1911: Upton Sinclair Vs. Frederick W. Taylor

This is from the May 1911 issue of The American Magazine.

It’s an epic battle, wherein Taylor trips over his own feet and kills himself. I intend to highlight that bit in bold red.




February 24, 1911.

EDITOR, The American Magazine: I have been reading with a great deal of interest the first instalment of Mr. Frederick W. Taylor’s account of “Scientific Management.” He tells us how workingmen were loading twelve and a half tons of pig iron and he induced them to load forty-seven tons instead. They had formerly been getting $1.15; he paid them $1.85. Thus it appears that he gave about 61 per cent, increase in wages, and got 362 per cent, increase in work. I shall not soon forget the picture which he gave us of the poor old laborer who was trying to build his pitiful little home after hours, and who was induced to give 362 per cent, more service for 61 per cent, more pay. I wonder how Mr. Taylor and his colleagues arrive at the latter figure. He tells us just how by scientific figuring he learned that the man could lift forty-seven pounds of pig iron, but he does not tell us by what scientific figuring he arrived at the conclusion that he should receive $1.85 for the work, instead of, let us say, $2.85. Can it by any chance be that he figured upon this basis?—The workingmen of the steel plant are at present producing $1,000 worth of value and getting $168; therefore, if we can induce them to produce 362 per cent, more, they would then receive 16.8 per cent, of the additional increase. I believe that those members of the working class who read The American Magazine would be interested to know just what proportion they get of the value they produce under the old system, and what proportion they are to get under the new “scientific” system.

Also, I want to put a few more questions in elementary political economy to Mr. Taylor. He tells us we have no need to worry because seven men out of eight are turned out of their jobs by the new system, because there are plenty of jobs for them in other parts of the plant. Is that really so? And is it so everywhere? If so, then the phenomenon of overproduction is just a delusion of our captains of industry, and there is no real reason for panics. Our scientific managers will increase the total product of the country’s machinery 362 per cent.; they will have 362 times as many products to market— where will they find the markets for the additional products? When they have taught one fourth of the workingmen to do the work of all the workingmen, is it their plan to organize the remaining three fourths into armies, and send them out to conquer new foreign markets? Or will they find a new world for them to build up?

I, as you may perhaps know, am one of those Utopian persons who do not believe that the working class of America will forever consent to produce $1,000 worth of value and get $168 in return. I believe that the time will come when they will take possession of the instruments and means of production, in order that when they produce $1,000 in value they may receive $1,000 in wages. Let me suggest to Mr. Taylor and his other experts, whose pictures you publish, what is the really great problem of Scientific Management in our time. Let them set themselves down to figure how the ninety million people residing in the United States of America, and being in full communal ownership and democratic control of the instruments and means of production and distribution, can so organize and administer these instruments and means as to produce the greatest quantity of necessary wealth with the least possible expenditure of labor. Let some one of them write another great work, setting forth just how they would arrange for industries, just how much labor they would have to perform, and just how many hours per day would be necessary, to produce a standard income of, say, $5,000 a year for each family. And when they have written this book, let them publish it, not at five dollars per volume, but at fifty cents per volume, and I can guarantee them that they will sell, not ten thousand copies, but one or two million.

Upton Sinclair.


DOUBTLESS some of those who, like Mr. Upton Sinclair, are especially interested in workingmen will complain because under Scientific Management the workman when he is shown how to do twice as much work as he formerly did is not paid twice his former wages, while others who are more interested in the dividends than the workmen will complain that under this system the men receive much higher wages than they did before.

It does seem grossly unjust when the bare statement is made that the competent pigiron handler, for instance, who has been so trained that he piles three and six tenths times as much iron as the incompetent man formerly did, should receive an increase of only 60 per cent, in his wages.

It is not fair, however, to form any final judgment until all of the elements in the case have been considered. Mr. Sinclair sees but one man—the workman. He refuses to see that the great increase in output under Scientific Management is the result not only of the workman’s effort but quite as much also of the study of pig-iron handling by the management and of the cooperation of teachers who help him and the organization which plans and measures his daily tasks, etc., and that all of this extra work on the part of the management, as well as the proper profit of the latter, must be paid for out of the increase in output. At the first glance most of us, in fact, will see only two parties to the transaction, the workmen and their employers. We overlook the third great party—the whole people—the consumers, who buy the product of the first two and who ultimately pay both the wages of the workmen and the profits of the employers.

The rights of the people are therefore greater than those of either employer or employee. And this third great party should be given its proper share of any gain. In fact, a glance at industrial history shows that in the end the whole people receive the greater part of the benefit coming from all industrial improvements. In the past hundred years, for example, the greatest factor tending toward increasing the output, and thereby the prosperity, of the civilized world has been the introduction of machinery to replace hand labor. And without doubt the greatest gain through this change has come to the whole people—the consumer.

