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Minimum-wage machine

from David Ruccio


Here’s a description of the minimum-wage machine [ht: sm]:

This machine allows anyone to work for minimum wage for as long as they like. Turning the crank on the side releases one penny every 4.97 seconds, for a total of $7.25 per hour. This corresponds to minimum wage for a person in New York. This piece is brilliant on multiple levels, particularly as social commentary. Without a doubt, most people who started operating the machine for fun would quickly grow disheartened and stop when realizing just how little they’re earning by turning this mindless crank. A person would then conceivably realize that this is what nearly two million people in the United States do every day…at much harder jobs than turning a crank. This turns the piece into a simple, yet effective argument for raising the minimum wage.

The machine can also be reprogrammed to pay the minimum wage of wherever it happens to be currently exhibited.

  1. graccibros
    April 27, 2016 at 12:11 am

    Aren’t they standard equipment at Walmart and Target? I don’t know about developing character, but they certainly speak to patience and long suffering.

  2. April 27, 2016 at 4:57 am

    If labor is just one more market, as we are lectured almost daily by economists it is then how do we set the limits of such a market? What is allowed, what is not? For example, is slavery allowed? After all many analysts (mostly non-economists) have pointed out that industrial employment in a capitalist economy (particularly the American version) is in essence “wage slavery.” The unions emerged to counter this tendency toward slavery. And later the government (particularly the Feds.) attempted to protect wage slaves. Now we see the fate of unions and if a Republican wins the White House in 2016 this same fate is likely to befall the Labor Department and other Federal employee protection units. All hail the return of slavery to America. And this time it’s equal opportunity. Little racial, ethnic, gender, religious, or even sexual orientation discrimination. The US becomes a giant inverted pyramid. A few hundred thousand or a million or so “freemen” resting on a 300 million slave population. And we have professional economists with a clearly naive belief in capitalism to thank in part for this.

    • April 29, 2016 at 8:08 pm

      The problem with slavery is it’s involuntary. Pretty much no one supports forcing people to work with a gun literally held to their head. For whatever reason, someone chooses to work at a minimum wage job, probably because the alternative is to make nothing at all.

      How do we set limits? By letting people freely (e.g. without coercion) choose whether to offer and take a job (and conversely, leave the job). If the people most involved think the deal is in their mutual benefit, I don’t see much reason for you or I to second guess them.

      • April 30, 2016 at 4:18 am

        If only the world were that simple. Slavery is both voluntary and involuntary as Eugene Genovese pointed out a long time ago. That applies to even the most brutal types of slavery like what existed in the pre-Civil War American South. But it’s also true for the slavery of industrial jobs in America during and after the industrial revolution. Slavery combines threats with paternalism and a firm belief that the “master” is actually helping the slave, who would be worse off without the master/slave relationship. Think of all the relationships in factories between owners, foremen, employees; of workers set adrift in the 1970s and 1980s and lost without their jobs; of rearing families around a paycheck, etc. And it’s not changed much with financialization and internet jobs. Now the master is the pressures of financial trading and the pressures of clients and regulators. Perhaps even more dependency. Don’t stereotype slavery as just what you see in civil war movies. I haven’t looked at the new slavery I see written about developing in Asia and Africa. It’s seems particularly brutal. But even it includes I believe all the ingredients listed above.

      • blocke the
        April 30, 2016 at 9:24 am

        When I arrived in Poland in 1990 to meet the woman I married, I had been conditioned from the US propaganda mill to find people filled with anxiety because they had been living in a totalitarian system — it was Arthur Koestler’s “fish eyed stare” popularized in Darkness at Noon, where people had to hide their emotions being betrayed even in their eyes, hence the fish-eyed stare that revealed nothing that I expected. What I found in my wife’s family and in my wife was no fish eyed stare. There was scarcity of consumer goods, but an absence of fear. That was the big surprise. The look in the eyes of Americans in 1990s and now was one of anxiety and insecurity, about losing jobs, health care, etc. People in the Poland I found had no such concerns; they all had jobs, educations, and their children went to camp — Which ones were the slaves? Or rather, with the fall of socialism and the spread of finance capitalism who was being enslaved?

      • April 30, 2016 at 9:39 am

        Spot on, Bob.

      • May 1, 2016 at 3:59 am

        “How do we set limits? By letting people freely….”

        Tell me you really aren’t aware of all the many reasons and ways limits have been set throughout history and right now on employers and employees? Limits that you and I may disagree on, but limits nonetheless. Limits based on age, health, safety, morals… Recognize any of these? Of course you do.

      • May 2, 2016 at 4:33 am

        The two “schools of thought” I really enjoy speaking with — libertarians and anarchists. The first believe we’re all free agents and only need to exercise that freedom to save all the world – yes the whole place. The second believe we’re all slaves and need to blow up things and people till they stop oppressing us – yes all of us. Problem is the actual world the sane among us have to live in and with is always a mix of both of these, with some things that fit into neither school. The real danger is when either of these schools of thought is able to access some way(s) of effectively convincing people to act as if these fairy tale ways of life actually can work. When we hear “Cinderella” or “Hansel and Gretel” we know these are fairy tales and treat them accordingly. Despite their analogies that sometimes help up consider moral questions, we know these stories cannot be transferred wholesale into our daily lives. But that is exactly what Milton Friedman and associates have been asking (demanding) we do for years with libertarian fairy tales like the “free market” and “economic reductionism.”

