AS FAR as social engineers are concerned, efficiency, precision and consistency are not human traits. Two prominent men, a century apart, have sought to override the flaws of nature by making us more mechanistic. The current reformer of Homo sapiens is Yuval Noah Harari, to whom I will return, but cold and clinical manipulation of manpower began in the early 20th century.
In the 1925 Harold Lloyd comedy The Freshman, a hapless student tries too hard for popularity, beckoning peers to ‘step right up and call me Speedy’. Perhaps this was coincidental, but a notable figure of the time had the same nickname. His real name was Frederick Winslow Taylor, the initiator of scientific management theory. A Quaker from Philadelphia, ‘Speedy’ Taylor made a remarkable achievement in his college baseball team, as told by J A C Brown in The Social Psychology of Industry (1954): ‘He studied the technique of the game with the curiosity and ruthlessness which became typical of all his later ventures. He soon discovered that the method of bowling underhand then in general use was inefficient and proceeded to substitute the overhand method which, as he pointed out, got results.
‘When other players protested that overhand pitching was not provided for in the rules of the game, he insisted that, if this were so, the rules should be changed – to such effect that Taylor’s method finally became the universal one.’
Later, as chief engineer at Midvale Steel in Nicetown, Pennsylvania, he observed working practices. Significantly, ‘he noted that, whereas the industrialist has a clear idea of how much work he is entitled to expect from a machine, he has no comparable knowledge of the limits of efficiency of his workers’.
Taylor proceeded on three principles: Select the best man for the job, instruct him in the most efficient techniques, and incentivise productivity. As Brown described, he first applied these as consulting engineer at Bethlehem Steel: ‘Seventy-five labourers were each loading into railway trucks an average of 12½ tons of pig iron a day. After careful observation of the operation, Taylor decided that it should be possible to get a really efficient worker to handle between 47 and 48 tons a day. The management of the company, when asked for an opinion, refused to believe that any worker could deal with any more than 18 to 25 tons per day under any ordinary circumstances.’
A strong and self-motivated Dutch worker was picked by Taylor for an experiment. For extra money, this man was to follow every instruction without question: ‘When he was told to lift, he was to lift . . . when he was told to rest, he was to rest.’ Consequently, this labourer was able to load 47½ tons of pig iron, a tally sustained over a period of three years.
Taylor trained the other workers similarly, improving their output, although only one in eight could match the flying Dutchman. Despite pay rises, the company was able to cut its wage bill as the number of wagon-loaders was reduced from 300 to 140.
Brown remarked: ‘Taylor, who stood with his stopwatch over the workers, timing their rest pauses and their every movement, altering the layout of the plant, and changing the traditional ways of doing things, was not very popular.’
Taylor himself later reflected that he was viewed with contempt. Although his intent was to improve not only efficiency but also the health and remuneration of workers, his endeavour was seen as exploitative and primarily for the benefit of the owners. Indeed, ‘the success of his work was measured in part by the number of workers who could be discarded when the new methods were applied’.
The methodology of scientific management had great impact. Henry Ford created a production line for his car factory, which became the biggest and most profitable in the world. Other manufacturers either emulated or went bust.
However, in the economic boom after the Second World War, cracks appeared. The motor industry drove American culture, and with surging demand, the robustly unionised workers exerted power. The production line was at the mercy of a single section downing tools. Crippling strikes were averted by pay rises and perks, but these were costly sticking plasters.
The problem of Taylorism was that work was dehumanised. Simply fixing bolts on a particular part hundreds of times per day was tedious and devoid of meaning. German manufacturers, unlike their French, Italian and British competitors, built cars in a manner more fulfilling for workers’ morale. Methods of boosting efficiency, if the human element is ignored, are counterproductive.
Yet the human element is becoming less of an obstacle in the digital age. Changing from tangible to virtual, everything is more controllable by our master technicians. Philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, whose mass-marketed books are reviewed glowingly by the mainstream media, is considered a sage by people of progressive bent. In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2011), Harari promoted the file-drawer approach of bureaucracy: ‘In order to function, the people who operate such a system of drawers must be reprogrammed to stop thinking as humans and start thinking as clerks and accountants. As everyone from ancient times to today knows, clerks and accountants think in a non-human fashion. They think like filing cabinets. This is not their fault. If they don’t think that way, their drawers will all get mixed up and they won’t be able to provide the services their government, company or organisation requires.’
Harari wants people to be put in their place. An extreme materialist, he rejects romantic notions of the soul. In his transhumanist future, individual responsibility will be replaced by digital decision-making. As argued by Alex Jones in The Great Reset and the War for the World, published last month, totalitarians use bureaucracy to deploy unthinking functionaries:
‘Compartmentalisation was an enormous part of how the German nation was led into barbarism, as bureaucrats could go home and sleep at night thinking: “I’m not persecuting Jews, I’m just making sure they get on the trains to go to their camps”.’
Horrifyingly, the Great Reset pushed by Klaus Schwab, leader of the World Economic Forum, and for whom Harari is expert adviser, seems to have population control and eugenics at its core.
We saw with Covid-19 how citizens were readily induced into hating and even wishing death on those who refuse to comply with the regime. Taylor put efficiency above human interest, but Harari goes much further. If he and fellow technocrats get their way, vast swathes of the populace will be reduced to the status of ‘useless eaters’ – and thus disposable.