Mass Production Makes a Better World

I

IT is agreed by competent observers in this country and in Europe that America’s increasing general prosperity and high standards of living are due chiefly to the rapidly increasing use of scientific mass production and distribution.

Yet there are some — mostly impractical theorists — who profess to see in mass methods the threat of grave danger to mankind. Where I see good, they see evil. Where I see the means of liberating the masses of the people economically, the critics of mass methods see the probability that men will become veritable slaves of their machines. The theorists foretell an era of machinemade ugliness, while I look to low-cost mass production to make beauty more general and to put more of it within the reach of the masses. In short, the theorists assert that mass production and distribution are bad in many ways for both producers and consumers. I am convinced that they benefit both.

I am going to consider categorically the principal allegations which are made against mass methods. But first let us see clearly just what mass methods are and what they imply.

Scientific mass production, for example, is not merely the production of large quantities of highly standardized goods. It implies that those goods shall be made under the most modern and efficient methods, largely by means of machinery, and with a high degree of division, or specialization, of labor. The original aim was cost reduction rather than the production of great quantities of goods, but it was soon discovered that costs can be reduced to the minimum only by producing in large quantities — millions of articles — and thereby reducing ‘overhead’ expense to the point where the charge against each unit is comparatively negligible.

But mass producers also found out that when goods are produced in great quantities there must be millions of consumers. It would be foolish, for instance, to make a million automobiles or two million pairs of shoes if you were going to charge $25,000 for each automobile and $50 for each pair of shoes.

Fortunately, mass production can produce consumers by creating buying power. This it does through (a) paying high wages; (b) selling cheaply. Because production per man is high, it is possible to pay high wages. Furthermore, when many articles are made by each worker under scientific mass methods the difference between a high wage and a low wage is a relatively small part of the cost of each article. Then mass producers discover that the greatest total profits are made from the smallest practical profit per unit, because only by selling cheaply can the price be brought within the reach of the masses of consumers.

However, merely to produce goods and to supply the buying power are seldom enough except for the most essential necessities of life. People will not usually buy, even when they have the necessary buying power, unless they want the goods. Therefore it is necessary that the goods made by mass-production methods be attractive in appearance and of good quality, if they are to be bought again and again.

II

With these fundamentals well in mind, let us proceed to examine some of the objections which are most commonly made to mass production.

1. It is said that mass methods make the worker the slave of his machine — that the machine forces him to maintain a killing pace.

It is the almost universal practice of industrialists and industrial engineers when installing scientific mass-production methods to insist that the new methods must increase production but at the same time reduce the fatigue which the worker experiences from a day’s work. This is accomplished in many ways. Conveyors carry the loads that once broke human backs. Whereas a worker formerly spent much time walking around a factory to get his next batch of materials or needed tools, these are now brought to him by conveyors or power trucks. It is certainly easier for a worker to make a forging on a power hammer than by swinging a sledge, and easier to drill twenty holes simultaneously by a power-operated drill press in a fraction of a minute than to drill even a single hole by hand in five or ten minutes. There are countless instances that can be cited to prove that the machine is the slave of man, not man the slave of the machine.

2. It is said that mass methods kill the worker’s soul, and turn craftsmen into automatons.

Admit that machines now do many of the things that formerly called for the skill of a craftsman. Yet there are more skilled craftsmen employed to-day than ever before in proportion to the population, and the demand is greater than the supply. Not all men are creatively inclined. The vast armies of unskilled or semiskilled machine operators are not generally recruited from the skilled artisans, but from the ranks of unskilled common labor — from those who have no creative talent and who would otherwise do harder work at lower wages. Complicated, specialized, high-speed machines call for the service of many highly skilled mechanics for repair work, toolmakers, diesinkers, and machine designers. That is where the skilled craftsman finds his niche at higher wages and with full scope for any creative talent he may have.

It is a common mistake to assume that monotonous repetitive work is necessarily offensive to all men. Engineers have found, on the contrary, that most workers prefer to perform a simple, specialized, repetitive operation. It leaves their minds free to ruminate on other things. They do not abhor monotony, but desire it, as is often shown when workers refuse to be transferred from a repetitive job to which they have become accustomed, even though the new job would pay them better. So great is the need for more skilled mechanics, however, that many employers maintain courses of training for the purpose of developing latent craftsmanship wherever it appears among their workers.

