Friday, December 10, 2004

More on Productivity

Yes, making 'productivity' the highest goal creates a situation in which fewer people are doing more work for the same pay at the social expense of unemployment, lifestyle deterioration (for those who retain their jobs) and customer safety and satisfaction.

Another problem with 'productivity' is the fact that the more useless plastic crap you produce, the more you use up resources and create polution, waste, landfills, etc. And while some of the stuff that's produced is actually useful, a lot of it can only be shoved down people's throats because million dollar advertising budgets convince them they need to have it, often by making them feel they'll be inadequate human beings if they don't. This situation produces pain and suffering in many who can't afford the 'desirable' products and obnoxious egotism in many who can, while perpetuating a system of false values: that people are to be valued not for their courage or intelligence or kindness or perseverance, but for what they own however it was acquired.

There's a quote from a famous American Indian chief (sorry, not sure who) to the affect that, 'Only when the last buffalo is dead and the land and water are destroyed will people discover that you can't eat money.' This belief that money is more important than God, people, animals or the earth is all around us, but I've seen two really glaring examples of it that will stick with me for life.

In the 1980's I was a court reporter, working for a while in probate court, which handled guardianships. A guardian was requesting to resign her conservatorship of a person whose funds had run out. "What I liked was handling the money," she said. "After all, we all know that money is more interesting than people." Everybody in the courtroom was dumbstruck, but I had a strong sense from the looks on people's faces that we were gobsmacked for two different reasons. The judge, the court clerk, one lawyer and I looked at each other like, "Is she nuts? We don't think that!" But a couple of the other lawyers had looks on their faces that said, "Well yes, that's true, but you're not supposed to say it!"

The second one is even worse. A few years ago I heard someone on public radio say, "We must do something about the enormous death rate in Africa, because if these people are dead, they can't buy our products." Yes, I really heard that. 'Uthu billahi min ash-shaitan ir-rajim! Is it really possible to turn this situation around? Can we try? Please?

4 comment(s):

  • Karima,

    You've correctly cited two instances where the quest for material success overriding the need for a healthy balance can lead to other ills in the society. But there is another dimension of the demand and supply that creates these conditions.

    I am afraid that an unintended consequence of analysis of the ills of higher productivity may lead to regression of a society of producers and consumers. Productivity is a means to achieve more on less, and has been an important factor in the progress of West.

    In my opinion the non-productive societies are a greater burden on the natural resources. Take the case of the oil-rich gulf nations who became rich after WWII as result of increased demand for energy. These nations produced very little but consumed a lot. While other poorer nations, who slaved their way to industrial success in the 70s, 80s, the oil rich nations were complacent with the material success they achieved exploiting their natural resources. Imagine where they could've been today, had they exploited their minds instead.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 12/10/2004 10:29:00 AM  

  • Jafar, as always, you make good points and bring balance to the discussion. Let me go away and think about what you said and get back to you in a day or two, inshallah.

    By Blogger Karima, at 12/12/2004 11:16:00 AM  

  • Okay, Jafar, it's not productivity I have a problem with, it's productivity as an end in itself. In this way of thinking, or the thinking behind such ideas as the Gross National Product (GNP, it doesn't seem to matter what kinds of goods or services are produced as long as *something* is produced. Good food or bad food, baby clothes, furnature, guns, cigarettes, porn magazines--it's all 'production', so many work hours, so much stuff 'produced'. What kind of sense does that make? There's a nice line in D.H. Lawrence: "He's got lots of go, but where does his go *go*?" So, productivity is good if it's in the service of something good, or at least neutral (though effort used in producing something neutral wastes resources and precious human time on earth), but not otherwise. If all the people producing weapons around the world were lying in the sun taking naps, wouldn't we all be much better off?

    By Blogger Karima, at 12/14/2004 08:35:00 AM  

  • Karima,

    Productivity as an end in itself is meaningless. It is the demand that creates the need to supply that creates the need to be productive. No matter how productive it may be a typewriter factory will not a successful venture in this day and age because of zero demands for typewriters.

    As long as there is a demand for things irrespective of their morality, there will be players competing to fulfill those demands to make a profit.

    I saw documentary last year in europe that dealt with poaching rhinos and elephants, which quoted the following repeatedly, "When the buying stops, so shall the killing". The same can be applied to all those products that 'harm' our society.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 12/15/2004 07:18:00 AM  

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