  3. April 27, 2016 at 7:38 am

    Amazing …David

  4. April 27, 2016 at 11:58 am

    There is another way to look at the meaning of this machine, a metaphor for life in a sense, that money does not matter if you love what you do. But if you don’t love what you do then it is perhaps your moral duty to stop, to have the courage to walk away. If that says that “wage slavery” is not a unilateral enslavement but is at least in part self-imposed by individual acquiescence to it then perhaps there is a knock on effect in the slavery market with the potential for mass liberation. What I am getting at is that if everyone who does not love what they do (for Wallmart, McDonnalds, KFC, Burger King and other poisoners) had walked away from they minimum wage job then perhap other slavery would end too, and not just in the first world consumer market but all along the ultra exploitative supply market (Bangladesh, North Africa or China child labouring sweatshops). The other day I saw basic cotton baby clothes, quite nicely made, sold at K-Mart in Australia. The price was $4 each and this price range seemed to apply to much of the stock. Imagine how much a seamstress working on these in Bangladesh or China gets paid per day….

  5. April 29, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    There’s a big difference between that machine and a job. Let’s say you turn the crank faster–the analog is work harder. You tend to get paid more.

  6. Ben Collier
    April 29, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Why is it that people who are incredibly ignorant of economics feel the need to give their opinion of economics and economic policy?

    • Min
      May 1, 2016 at 2:38 am

      Why? Because economics affects their every day life. And they are not completely ignorant. Usually they repeat what they hear.

      • May 1, 2016 at 7:51 pm

        It’s a great deal more than “economics affects their every day life.” When economists “study” “the economy” what the hell do they think they’re looking at. There look is just one part of a long, sometimes very long chain of invention and re-invention, mostly the result of work by people who ARE NOT economists. In simple terms NON-ECONOMISTS invent the ways of life and organizations that economists then come along to “study.” And with only rare exceptions these inventors had not studied the theories of economists. And even today with economists insisting they have the right and obligation to invent the economy and then study their own inventions, most economics is still the work of non-economists. This work might be called “incredibly ignorant’ if the contents of economists’ textbooks is the standard for comparison. Otherwise, it’s impossible to label as ignorant the very people who are by their works defining what is ignorant and what is not. On the other hand non-economists who blindly follow economists’ theories could indeed be called ignorant, and naive besides.

    • May 1, 2016 at 5:20 pm

      Because they are professors at leading universities & publish in leading journals. They have fuddled their heads with nonsense for years and years in order to get paid to give their incredibly ignorant opinions.

  7. April 29, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    There’s a problem with this as an analogy for the minimum wage.

    Consider the subjective theory of value — that the value of an item or service is determined by what people place on it, not the labor needed to create it. This is true /even for types of money/.

    You’ve probably experienced this yourself — I recently had a moment when I was considering buying a soda. I decided that I didn’t want to break the bills in my wallet, so I didn’t make the trade. Moments later, I realized that I had some spare change in my desk. I took that change and bought the soda. The fact that I was more willing to buy a soda with my spare change than I was with large bills shows that the bills actually had a higher value to me than the change, despite the fact that they represented an exactly equal “value.”

    Even if the cranking machine created value that the worker believed to be useful to others (electricity?) and even if the worker learned new skills that would allow them to move up to a faster-paying machine, the person is STILL getting a giant pile of tiny, near-worthless objects that must be exchanged (with additional work and cost) into something useful.

    This machine uses the subjective theory of value as a fulcrum to do the heavy lifting of its “social commentary.”

  8. April 30, 2016 at 10:33 am

    I much appreciate Ken Zimmerman’s eloquent contribution here on the facts of slavery (as against the logic of argument). The bit of the argument that seems to be missing here – most obviously from Peter Smoot’s comment – is acknowledgement that in civilised countries minimum wages are based not on piece-work as such, but on availability to do it as necessary: i.e. for weekly wages or salaries. Peter’s solution will only work if David Ruccio’s wage machine becomes merely a bonus machine, with employment in personal or organised public service providing a reliable source of income of last resort in the event of it not being actually preferred to competitive self- or group-project [firm, company] employment.

    • May 1, 2016 at 11:57 pm

      Dave, you kind of lost me. I think you’re saying someone should earn a minimum wage just by showing up at the job, regardless of whether they produce anything. Certainly that’s true for many jobs: someone working at a shop gets paid regardless of how many customers show up. But that’s not all jobs. Many are still paid for piecework. For example, if I was a contract programmer, I’d only expect to get paid when I deliver a piece of working software. Other jobs are a mix where you have a base salary and bonuses based on performance. This structure is pretty common in sales.

      All of these structures work. There’s nothing wrong with them so long as the participants agree to them. I’m not comfortable with some of them for myself but that’s fine, I just stay away from those sorts of jobs. I know people who really prefer arrangements I personally dislike.

      • May 2, 2016 at 4:44 am

        Just a comment on two phrases in your comment – “agree to them” and “prefer.” No such thing as a “free choice,” as with free lunches. In that light agreeing to something or preferring something both have histories. We need to look at and try to understand those histories in an effort to know how and why participants in a relationship(s) are agreeing or preferring. Otherwise we run the risk of overlaying what we see in relationships with our own histories with these terms and their use.