The machine does not bind down the creative craftsman to a dull routine job. It sets him free to do those skilled creative jobs which even the most ingenious and humanlike machine cannot do. And it enables the unskilled, unintelligent man to earn more money than before with far less effort and with no harm to his mind and soul. It permits him to have an avocation as well as a vocation in the longer hours that he has free for recreation and cultivation.

Not only does mass production benefit the man while he is in the shop, but, by increasing the earning and buying power of the masses through higher wages and lower prices, mass production is making it possible for them to secure the necessities of life with fewer hours of labor. I confidently look forward to further important reductions in the time which a man will have to spend at work in order to provide a proper living for himself and his family.

The leisure which the masses will then have will enable them to get more education and to enjoy more of the good things of life than they now have time for. It is not work, no matter how monotonous, that kills the soul and the spirit, but such long hours that the worker has not time or strength for recreation and improvement. And the workman, if any there should be who cannot express and exercise to the full his creative instincts in his work, will have the opportunity to do so during the many leisure hours each day which mass production will give him. The uncreative, the unskilled, will be able to look forward at the end of a short, unfatiguing workday to occupying himself with activities which suit his tastes. He will have the money and the leisure to enjoy the things of life which seem to him the most worth while.

3. It is said that mass methods, by increasing the amount of goods which a man can turn out per hour, cause unemployment.

This is based on the fallacious but persistent idea that there is only a definitely limited amount of work to be done — which in turn springs from the equally fallacious idea that only a certain amount of goods can be consumed per capita. If that were so, it would be true that to double one man’s production would throw another man out of work. But both of these conceptions are false.

It is obvious, with a little thought, that the masses of the American people are consuming many things which they could not afford to buy even ten years ago. The contribution of mass methods is reflected in the general comparatively high standard of living, in the rarity of acute poverty among those who are able and willing to work, and in the general ownership of such luxuries as the motor car and the wide use of the telephone.

The point is this: Mass production, by reducing costs and prices and by increasing wages, has increased the purchasing power of everyone. The increase in per capita consumption has kept pace with the increase in per capita production, so that, in the long run, mass production has not resulted in unemployment. The reverse is true.

Take the automobile industry as an example. In 1895 only four automobiles were made in the United States. Probably only a few dozen workmen were employed in the industry. For the next few years the increase in the use of cars was slow, chiefly because the price was high. Automobiles were rich men’s toys. But, as mass production brought the price of cars down to a point where most people could afford to buy them, the sales of cars rapidly increased.

In fifteen years the production of cars per man hour increased tenfold. That is, in a given period one man can turn out the number of cars that ten men made fifteen years ago. To the old school of thought it would follow that nine men out of every ten were laid off in the automobile industry because of the improved methods. The fact is that the number of workers in the automobile and subsidiary industries has grown constantly until in 1926 there were employed, directly and indirectly, 3,743,781, according to ligures of the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce. In 1919, in automobile and truck factories alone 210,559 workers were employed. In 1926 this figure had grown to 375,281, in spite of the fact that production per man hour had increased more than 25 per cent between 1919 and 1926.

While only 375,281 workers were employed in automobile and truck factories in 1926, hundreds of thousands more found employment in industries directly dependent on motor cars and trucks. For example, there were 320,000 workers in automobile-accessory factories; 100,000 tire-factory workers; 455,000 dealers and salesmen distributing automobiles, trucks, tires, and other accessories; 1,400,000 chauffeurs and truck drivers; 575,000 garage and repair-shop employees. The automobile is the largest consumer of gasoline and oils, and it is estimated that 110,000 workers in this field owe their employment to the motor industry.

In addition, nearly 400,000 jobs in a wide variety of industries and professions probably would not exist if mass methods had not brought the automobile to its present general use — if machinery and intelligent management. had not made possible the great increase in the volume of production. Some who have studied this situation— and I can find no grounds for disagreement with their figures — estimate that the automobile has given employment to 70,000 iron and steel workers, 95,000 railroad workers, 15,000 plate-glass workers, 10,000 tannery and leather workers, 15,000 woodworkers, 20,000 machine-tool workers; and that is not a complete list.

