Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sinclair vs. Taylor: But What About the Workingman?

"Let me suggest to Mr. Taylor and his other experts ... what is the really great problem of Scientific Management in our time. Let them set themselves down to figure how the ninety million people residing in the United States of America, and being in full communal ownership and democratic control of the instruments and means of production and distribution, can so organize and administer these instruments and means as to produce the greatest quantity of necessary wealth with the least possible expenditure of labor." (Sinclair, p. 243)

In response to Frederick W. Taylor’s The Principles of Scientific Management, Upton Sinclair writes a provoking critique in the defense of the workingman. To give a brief summary of Taylor’s Scientific Management, his proposed ideas promised great increase in productivity through finding the quickest, most efficient method of performing a certain job and enforcing this method on the laborers. In doing so, Taylor argues that not only will productivity increase but also the employers would be able to increase pay for its staffers with the moneys earned from the extra products sold. In short, both the employer and the employee benefit from Scientific Management.
In response to this, Sinclair argued that Taylor’s Scientific Management was not in favor of the workingman. In particular, when Taylor wrote that a man should be given $1.85 for loading 47 pig irons (having previously been making $1.15 for loading 12.5 pig irons), Sinclair attacked Taylor’s suggestion that the workingman should be given only a 60% increase in pay for a 362% increase in productivity. He mocks how Taylor’s figures do not seem to have any financial basis, or, if it does, that his basis is very skewed in the employer’s favor. (For information on justifying for inflation, go to
Sinclair also finds Taylor’s idea, increased productivity leading to men being laid-off being a good thing because they will find work elsewhere, very disturbing; Sinclair believes that the laid-off men will not be able to find work elsewhere because everywhere else will be just as scientifically managed as the place from which they were just let go. Being a notable “muckraker,” founder of the Californian’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and an open Socialist, Sinclair naturally opposed the idea that the workingmen be laid-off for the sake of something as ethereal as progress—especially when he considered that this progress was being built on the backs of these selfsame workingmen.
Lastly, Sinclair wonders aloud about what will happen with the surplus now being made due to the increase in productivity. Does the productivity outweigh the demand for the product? How can the employer find new consumers for their products? Do they rehire the men they fired to go out and market the surplus products to other communities?
Sinclair notes the slant Taylor has given towards the employer, but ever the Socialist optimist, Sinclair uses his critique to sprinkle more Socialist propaganda and looks to the future saying, “I believe that the time will come when [the workingmen] will take possession of the instruments and means of production, in order that when they produce $1,000 in value they may receive $1,000 in wages” (p. 243)—thus reconciling the Scientific Management with the workingmen’s agenda.
Alternatively, Sinclair opts that Taylor stop pandering to the employer and use his researchers to find out how a workingman can make a good living and sell that research to them for fifty cents so that Taylor can get rich and shut up. Sinclair writes that since the business is built on the backs of the workingman, then the workingman should receive his raise in direct correlation to his productivity, not be laid-off for the sake of progress, and therefore given a better opportunity to make a living for his family.

"And the means which the writer firmly believes will be adopted to bring about, first, efficiency both in employer and employee and then an equitable division of the profits of their joint efforts, will be Scientific Management, which has for its sole aim the attainment of justice for all three parties through impartial scientific investigation of all the elements of the problem." (Taylor, p. 245)

To defend his case, Taylor is given his own turn in the same piece. Taylor argues that Sinclair has only looked at his Scientific Management through the lens of a workingman and not those of the employer or especially the consumer. Taylor starts by taking the side of the employer and defends his only 60% raise by saying that the workingman had before been “incompetent,” and now that the managers have made him competent, or in Taylor’s words “not due to this man’s initiative or originality … but to the knowledge … developed and taught him by someone else” (p. 244-245). In other words, because the workingman did not teach himself how to be more productive he does not receive a better increase in salary than 60% for his greatly increased productivity.
Taylor does not dwell on this subject for long, but jumps right into the consumer’s point-of-view. He gives a lot of pomp about how the consumer gains “the greater part of the benefit coming from all industrial improvements” (p. 244), but he’s really just saying that the more output the company has the lower the prices will be for the product before he gets right back to showing us why the workingman shouldn't be given a raise any larger than 60% of what he’s already making.
Taylor actually has five reasons why the workingman should not get a better raise than 60%. Reason number one, Taylor says that the workingman is not such a hard to come by and actually compares the workingman to an ox, saying that the workingman is “heavy both mentally and physically” (p. 244). Reason number two is that this new work pace does not tire this man out anymore than his previous one, and if it does end up making the workingman more tired clearly the employer is not using the Scientific Management in the way Taylor intended.
The third reason is the same as the one stated beforehand; the workingman should not be paid any more than 60% because it was not his own idea to make himself more competent with his job. It was the employer who made the workingman more productive, so the workingman cannot take credit for, in Taylor’s example, loading more pig iron than before Scientific Management was applied. The forth reason takes this a step further and says that all workingmen should be paid about the same amount of money because “[it] would be grossly unjust to other laborers, for instance, to pay this man three and six tenths as high wages as other men of his general grade receive for an honest full day’s work.” (p. 245).
In Taylor’s last reason, he makes an outrageous claim that employers should not give the workingman more than a 60% raise because, in his words “[our] experiments showed … that for [the workingmen’s] own best interest it does not do for most men to get rich too fast.” (p. 245). Taylor claims that if the workingman does receive more than a 60% increase in pay he will squander it, but if he receives the 60% increase or less then the workingman will be content and save his money. Oddly enough, Taylor forgot that if the workingman does not get a raise in direct proportion to his increased productivity than the employer runs the risk of becoming unfathomably rich too fast. Who is going to protect that poor employer from squandering his wealth? Having finished listing his reasons, Taylor pats himself on the back saying, “[the workingman’s] 60 per cent increase in wages is not an object for pity, but rather a subject for congratulation” (p. 245).
Lastly, Taylor concludes that his Scientific Management’s sole aim is “the attainment of justice for all three parties [the employee, employer, and consumer] through impartial scientific investigation of all the elements of the problem” (p. 245). Taylor does expect that there will be a backlash from the employer and employee, but he believes that eventually the consumer will straighten the two out and Scientific Management will ring in a new, more productive future.