Saturday, August 20, 2005


The Quebecois writer, the late Pierre Bourgault , writing in his collection of essays LA COLERE Vol. 3 (Anger) makes the excellent point that the drive for productivity in services actually cuts down on productivity in general. (*) He gives two examples, one of department stores and the other of the banks. Both, with the view of raising productivity - in reality raising profits - have cut staff to the bone. The customer is forced to spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the items he/she wishes to purchase or waiting in line to do a banking transaction. Furthermore the ill-paid employees are also ill informed about the products. All this means a time loss - i.e., a cut in productivity for the customer. There is no overall gain in societal productivity, the company's gains are the publics loss.

We can see the problem elsewhere. Hospitals and other government services cut back on employees and force longer waiting times. Doctors no longer make house calls. The sick are now forced to spend their time in travel and in doctors waiting rooms, rather than lying in bed. Nor is the drive for productivity the only reason our time is of no consideration. Large centralized schools, certainly of benefit to bureaucrats, mean it takes longer for children to get to school. Suburban sprawl certainly fills the pockets of developers and the auto industry, but at the expense of the thousands of people stuck in traffic jams, who even at the best of times have long commutes.

Let's face it, we don't matter a damn!

(*) in the essay, "Les Services, Quels Services?"


Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Great post! Paul Fussel, in *Class*, called it "prole drift." We're all becoming increasingly accustomed to standing in long lines, "for your convenience!" as they tell us. It's a way for business to externalize cost on the consumer in the form of unpaid waiting time.

It also occurs on hospital wards, with extended waits for bedpans and pain medication, and harried overworked nurses who take several times longer to get back with something than they said they would. It also takes the form of increased nosocomial infections, med errors, wrong site surgery, patient falls, etc., as the ratio of patients to staff increases. All the latter problems can be traced mainly to understaffing (people don't have time to slow down and think about what they're doing, or follow proper aseptic techniques), but management tries to solve them with increased supervision and pressure from above.

8:05 PM  

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