      • May 3, 2016 at 10:33 pm

        Pete, I am agreeing with Ken when I ask what did your contract programmer live on before he sold his first working piece of software? Most probably he was given free lunches by his parents, and from their point of view earned them retrospectively by doing what it took to become capable of earning his own living. If you want to overlay that point of view with my own history, when I needed to hitch-hike home as a penniless soldier I was so moved by the kindness of people I could never repay personally who gave me lifts, that I realised how much better they were making society and resolved to repay them by doing likewise once I could.

        My own comment, however, began by distinguishing facts from logical argument. Sure the system now works the way you say it does, but that doesn’t mean it works properly and for everyone. Because business is being run to make money, we are mass-producing rubbish and trying to sell far more than we need and nature can regenerate. Also, having one way or another deprived humanity of its common lands so people cannot fend for themselves, money-grubbers are reluctant to employ people their businesses don’t need or provide decent incomes for all they do employ. And the root cause of this is that businesses need “free lunches” to develop, but banks rent out less working credit to a growing business economy than it needs, enabling them and those who have gained control over the resources and property needed by homes and businesses to inflate prices, pocket the rent and pick up the pieces if the result is bankruptcy. Which is not only criminally unjust but is proving ecologically disastrous.

        So, what I was proposing was to start out with what is actually necessary: giving everybody free lunches because everyone needs to eat – not because they turn up for the job; but to point out the price of that: if we don’t work this year we won’t eat next. Thus, everybody is expected to turn up at work and do what needs doing – this including looking after themselves, families and community facilities. (Incidentally, production needs can be measured more accurately by how much of what gets sold and consumed than by pricing to make a profit). By “honest credit” I mean the reality that banks don’t issue actual credit: in effect they issue credit limits in proprtion to one’s credit worthiness (e.g. repayment history), for which there is no justification for claiming monetary repayment and interest (a bankers is a job just like any other), but there is every justification in increasing the limit for those whose outstanding work has already benefitted society. (Hence my likening David Ruccio’s piecework machine to earning bonuses, not miniwages).

        More or less the existing system, therefore, can be reconceived in terms of an honest credit card system, in which everyone creates his own credit by using it, accounts for his expenditure as sellers bank it, but repays it not in monetary terms but by working to help sustain the community which is sustaining him. Those who need property (land, homes, factories etc) could buy or build it and “own” it so long as they needed it, but it would remain in trust to the local/national community and not be “buyable” by non-resident foreigners with non-local credit.

      • May 4, 2016 at 9:58 am

        You use some terms that are important to emphasize. These are “better,” “society,” “fact,” “logical,” “unjust,” “free,” “benefited,” and “trust.” These are displays of the moral choice and interpretation that always are a part of human choices and actions. And just so we end any illusions — facts, logical reasoning, and benefits are moral interpretations, as are justice, freedom, and trust. The difference is the strings of creations that make them. But the process is the same. Originally scientists accepted this creative process as real, and as the way science functions. But later scientists broke the bond. Science was something outside the creative process of interpretation. Science dealt with the “real” world, while non-science was concerned with the topics of morality and metaphysics, beauty and faith. It was not a match made in heaven. It created the mess we find ourselves in today with scientists (including social scientists) who literally make facts objective — disconnected from the interpretive processes of living — to justify their existence. The “facts” of physics and astronomy are interpretive (objective) just as are the “facts” of sociology or economics. But that is not the common understanding. Facts of physics, chemistry, astronomy, or the other so called physical sciences are portrayed as 100% non-interpretive. Per Joe Friday — just the facts, and only the facts. The social sciences’ “facts” are suspicious, at best. As is often pointed to in this blog economists’ facts aren’t actually objective. But the reasoning is reversed, and thus perverse. In the sense the term is used by scientists, the “facts” of the physical sciences are not objective either. So the facts are equivalent. With that settled we can begin the real work of examining how the facts of the sciences (physical and social) are created and used. Work that is important, exciting, and mostly fun.

      • May 5, 2016 at 5:27 pm

        “So the facts [of social and physical science] are equivalent [i.e. not objective in the sense scientists claim]. With that settled we can begin the real work of examining how the facts of the sciences (physical and social) are created and used. Work that is important, exciting, and mostly fun”.

        Well yes – when doing it! Not when you have done it and no-one is interested in what you have found: essentially that you cannot measure something objectively until you have created an unambiguous and stable measure. Nor is there much point in my illustrating that, for others seem to delight in burying useful wood beneath verdant canopies of trees. (I say this in sadness, for in their proper place I too love trees).

      • May 6, 2016 at 5:36 am

        If you actually believe “… you cannot measure something objectively until you have created an unambiguous and stable measure …” then nothing can be measured. If the actual actions of scientists are observed what we see is observation after observation, with varying observation approaches and tools. Observing and measuring from varying vantage points (changing physical locations, new observation tools, working with other observers, etc.) is objectivity. For scientists this is objectivity. If you want anything else you’ll need to show how that is possible.

      • May 6, 2016 at 8:08 am

        Ken, it was you introduced the issue of creativity in science! Nothing could be measured until we had created the measure, but we live in an evolving universe in which the ability to measure emerged from the self-attraction of looping energy forming stable particles and our invention of stable and unambigious concepts such circles, right angles and numbers enabled us to model them. Don’t be so contrary, Mary! Try learning from others by thinking out for yourself how what they are saying might actually be true.

