Efficiency is not Efficient

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.