Within recent time the fad geniuses have proffered efficiency as the salvation of the world. Bigger is no longer better. Smaller (therefore, apparently efficient) is better yet. Downsizing is now the nirvana of corporate America. Making do with less, is tantamount to doing better, even when some businesses are already doing well.
Efficiency brings to mind certain scenes. For example, in Mexico City, an elevator attendant pushes the floor selection buttons in automatic hotel elevators for the passengers. What an waste, thinks an efficiency crusader. Passengers can push those buttons themselves, as they do in every office building in New York City. Take out those sharpened pencils. How many jobs did we just eliminate? It titillates the bean counters just to envision the lopping off of so many heads.
Out in the streets of Mexico City, a man is assigned all day to sweep clean the sidewalks and curbs of a single side of a street. Another man is assigned the other side of the street. Hell! Let’s get one of those whirling brush machines to come through here once a day, and we could keep a good part of the city clean with one person. Once a day cleaning, rather than one person constantly attending the same street, might not be as scrupulously clean, but what’s a little litter in exchange for eliminating say, two or three hundred jobs with one swell foop. Those pink slips bring tears of joy to the eyes of a bean counter.
In Florence, Italy, the lone saleslady in the Gucci store has other customers waiting while she wraps a silk scarf in Florentined tissue paper, which is then placed within a small box covered with different patterned Florentine design. The scarf in the tissue, the tissue in the box, is now placed in an elegant Florentined envelope, which is sealed with a gold seal. Lord! Put the scarf in a plastic bag, give the customer a box to wrap it themselves at home, and a sales kid in the mall could sell four scarves for every one sold by that dawdling saleslady in Italy.
All of this could be streamlined, sped up. But what we also eliminate in our quest for hair trigger efficiency, is human dignity, human comfort, elegance of living, humanity.
The man pushing the buttons in the automatic elevator goes home to his family with the pride of a man with a job, who is providing for his family. The street sweeper feels alive, has dignity amongst his peers. Of course their jobs could be eliminated by clever application of a machine. But it is right there that the mindless quest of efficiency, which doesn’t even consider the humanities, becomes inefficient.
First of all, the unemployed worker now must join a long line of efficiently unemployed to receive an unemployment check. Those checks require as much money from the left hand, as the pay checks require from the right hand. And, in the bargain, the human dignity of a person doing an honest day’s work, to provide for his or her family, has been stripped away.
Human dignity – that ephemeral concept that bean counters can’t tote up – is swiftly being eroded from the quality of contemporary life.
What is better, hundreds of jobs – despite the fact that we could easily conceive of a machine to replace the workers – providing work, jobs, pay for hundreds of workers and their families, or long lines of desultory people taking down the very same amount of money in the form of unemployment or welfare checks?
So what are you saying? – give jobs to people for the sake of them having a job? Now you got it! Efficiency that eliminates human pride, dignity, self respect isn’t efficient. In the meantime, cleanliness, psychological up-lift from clean, well kept, painted, well-swept neighborhoods, creates even greater benefits in society. Let’s get some ideas that cater to the human spirit, not paper currency and bank notes. Vapid, sterile bean counters who are programmed to pursue currency rather than humanity ought to be replaced by calculators.
Okay, I got the point, you say. But what does the lady in Florence have to do with all this. Well, think about this. The United States, the noblest experiment in current human history – who knows how many times during millions of years, humanity slithered through the cracks to thrive, then wither and disappear – is 212 years old. Ladies have been selling scarves in Florence for 2000 years. Two thousand! Maybe, in that time, those ancient people have learned something we don’t know, something not so efficient, perhaps, not so profitable, so fast as we’re moving today – but lasting, enduring, comforting to human existence.
Where will our plastic, disposable society be in another eighteen hundred years? Will we even be here in another eight hundred years? How about four hundred – which is twice as long as we’ve been around to date?
From that point of view, dollar efficiency which casts aside humanity as trifling nonsense not subject to being counted, doesn’t bode well for longevity. Like I said at the beginning, efficiency isn’t efficient.