      • May 6, 2016 at 9:35 am

        Are the concepts of Shakespeare stable and unambiguous? Yes, for a time and in certain situations. The same is the case for the concepts scientists invent. For example, the farther we move into space away from the Earth the less stable and certain become the effects of gravity. We think we know some of the reasons for this situation. But only some. So measuring gravity will be different when we get to another planet than it is on the Earth. By how much and in which direction we’re not certain. But scientists will adjust their measuring notions when we get – if we get – to that other planet. This is a limit of observation, not creativity. Human creativity is expansive but for scientists at least it’s tied to observations. And right now we cannot directly observe another planet – not even nearby ones. So like Shakespeare time and circumstance undo and redo how and when a scientist measures (observes).

  9. May 8, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    How ridiculous this response is, Ken. If gravity is what is to be measured, do you suppose that scientists are going to change their basic concepts of circles, right angles and ennumeration of units based on cyclic closures when they get to your other planet? If you cannot understand fundamental explanation, Ken, you had better stick to history and leave the explanation to fundamental scientists.

    For any other readers of this still interested in understanding the failings of economics hidden behind the impenetrable mathematics of a naively complicated (as against systematically complex) fundamental physics, it is important to understand that the root was a philosophical choice presented as fact which left the fundamental of changeability out of physics (as against observations of apparent change). Boring though this may seem to many, to justify changing the economic system in defiance of the status quo of “authorities” claiming the authority of science, it is necessary to expose the original philosophical choice and justify the alternative starting from the alternative: that matter was formed from initial energy rather tha energy being attributed to already existing matter. If readers will grant me that at least provisionally and allow for its extension to provide language for change, they can explore my practical interests in a fascinating link I’ve just turned up in a pamphlet on monetary reform (if still in need of the Copernican philosophical revolution of bottom-up government: we rather than the queen issuing our own credit, as in a credit card system).


    • May 8, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      “That this House considers that the continued issue of all the means of exchange – be they coin, bank-notes or credit, largely passed on by cheques – by private firms as an interest-bearing debt against the public should cease forthwith; that the Sovereign power and duty of issuing money in all forms should be returned to the Crown, then to be put into circulation free of all debt and interest obligations, as a public service, not a private opportunity of profit and control for no tangible returns to the British people; and that the volume of money be controlled so as to maintain stable prices:”
      “That the aims of those who want to assure private property and free enterprise, as well as those who want to protect the British people from unfair exploitation, would both be best served by restoring the power of issuing money to Her Majesty The Queen, in accordance with ancient tradition and law, as is also demanded by the American Constitution, which gives the right of issue solely to Congress, so as to assure the State and Nation the benefits of that emission and relieve them of the immense and growing burdens of a parasitical National and private debt; and to make certain that control passes to the taxed and is taken out of the hands of the present hidden and unlawful beneficiaries of taxation, much of the proceeds of which they collect as interest on all money and immense debts:…” (Excerpt from ‘a-motion-to-restore-the-power-of-the-issue-of-money-to-the-crown/’)

      Quote Frederick Soddy,(The Role Of Money-1920’s),
      “… every monetary system must at long last conform, if it is to fulfil its proper role
      as the distributive mechanism of society. To allow it to become a source of revenue to private issuers is to create, first, a secret and illicit arm of the government and, last, a rival power strong enough ultimately to overthrow all other forms of government.”

      “Blowin’ In The Wind” (Paraphrase)

      How many roads must a man walk down…
      How many seas must a white dove sail…
      how many times must the cannon balls fly…
      how many years can a mountain exist…
      how many years can some people exist…
      how many times can a man turn his head…
      MAYBE, perhaps until Inequality, Poverty, and Injustice
      can no longer be borne.
      Maybe, perhaps one can understand why after reading “The Role Of Money” by Soddy, the need to return to
      “In God We Trust”.
      “Capitalism is the “best ‘In God We Trust’ system to date devised by mankind. As it is administrated, perhaps, is where the “flaw” is manifested. If capitalism used its Central Bank honestly and properly,that is for the betterment of the common good, with equality and justice for all, capitalism could be one of the greatest achievements of mankind.

    • May 8, 2016 at 8:01 pm

      My point, which you completely dismissed is that observing in science is a part of the process of science and cannot be eliminated. And observing has effects on what is observed. All scientists recognize and accept this observational effect. That’s one of the reasons scientists are so boring as to look (observe) the world of their interest in as many new ways and with as many new tools as possible. The hope is that by combining these observations our picture of the phenomenon we want observe is made more accurate. That’s one of the reasons concepts used in science can never be fully stable and unambiguous.

      And few historians or scientists would accept, even for a moment your conclusion that the root of the failure of economics “was a philosophical choice presented as fact which left the fundamental of changeability out of physics.” The history of what’s called economics shows lots of potential roots of the failure of economics today. Such as — the advent of “business” life in the 18th and 19th centuries, the democratic revolutions of the 19th century in Europe, 19th century physics’ advance and then decline, the “trading” companies set up by the great European powers in the 18th and 19th centuries, the advance of operations research and digital computing after WWII, etc. It’s as you suggest a complicated story, made even more complicated by economists’ simplistic view of science, which you seem to share.

      • blocke the
        May 9, 2016 at 7:54 am

        Observers of organizational behavior, like H Thomas Johnson point out when comparing Japanese and US firms, the problem of basing operations on scientific experts, who like the production managers in mass production firms worked out elaborate systems of control in factory production, whereas in the Japanese kanban production method the workers on line simply followed a simple routine of the worker upstream in a process taking the work from the person preceding him in production when he was ready for it, thereby ‘pulling’ the production through the process, without any needs for elaborate management contrived and imposed production scheduling that pushed products through. Or for management science or a management class, since the workers ran the process.

