"Productivity: Potential Belies the Numbers" (John F. Lawrence column, Oct. 20) brings to mind the old saying that figures don't lie, but liars certainly do figure. It seems that the bean counters are counting beans while the whole game is going down the tubes.
We talk about productivity as though high productivity is the thing that is to be desired, and will automatically win the day. I think this is just one other self-manipulation that we indulge in while our whole farm and industrial system deteriorates to extinction.
One can look all around and see evidence of this deterioration. If you look in Consumer Reports, you will find that no American car has received the good rating with respect to frequency of repairs. I don't really think it makes an awful lot of difference whether 7 million cars or 10 million cars are produced with a greater or lesser number of workers, if they produce bad cars. The American consumer will eventually get the message and buy Japanese cars, if not German cars, when given the opportunity.
I think that the initial problem related to the fact that there is no real attempt on the part of Americans to help themselves. The workers want more pay. The companies want more profit. Neither one of them seems to care too much about what happens to the consumer, as long as they get theirs.
The automobile companies have had several years of enforced restriction of Japanese car imports and have used these years to bolster their net income, but are still producing cars that are shockingly poor in ride, handling (suspension) and frequency of repair. Seeing the companies garner huge profits because of an enforced scarcity of Japanese cars, the workers ask for more money, and the quality of cars goes down and the price goes up. Neither the employers nor the employees of the car manufactures appear to have any interest in what is going to happen five or 10 years down the line, when the Japanese manufacturers and workers have completely outdistanced the American ones and are selling all of the cars, as had occurred in England.
The steel workers are not far behind in this tendency to self-destruction. The companies, seeing that there is no possibility of ever gaining a profit that the workers won't try to confiscate from them, refuse to modernize their plants. However, I don't want to give the employers a clean bill of health . . . they seem to have a malaise that no $1-million or $2-million salary for a corporation president can seem to alleviate.
With all of this going on in the background, the bean counters sit and count, taking great pleasure in some minor point that they can find, wherein American industry and workers are doing well.
Were I a worker in an American automobile factory or steel factory, I would want to encourage my union to ask for a wage reduction. In return for this, I would ask of the corporation that it reduce the pay to its higher-paid executives, reduce the money paid to the stockholders to some degree, still allowing the company to be somewhat profitable, and use the money to increase the efficiency of production and quality of the product so that it could be at least partially competitive in the world market. If this is not done, this will be a truly post-industrial society in its entirety. I still don't understand how 200 million Americans are going to live off employment at McDonald's hamburger shops, however.