Commentary Magazine


The Efficiency Expert

To the Editor:

Christopher Caldwell’s review of The One Best Way: Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Enigma of Efficiency by Robert Kanigel [November 1997] was refreshing and rewarding. In the review, Mr. Caldwell raised significant questions about the influence of Taylor’s views, noting that in France, and for the Left generally, Taylor’s name “still stands for everything bad about the modern workplace.” Indeed, as he pointed out, in last spring’s French elections, the socialists exhorted voters not to allow French companies to become taylorisé. Such claims fail to distinguish between Taylor’s work on the shop floor and the general application of organization and managerial concepts.

Although Taylor (1856-1915) did contribute notably to manufacturing efficiency, his participation focused mainly on specialization, division of labor, and incentives as they apply to the shop floor. Taylor separated the two functions of planning and doing, assigning planning to the manager and paying the worker to follow orders. Among other things, he initiated time and-motion studies, used the stop watch, introduced incentive systems, and designed tools.

But tayloriste complaints by the Left really involve problems of the overall management of industrial firms, not the shop floor. In fact, in the field of organization, the French, instead of castigating Taylor, should look to their own Henri Fayol (1841-1925), a successful French industrialist. Fayol’s influential work, General and Industrial Management, was published in France in the early 20’s. But, of course, with an American at hand for leftists to blame, why should they bother to look further?

Bernard Alpert
San Francisco State
University
San Francisco, California

_____________

 

To the Editor:

We were interested to learn from Christopher Caldwell’s review that Frank Gilbreth was a follower of Frederick Winslow Taylor. We agree with Mr. Caldwell that the Gilbreth family memoir, Cheaper by the Dozen, is an enduringly popular work, but we would like to point out that the memoir was not written by Gilbreth himself but by two of his children, Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.

Nahma Sandrow and Students
English Classes
02-1825, -26, -30, -31
Bronx Community College
Bronx, New York

_____________

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