      • May 9, 2016 at 11:18 am

        Management science or scientific management can be useful if it’s based on an understanding of the industry or business community in each situation. Such understanding derives from observation and conclusions based on those observations, and then verification of those conclusions in terms of the actual industry or community. And that means all of the community or industry – workers, machines, factories, offices, financial structure, and relations with the larger community/city/nation. This will hopefully avoid the often found dysfunctional relationship between scientific management and the business/industry in which the former establishes itself at the head of a hierarchy of management for which it is not qualified.

      • May 9, 2016 at 10:40 am

        Ken, since you “completely dismissed” Kuhn’s distinction between “revolutionary” and “normal” scientists, which I have consistently interpreted as (in Britain, anyway) a more familiar distinction between “fundamental” and “applied” science, you are doing precisely what I accused Hume of doing which created the problem: so redefining the scope of science that what I am saying is excluded. If you want your agenda to succeed, so be it, but in future I’ll not let your filibustering waste my time. I’m a scientist, so contrary to your inuendo, of course I appreciate that observation matters, and that Humean science has no stable foundation, but I have also observed and had experience of “eureka!” or “gesalt” moments when what I, Archimedes and Shannon have been observing and Newton glimpsed in the falling of an apple has been seen in a new and more fundamental way. Those who observe only their own opinions don’t have that satisfaction. Working with translating fundamental mathematics into active computer programs and the electronic communication of digits as continuous sine waves I think I’ve got to the bottom of the scientific instability (i.e. one can go no further). Of course as a scientist I realise I may be wrong, so need to discuss what I am seeing with others; but that gets nowhere when the likes of you simply assume I’m wrong.

        Bob, very interesting. When I read what Frederick Winslow Taylor said about Functional Foremen, it seemed to me he was saying (with his Asperger starkness) much what you say about the value of the workers running the process. Taylor’s point seemed to be that each person on an assembly line is in effect the customer (and hence potential supervisor or “foreman”) of the previous one.

      • May 9, 2016 at 11:41 am

        Dave, I do not assume you are wrong. If i assumed that I wouldn’t waste my time corresponding with you. But I am confused by your statements. You seem to understand that science is fundamentally a creative, ambiguous, and unstable affair. Something that Kuhn pointed out as one of the reasons his proposed approach to the history of science was different from the history of science written at the time his “Scientific Revolutions” was published. If economics is to be scientific then it must also be characterized by these. Scientific debates are based around observations and the conclusions scientists reach based on observations – how well was the observation carried out, how was it carried out, how often was something observed. how many scientists observed it, was the write up of the observations accurate, etc. And far from dismissing “eureka!” or “gesalt” moments when scientists create a brand new observation I recognize these as a fundamental part of science. But I also recognize these might change with a change in location, measurement practices, or observational tools. And if they remain after such changes then what scientists can say about this particular observational target grows more stable and less ambiguous. But 100% stability or clarity just isn’t in the cards for scientists.

      • May 9, 2016 at 12:21 pm

        A PS to Ken. If your last comment can be interpreted as trying to teach your scientific grandmother to suck eggs, it is only fair to recognise it as true of “normal” or applied science, where one already has an evolved situation (the evolutionary history of which is not fully understood) and the issue is usually how best to observe it. In your second paragraph, however, on the “roots” of economic failure, the examples are anachronistic. They are all subsequent to Hume (and in the wider picture, to Machiavelli).

      • May 9, 2016 at 12:31 pm

        PS back. Only if you assume Hume and Machiavelli fully made the world of today. They did not.

      • blocke the
        May 9, 2016 at 12:58 pm

        Dave, Taylor considered workers as slackers, or as he put it “soldiering” on the job. He invented the management class of “scientific managers” to devise efficient production processes, like time and motion studies, to discipline the work force in the interests of productivity. My point about kanban or just in time is that we don’t need that management class and its scientific algorithms to achieve efficiency but to let, as H Thomas Johnson said. “Attention to process and people” achieve it. Applied Science, is presumptive science, in this case, gets in the way.

      • May 9, 2016 at 7:48 pm

        How do you feel about Peter Drucker, the man many call the “The Father of Management Science?” He certainly was no Taylorist and spent much more time listening to managers and workers on the floor than any manager today would even consider. And he was no friend of the MBA. Should we push a return to Drucker’s principles?

  10. blocke the
    May 9, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Certainly we should return to Drucker’s principles as you state them, but I think the problem might not just be the existence of a management caste armed with a scientific toolkit but who selects and empowers its members and for what purpose.

    • May 10, 2016 at 4:36 am

      So you’re saying science and scientists have been and are abused and manipulated? Or are you saying science and scientists have been and are complicit in fixing the results of scientific management to favor certain forms of economic organization? The first is reflected in the work of several historians. The second is not.

  11. blocke the
    May 10, 2016 at 4:59 am

    “Or are you saying science and scientists have been and are complicit in fixing the results of scientific management to favor certain forms of economic organization?”

    I think economists and people in management science are complicit in fixing the results of scientific management in favor of certain forms of economic organization. Take for example how they deal with the constitution of the firm, which is proprietary and subject to control of stockholders, without the rights of other stakeholders, e.g., a firm’s employees or customers being considered. Pushing this conception of the firm favors director primacy forms of governance compared to employee participatory, which arises from more organic conceptions of a firm’s constitution that make employees, customers, and stockholders legitimate participants in decision making about how profits are to be distributed and other matters.