Through short periods, especially in the case of patented apparatus, the dividends of those who have introduced new machinery have been greatly increased, and in most cases, though unfortunately not universally, the employees have obtained materially higher wages, shorter hours and better working conditions. But in the end the major part of the gain has gone to the whole people.

And this result will follow the introduction of Scientific Management just as surely as it has the introduction of machinery.

To return to the case of the pig-iron handler. We must assume then that the larger part of the gain which has come from his great increase in output will in the end go to the people in the form of cheaper pig iron. And before deciding upon how the balance is to be divided between the workman and the employer—namely, as to what is just and fair compensation for the man who does the piling and what should be left for the company as profit—we must look at the matter from all sides.

First: As we have before stated, the pigiron handler is not an extraordinary man difficult to find; he is merely a man more or less of the type of the ox, heavy both mentally and physically.

Second: The work which this man does tires him no more than any healthy normal laborer is tired by a proper day’s work. (If this man is overtired by his work, then the task has been wrongly set, and this is as far as possible from the object of Scientific Management.)

Third: It was not due to this man’s initiative or originality that he did his big day’s work, but to the knowledge of pig-iron handling developed and taught him by some one else.

Fourth: It is just and fair that men of the same general grade (when their all-round capacities are considered) should be paid about the same wages when they are all working to the best of their abilities. (It would be grossly unjust to other laborers, for instance, to pay this man three and six tenths as high wages as other men of his general grade receive for an honest full day’s work.)

Fifth: A long series of experiments, coupled with close observation, has demonstrated the fact that when workmen of the caliber of the pig-iron handler are given a carefully measured task, which calls for a big day’s work on their part, and that when in return for this extra effort they are paid wages up to 60 per cent, beyond the wages usually paid, that this increase in wages tends to make them not only more thrifty but better men in every way; that they live rather better, begin to save money, become more sober, and work more steadily. When, on the other hand, they receive much more than a 60 per cent, increase in wages, many of them will work irregularly and tend to become more or less shiftless, extravagant and dissipated. Our experiments showed, in other words, that for their own best interest it does not do for most men to get rich too fast.

Thus we see that the pig-iron handler with his 60 per cent, increase in wages is not an object for pity, but rather a subject for congratulation.

After all, however, facts are in many cases more convincing than opinions or theories, and it is a significant fact that those workmen who have come under Scientific Management during the past thirty years have invariably been satisfied with the increase in pay which they have received, while their employers have been equally pleased with their increase in dividends.

The writer is one of those who believes that more and more will the third party (the whole people), as it becomes acquainted with the true facts, insist that justice shall be done to all three parties. First, it will demand the largest efficiency from both employers and employees. It will no longer tolerate the type of employer who has his eye on dividends alone, who refuses to do his full share of the work, and who merely cracks his whip over the heads of his workmen and attempts to drive them into harder work for low pay. No more will it tolerate tyranny on the part of labor which demands one increase after another in pay and shorter hours, while at the same time it becomes less instead of more efficient.

And the means which the writer firmly believes will be adopted to bring about, first, efficiency both in employer and employee and then an equitable division of the profits of their joint efforts, will be Scientific Management, which has for its sole aim the attainment of justice for all three parties through impartial scientific investigation of all the elements of the problem. For a time both sides will rebel against this advance. The workers will resent any interference with their old rule-of-thumb methods, and the management will resent being asked to take on new duties and burdens; but in the end the people, through enlightened public opinion, will force the new order of things upon both employer and employee.

Those who, like Mr. Sinclair, are afraid that a large increase in the productivity of each workman will throw other men out of work, should realize that the one element more than any other which differentiates civilized from uncivilized countries—prosperous from poverty-stricken peoples—is that the average man in the one is five or six times as productive as in the other. It is also a fact that the chief cause for the large percentage of the unemployed in England (perhaps the most virile nation in the world) is that the workmen of England, more than in any other civilized country, are deliberately restricting their output because they are possessed by the fallacy that it is against their best interest for each man to work as hard as he can.

Frederick W. Taylor.

Wow. Seriously, Taylor? The bosses can get rich fast — but not the workers?

All of you out there in Tech Land and App Land who have made a bit of money — you shiftless bastards, Taylor says you should have never had that.

The original page images:




The Taylor series Sinclair was responding to is too long to plop in here as images, so hit this Google Books link to see part one of it there.

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One response to “1911: Upton Sinclair Vs. Frederick W. Taylor

  1. Pingback: SNUCBA – Bertrand Duperrin: Productivity revolutions and the most misunderstood man in history

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