So I cannot see how anyone can find just cause to regret the application of scientific mass methods to the automobile industry, or to any other industry. There is no ground for the fear that machinery and the consequent increased productivity will cause more than temporary unemployment. In the motor industry there is no evidence of even temporary unemployment due to increased production. With the exception of 1921, the year of our most serious depression, the number of workers in automobile factories has increased each year, advancing from 210,559 in 1919 to 375,281 in 1926. In the same period the average earnings of these employees increased from $1482 to $1726 a year, an increase of more than 23 per cent. To complete the case for scientific mass methods, the figures show that the average wholesale value of motor vehicles declined from $955 in 1919 to $714 in 1926 — a reduction of more than 25 per cent.

That is what happens in most basic industries which adopt scientific mass methods. As prices come down and earnings rise most people increase their consumption of practically all kinds of goods. It is hardly possible to set a limit to the number of suits, hats, dresses, books, and household supplies the average person would buy provided the price were made low enough and wages were increased. And this will apply to almost all ‘ luxury’ goods — if mass methods put the price within the reach of the general public.

Thus, while for a short time a great increase in the productivity per man in a particular plant may cause some workers to be laid off, yet very shortly the stimulated consumption due to the increased buying power brought by the use of mass production creates added demand for commodities and services which give employment to as many as or more than before.

4. It is said that mass production will eliminate individuality, put us all into uniforms, standardize us, and replace beauty with machine-made ugliness.

It is true that a fundamental principle of mass production is the elimination of needless varieties and styles, but that does not involve putting us all into uniforms. Men’s clothing, for example, can be made by mass methods — in many cases is now. One mediumsized plant makes nothing but blue serge suits in a very few models. That does not mean that we must all wear blue serge suits. It means merely that the plant is able to supply blue serge suits to those men who happen to want them at a low price, quality considered, owing to the economics which it has been able to effect by adopting mass methods.

III

In the future I expect confidently to see this specialization carried much further. With increasing demand a factory will be able to concentrate on a single specialty in some field instead of making a multitude of varieties by old-fashioned, inefficient methods. A case in point is that of an old established knit-underwear mill which for many years tried to produce all styles and varieties of men’s, women’s, and children’s underwear. Study proved that this involved great wastes. So it was decided to eliminate all but a line of babies’ bands. Concentrating on this line, the mill went into mass production and is operating close to capacity and at a satisfactory profit. There is enough demand for babies’ bands to absorb all this mill can produce.

It is a common mistake to think of specialization as standardization and of standardization as implying that only a single style, design, or variety of any product will be made. Standardization does not at all imply that we shall all be as like one another as peas in a pod.

There is no danger that consumers will permit standardization to be carried to its utmost except in cases where it will result in greater convenience or lower cost without affecting the attractiveness of a product or the pleasure to be gotten from it.

For example: Formerly eighteen varieties and sizes of food choppers were made. It was found that three served every useful purpose just as well; so those three were standardized, with great savings all round. Surely the most aesthetic would not contend that eighteen varieties of food choppers were necessary for human happiness. Again, common bricks were formerly made in thirty-four sizes. The one size which was used in far the largest quantities was standardized and the others discontinued, with enormous savings. That is standardization.

Ford, by insisting on standardizing for so long a style of car which many people thought none too handsome, and by allowing no deviation even in color to suit the individual taste, was no doubt largely to blame for the belief that mass production, involving as it must standardization, meant that we should have uniform ugliness thrust down our throats. But Ford was probably right in his insistence during the days when he was perfecting the methods of mass production and popularizing the automobile. To get the automobile widely used a very low price was necessary. Now that the automobile has become a necessity, and the principles of mass production have been brought to a higher state of perfection, Ford has redesigned his car. It is a thing of beauty, and yet it is standardized to the point of complete interchangeability and is produced under scientific mass methods.

In fact it must be evident to the thoughtful that mass production can be made a powerful influence for beauty. The purpose of standardization is to make the product as simple as possible to the end that mass production can be achieved. It is a fact acknowledged by artists that simplicity usually makes for beauty, while complication of design and overelaboration make for ugliness.

There is just now a tendency to the use of color in many things which are primarily utilitarian. Typewriters, cameras, and many other devices are offered in many different but beautiful colors. That does not preclude mass production. I am told that it is now as cheap to produce a product in several colors as to produce only a single color, as Ford did with his Model T.