    • May 10, 2016 at 11:45 am

      One of only two assumptions I make going into research is that how events and actions are organized is not inherent. There is not an essential organization that can be cited as the basis of events and actions. Whatever the basis this is created in relationships – interactions among the actors (human and nonhuman). Social Studies of Science calls this performance. So your point is a valid one. The firm as only a source of profit for the shareholders is performed – the result of work by some actors. Now the question to focus on is which actors and how was it accomplished? Social Studies of Science has focused on this question over the last 20 years. The results of that research support your conclusions about economists and management scientists. But more research is needed to unravel the performances involved and the tools used.

  12. May 11, 2016 at 12:12 am

    Ken @ “Only if you assume Hume and Machiavelli fully made the world of today. They did not.”

    So people have been childish since the time of Adam! And of course nothing is every invented for the first time – not even new meanings for existing words!

    I’ve come back because I looked through Polanyi to see whether he earned citation in the Top Ten Economics Books by saying succinctly enough what turned out to be indexed under Central Banking. I found this at pp.201-2:

    “Not prices, but falling prices were the trouble. Hume became the founder of the quantity theory of money since his discovery that business remains unaffected if the amount of money is halved since prices will simply adjust to half their previous level. He forgot that business might be destroyed in the process”.

    Bob @ “Taylor considered workers as slackers”.

    Maybe, though his Asperger’s poor grasp of other people’s motivation was not to be trusted (or rather, taken advantage of). The example of time and motion study which appealed to me was Gilbreth’s showing that the difference between the best and the worst way of laying a brick was in the proportion of four to thirteen seconds. While I agree with you and not with the enforcement style of management, the order of events is significant here. If someone has already found the most efficient way of doing something you can be taught it if circumstances require that, but not vice versa.

    Ken @ “One of only two assumptions I make [is] there is not an essential organization that can be cited as the basis of events and actions”.

    I don’t ASSUME the opposite: continuous motion and localisation are not logically possible without closed circuits and boundaries. In logical as against social terms “organisation” doesn’t have to be complex. Tonight I learned something I didn’t previously know. Marconi succeeded transmitting radio waves by supplying an earth as well as an aerial, much as telegraphy circuits were completed in the original wired electric telegraph used by railways.

    • May 11, 2016 at 4:30 am

      Valid criticism of Hume by Polanyi now and the first time I read it 40 years ago. As for new inventions that’s done lots by humans. It’s one of the things humans can do. But humans also mire themselves in old inventions they either cannot or will not change.

      I did not anticipate that you would assume the opposite. When we assume any more than this initial starting point we then often fail to investigate any further and thus give up the opportunity to reveal and describe how all we call society/culture is created. That’s a hard job. Why make it any harder. And while doing such research I’d be surprised if the researcher did not observe and describe things not observed or described before.

      • May 11, 2016 at 9:36 am

        But isn’t finding “the initial starting point” (as A N Whitehead put it “the right end of the stick”) exactly what I was saying was the job of the fundamental scientist?

        I entirely agree with what you are saying about those not inclined to be applied scientists: they can be too easily satisfied by an answer and fail to investigate further. But being a scientist is partly a matter of inclination. In my original field, our having got the idea of electric circuits and worked out their their ability to carry, contain, direct and represent power and information, in our era the possibilities of power distribution and electronics and communication science have not exactly been left unexplored.

        Incidentally, on Lawson’s “Economics and Reality”, Tony has been a Brit, not an American, during the seventeen years I’ve known him at Cambridge, UK. Perhaps the one point we have had difficulty agreeing on is that closure in one sense is the condition of freedom in another. Electricity flowing round a closed circuit generates an external magnetic field via which power and information can be communicated; which rather undermines the fundamental 1740’s position of Hume.

      • May 11, 2016 at 12:01 pm

        What’s under explored are what is done with the “possibilities of power distribution and electronics and communication science” and for ends. Is the best use of these to make private investors richer, to facilitate a renewed commons for the world, to reduce the chances of wars? Seems economics comes down firmly supporting the first. Sociology tends to support the second. And Psychology favors the third.

        Did not know Lawson is a Brit. Read the book 6-7 years ago. Never paid much attention to the author. Too busy at the time. Would not make that mistake today. But my remarks stand. Some British sociologists and historians began to question the orthodoxy of social studies and economics in the 1960s and have formed alliances with European scholars in this work. But most of these were in regional universities in the UK and none were economists. Nobody at Oxford or Cambridge. It’s good to see the two “star” universities are beginning to catch up and British economists really can get out of their ivory towers.

        To put your comments in modeling language — feedback loops sometime create other feedback loops. Some are linear. Many are not. And their overall impacts are sometimes difficult to figure out. Most economists I know would find this view disconcerting. In the 1980s and 1990s I worked with Ofgem (the Office of the Gas and Electricity Markets) about the “deregulation” of UK gas and electric utilities. My associates and I put together two charts that depicted clearly how certain bidders in the British energy and power auctions were manipulating the bidding, thus increasing consumer prices and bankrupting some bidders. The economists in charge of building this new market told us this was clearly impossible, since their plans had anticipated every possible option for the market. The economists were wrong and the market collapsed in the mid-90s. Redesign wasn’t completed till after 2000. And that design collapsed as well. So we’re now on the 3rd market design. Still operating – sort of – in 2016.

