Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is Productivity and Efficiency The Be-all and End-all?

And the title is not just an attempt to explain why I've been missing from the blog front for a while. There have been many reasons for that. Among them is that I've been battling a particularly bad flare up of arthritis. As well my on-going battle with tendon tears around my hip has been causing all sorts of problems - and that's quite apart from the time devoured by doctor visits. Then - just because it could - a virus caught me when I managed to go out socially for the first time in two weeks and deposited me, none too gently, in bed for four days. Today is the first day I've been up at all. So far I've lasted for three hours and bed is starting to look very inviting again.

But back to the subject. Yet again the media has been full of demands for greater efficiency and higher productivity. Several banks have laid off more staff as has Qantas and we're told it's all to do with efficiency and productivity. It's not only in private enterprise. The Federal Opposition is convinced that efficiencies can be achieved in the dwindling public service. I'm by no means convinced. We had occasion to contact a major government department this week. It took a twenty minute wait to get through to an automated answering service that hung up on us because we didn't have a log in number. That we needed the answer to a question and so didn't need a log in number was beyond the automated answering service. That's efficient? It certainly saved the department time but not us. And we all know how long it can take waiting on hold listening to ear worm music for private companies - you know the ones we keep in business. And I won't even go to the situation in places like hospitals where efficiency for its own sake is potentially dangerous.

There's another issue too which doesn't ever seem to be mentioned. By demanding ever higher productivity - and therefore less leisure to those creating this productivity - there is less time for people to spend - and, that I would have thought, would be the object of producing anything.

So I had already been thinking about the issues when - thanks to my friend Michael - I came across this NY Times article Let's Be Less Productive by Tim Jackson. He makes the point that by pursuing productivity and efficiency without factoring other things we put full employment at risk. It's an interesting and provocative read written by a professor of sustainable development.

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