Those who object that mass production makes for ugliness I would refer to the lowand medium-priced cars which crowd the streets to-day. All of them are made by scientific mass methods, yet most of them are in design, lines, and colors undeniably beautiful — far more beautiful than they were in the old days before mass-production methods were used, and when each car was individually hand-built by mechanics who were known as craftsmen.

Mass production enables better artists to be employed for designing a product. The high fees that competent artists charge can be spread over a large volume of output. The plant which makes only a small number of any product cannot afford to employ high-class designers. This holds true in any line.

And finally, by lowering prices, mass production puts the beautiful things it produces within the reach of the masses, and, by creating an appreciation for beauty where it did not exist before, makes the world a much better place to live in.

I have set down my beliefs on this subject in a paragraph which I call ‘A shopkeeper’s vision of beauty.’ It is this. —

‘In the final analysis beauty is the greatest objective of the world. But we cannot teach spiritual truths effectively to a starving people. One great way to make more beauty in this world is to make the obtaining of a living — the obtaining of the necessary food, clothing, and shelter, and the necessary minimum of luxuries — so mechanical and so little time-consuming that we shall all have time for avocations, have time to work for and search for better things—to search for beauty. This can be accomplished by saving of waste, by more economic justice, by invention and better organization of production and distribution, by better training of workers and leaders.’

IV

So much for the objections made to mass production by those theorists who see in it an influence making for human unhappiness, dull uniformity, and ugliness. They are the ones who commonly have no first-hand knowledge of what mass production really is, of how it works, or of its true economic significance. It is perhaps not so very strange that those people should think they see a danger in a technique which they do not understand.

But it is truly strange that some business men, who certainly ought thoroughly to understand the full implications and methods of mass production, should see in it a danger to business as a whole. They hold that to sell the vast quantities of goods which mass methods produce calls for highpressure and very expensive selling efforts which largely offset the economies made in the factory.

It is obvious that those who hold that view do not yet grasp all of the implications of mass production. They assume that we must have thrust down our throats the goods which mass production turns out. The fact is that there is still a tremendous potential, but ineffective, demand for large quantities of nearly every kind of goods. The reason why this potential demand does not manifest itself in effective demand, in actual consumption, is that the people have not yet the buying power they must have before they can satisfy all of their wants. Either they have insufficient wages, or the prices they are asked to pay are too high, or both.

As I have said, it is the part of mass production to increase their wages and to reduce the prices of the things the masses would like to buy but as yet cannot buy. When that is done, the potential demand will at once become effective, and those products which almost all people want will all but sell themselves. Expensive high-pressure methods are not necessary in order to sell wanted goods to people who have sufficient money with which to buy them. Producers must, of course, make sure that the commodities which they turn out in large volume are the things which large numbers of people want. The goods must fill a need, and be of proper quality and style.

It all comes down to this: Business, to succeed largely in these days, must produce in large quantities, pay high wages, and sell cheaply. That is the basis of prosperity — the buying power of the masses, which has been created by scientific mass methods in production and distribution. As prosperity spreads throughout the world it will become a bulwark against war. Contrary to a popular belief, peace is a growth, not a manufacture; which simply means that you cannot ‘make’ a lasting peace.

Such a peace will be brought about only by conditions that are just to all — just to the rich as well as the poor. Above all, conditions that give every man the certainty of always getting enough work to earn an adequate living for his wife, his children, and himself; and to keep him and his fellow men from supporting war or revolution in the belief that any change is preferable to existing conditions.

Prosperity is the Road to Peace. Because of my deep conviction that this is true, I have joined with others in maintaining at Geneva the International Management Institute, which seeks to spread the knowledge and use of scientific mass methods in European industry. Mass methods will make Europe prosperous — as they have made America prosperous.

I have studied mass production in all of its aspects since its inception, and have watched its development. I have studied especially closely its social and economic aspects, and I can say without qualification that if it is used by leaders who understand that in order to make the greatest total profits they must pay ever-higher wages, constantly reduce prices, and keep profits per unit of output down to the very minimum, mass production holds no dangers to the common welfare, but on the contrary holds possibilities of accomplishing for mankind all of the good that theoretical reformers or irrational radicals hope to secure by revolutionary means.