      • May 11, 2016 at 8:43 pm

        What I WAS getting at was my logical conclusion – given that energetic motion is real, not an artefact of observation – was that the conditions of energetic motion apply to evolution and all the active complex systems which have evolved over time, i.e. including not just life and electronic systems in all their diversity but to economic systems and their evolution and diversification too. At the fundamental level this is of educational relevance. At the applied science level it provides criteria by means of which one can form expectations of what is feasible and in particular case indicate what seems to be working and what not: the applied scientist then being interested in why not. Now you have started discussing what systems are best used for, you have moved to another level of evolution with its own distinct purposes, i.e. that financial economics is aiming at money making, economics as a social science should be exploring people and the way they communicate with and empower each other in economies, economics as a field of applied psychology should be exploring the effects of personal development, public education and communal responsibility on the the evolution of aims and ability to understand moral (error correction) concepts, which include giving way to other people’s physically higher priorities, like the need to eat.

        This is off the top of my head, so as an analysis it can probably be put better, but I hope it is sufficient to show I’m talking about abstract logical possibilities, whereas it seems to me you are discussing (realistic) empirical generalisations.

      • May 12, 2016 at 4:40 am

        Please rethink your first sentence. How else do humans experience, interact with other humans and other actants except via their physical being – eyes, ears, skin, etc Some of those interactions have come to be called observations. Others are feelings, hunches, expectations, etc. This is humans “in the world.” Humans can as George Herbert Mead pointed also perform (model) these interactions in the “mind’s eye” – generally called abstractions. Often the two work off of one another. In that same process notions are invented to explain what’s happening. Such familiar divisions as big/small, levels of abstraction, subjective/objective, science/humanities all are invented in these interactions of humans with the world – “skin to skin” and in the “mind’s eye.” The same is the case for such things as basic/applied science, and of course market vs. necessities for life economics. Trying to track and describe how all this inventing gets done is the task before us. To paraphrase Michel Serres this work mixes up all the things we call humanities, science, physical, intellectual, spiritual, etc. After all we are attempting to understand how these divisions (seams) in life are constructed. Historians have the most experience with this work since they have no methodological or philosophical allegiances that cannot be jettisoned. But neither historians nor social scientists are first on the scene. Mostly they are examining and describing what other actants have already constructed. Historians did not invent the history they study, but they are studying those who did. Similarly, economists did not invent the economics actions they study, but they study those who did. And of course since study always means invention we have to acknowledge that these relationships are not as simple as just explained. Scholars do indeed invent parts of what they study, and vice versa.

    • May 12, 2016 at 8:13 am

      No, Ken, YOU rethink your rethinking of my first sentence! You are making what Tony Lawson calls (of David Hume) “the epistemic fallacy”, i.e. mistaking knowledge for reality. As I’ve tried to point out, this ultimately comes down to a philosophic decision whether or not to accept the existence of what you cannot physically see, like God or energy. Knowing nothing about how the mind works, Hume could not see what one can deduce about sensing (certainly after observing automatic focussing on a camera), i.e. that you cannot see what is some distance in front of you until your eyes are focussed, nor can you see the energy communicating that presence, nor that what the eye “sees” is in a sense constructed and transmitted on by the brain in the form of its remembering the focus settings it needs to see, but that what it sees CAN be real because what it constructs is sufficiently THE SAME as is needed to see what is outside that no further refocussing is necessary, i.e. the brain is seeing (encoded differently in terms of neural impulses) the object from which the energised external information came. Of course the external information may not be real (e.g. it may come from a cinema projection) or the known object recognised by the brain reconstructing the necessary settings may be ambiguous (gestalt) or not obviously not the same (e.g. with colour blindness); which is where repeated scientific observation can be necessary to sort things out.

      • May 12, 2016 at 9:41 am

        To paraphrase William James experience is reality. Certainly some of that is knowledge in the academic sense, or practical sense of doing a job, or in the sense of finding your way across the street. But some experiences can not be classified so easily. Witness this from James’ “Will to Believe,”Practically that means belief; but there is some believing tendency whenever that is willingness to act at all.” Believing is experience none the less. As is love, faith, and duty. So I have not made what Lawson calls the “epidemiological fallacy. Knowledge is invented based on experience. But experience extends well beyond any sort of formal or even informal knowledge. Hume is incorrect when he argues that human conceptions of cause-effect relations are grounded in habits of thinking, rather than in the perception of causal forces in the external world itself. But not for the reasons you and Lawson propose. The habits of thinking (of knowledge) Hume relies on are grounded in experiences. They would not exist otherwise. Hume assumes there are inherent categories of mind, not based on experience. But Hume is half correct also. Perceptions of the causes and effects in the world are also based in experience – in the interactions of humans and the other actants with whom they are involved. That makes “reality” an interactional consequence. Reality is built up in interactions which create both the actors involved and the meanings of the interactions. Messy process. Often unclear, uncertain, and incomplete. But it allows us to muddle through.

      • May 12, 2016 at 4:20 pm

        No. Reality is that which builds up interactions – but is itself transformed rather than built up by the interactions.

      • May 12, 2016 at 7:47 pm

        We can debate this forever and get nowhere. And that is the point. For your position to hold we would have to be not only the finders and analyzers of reality but also its creator. This view leaves reality as something already formed in full and just waiting for we dumb humans to stumble over it. Even if that were the case we don’t contact “reality” that way. Witness our failures at finding or even acknowledging any reality or else multiple realities. We’ll just have to be satisfied with what we have, since we can’t change it. We experience and then attempt to organize and explain our experience. It’s a collaborative thing – humans and the sources of what we experience which don’t tell us what explanation or “reality” to give them. I’ve always preferred “relational” to summarize this process. But you can choose your own terms.

