met some lawyers I wouldn’t trust to buy a pint of milk. However, the way in which the economy has been allowed to develop demands increasing homogenisation. We must all perform to the same standard, whether we are capable of it or not. Losing one’s job used to carry a stigma. Not any more. Every aspect of our day is an asset to be used to improve productivity, even to the fourth dimension. All managers speak the same way. They recite jargon like the incantations of some lost pagan priesthood, forgetting that, after a time, the souls of even the most ambitiously careerist longs for nothing more than a day away from the mobile phone and the e-mail.

The behaviour of corporations of the early 21st Century can be honestly interpreted as cultish in their demands on employees’ time, allied to their demands for conformity. It is fundamentally de-humanising, and anything that de-humanises people is unconservative. After all, have you ever met anyone who, on their deathbed, said they’d wished they’d spent more time at the office?