      • May 12, 2016 at 11:01 pm

        The point is the one I made right near the beginning of these esxchanges, that ultimately this goes back to a philosophical decision (or commitment as Tony Lawson puts it) to either reality is interaction (some of which is transformed into matter, life, brains) or reality is something undefined human minds build up from habitual observations.

        The first leaves the real scientist’s hope that at some level of evolution systematic patterns of interaction may be discovered (and thereafter looked for and first experimentally then technologically isolated) which are obscured by all the other patterns of interaction interfering with it in modern conditions.

        The second leaves the situation (even in our minds) as you describe it: with messy processes; often unclear, uncertain, incomplete. Doing what we are doing now, even with Humean science: “muddling through”, with blind “scientists” leading blind economists and politicians like lemmings over social and ecological cliffs. Expecting ways forward now, not tomorrow, when we have had time to make them possible.

        I’ve experienced enough success with the first and seen enough of the second to have made my choice. I advise you to rethink yours.

        Back with the “minimum wage machine”, where all this started, on April 30th I saw (as a scientist) not just the image of piecework we were presented with and habitually observe, but the underlying purpose of wages as earning an adequate livelihood, and more civilised countries effectively relegating piecework to one way of rewarding exceptional effort. I really didn’t understand why you found it necessary to bury that straightforward contrast by wandering off into criticism of the words I had been using to try and point out what I was seeing. “Contrary Mary”, mistaking illustrations for the topic, or a mistaken concept of what constitutes critical debate?

        I’m always pleased to find someone willing to have a debate, but for me the purpose of debate is to clarify what is on offer or come up with a comparable alternative.

      • May 13, 2016 at 6:39 am

        Scientists and science are not blind. Just uncertain, incomplete, and unclear. I prefer this way. Otherwise I think I’m living in a Pixar movie.

        Wages are one way to obtain the resources one needs for life. There are many other ways. If we return to the way of life in which humans have lived the longest – “foraging” or “hunter-gatherer” the formula there was simple. What was available (which usually was quite sufficient for a good life) was divided equally among the members of the group. Could we do that today. This is what I was trying to say when I began discussing reality’s (don’t really like this word) origins in empirical interactions. The options neoclassical economics supports have a history of creation and use via interaction. We need to look at that history to situarte struggles with mainstream economics discussed continually on this blog. The goal – to figure out what other alternatives are available. Recognizing as you point out this is a matter of more than knowledge we can’t restrict such history to what academics or others label formal knowledge. We must consider fears, desires, biological needs, etc. The so called “axioms” of neoclassical economics were created via many sorts of interactions and can be changed the same way. If we genuinely want to change them.

      • May 13, 2016 at 10:33 am

        I’m glad to see we agree on the need for learning from history to redistribute resources (if not equally) more equitably. The issues are whether this is more likely to be achieved by preferences or logic, and whether the simple logic of visible partitioning implied in both these (simpler even than inclusion or exclusion in family tree logic) is itself actually adequate.

        I’d like to offer a counter-example (perhaps less well known but more definite than the history of Easter Island) to the trust in that logic of “appearances now”. When the Maoris discovered New Zealand not that long ago, they could have shared the fruits of the forest and the seas, but instead prefered to hunt and kill a flightless ostrich-like native bird, the moa, which in a very few years became extinct. The logic of preference considered it a good meal compared with shell-fish, but failed to consider its wider availability in the past, and the future they were going to be the creators of, in which it was either let be, domesticated or extinct. Since they didn’t protect or domesticate it, it became extinct.

        Which is the point of my urging familiarity with dynamic PID logic (effectively the logic of navigation, i.e. of motion), which takes account not only the present but of the past and future.

      • May 13, 2016 at 8:05 pm

        One of the first things that becomes apparent about controller models, fuzzy and otherwise is that the maximizing of control over one variable necessarily effects the other variables. In other words, controlling a variable as scientists or other say is towards optimal makes it more difficult, often impossible to reach optimal in the other variables. That results not only from the direct effects of the control of the first variable but also from changing the ways the variables interact and the operation of the variables together. Chaos mathematics (attractors) sometimes shows what happens, but only sometimes. Some of the patterns are beyond current mathematics. Need more creative mathematics.

        Could the Maoris have “logiced” themselves to a different result? Doubtful. I don’t know a lot about Maori history and culture but I do know these are not consistent with western versions of “logic.” My suggestion for understanding what the Maoris did and why is to: 1) ask them in ways consistent with their history and culture; 2) observe similar activities today among Maoris; and 3) consider events similar in cultures nearby to the Maoris. Anthropologists have used such approaches for more than 100 years.

        Finally, when we use words like history, future, past we should keep in mind these were created in interactions over sometimes long time spans. As by the way was the very notion of time. For example, before about 1500 in the west there was no history in which humans had a part. All of life was the result of a repeating cycle or where change came it was the intervention of forces beyond humans (gods, nature). I often see the current popularity of movies based on ancient Greek “history” as a sign that many people today are quite comfortable with seeing their lives as controlled by the gods or God if you’re a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. Or economist!

  13. May 14, 2016 at 9:12 am

    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

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