The Place of Work in Human Life
Some of us might be tempted to define work as something we don’t want to do; but that is all wrong. Work is any form of activity that is directed toward the earning of a living.
The same kind of activity might be work under some circumstances and not under others. A man may work mowing our lawn, and we pay him for it because that is his means of support; but if we mow our own lawn, it is not work in the economic sense. A teacher works conducting classes as a means of livelihood; but your studying in those classes does not help you make a living now, though it probably will later. When Bob Feller pitched for his service unit it was for fun. But when he was with the Cleveland Indians it was work and he was well paid for it.
Why Do People Work?
Work is a necessity to the world’s progress. It is the only way by which the forces and resources of nature have been made useful to man. It is the only way men have arisen from the conditions under which they lived in primitive times to their modern state of comfort and luxury. Often more than one motive urges a person to work.
In most cases we must work to satisfy our wants. In the days of the Jamestown colony, Captain John Smith announced with perfect justice, “He that will not work shall not eat.” The more civilized we are, the more extras we want beyond mere existence, and so the more wisely or faithfully we must work.
Social pressure makes some people work, in order to have the good opinion of their neighbours and acquaintances. Sometimes certain kinds of work bring prestige and influence that one could not otherwise get in an honourable way.
Undoubtedly some people work for the pleasure of it — “for the joy of the working,” as Kipling put it. The artist, the actor, and the inventor find real thrills and delight in what they under take. Andrew W. Mellon, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under three Presidents, is said to have been asked once why a man of his vast wealth, who was already beyond the age when many men retire, kept on in his position. “ I like it, I like it,” was his explanation.
Some work because they wish to render service to others. The teacher, the church worker, and the physician need to pay expenses, but they are anxious also to benefit other people.
Make a list of ten occupations in which your family or neighbours engage and classify them in accordance with the motives that cause them to do their particular work. Is a man lucky if he does not have to work? Illustrate your answer from people you know.
Kinds of Work
All work may be grouped in two great fields — physical and mental. It is physical that we most often think of when we talk about work in general — that kind of toil which calls particularly for the use of muscle power. Mental activity, which requires thinking and planning, is just as truly work as the other kind. Hardly anything, however, is exclusively mental or physical. The ditch-digger must do some thinking when he handles his pick and shovel, and the newspaper reporter has to use his muscles when he operates his pencil or computer keyboard.
Too often workers in one field fail to show appreciation of the importance of work done in other fields. The man who works with his muscles may think of the brain worker as a loafer. The man who does mental work may look down upon the manual worker. The work of the world must be done by people of many kinds of talent. Few people are qualified to do well many different things. If the work we are doing is honourable, it de serves appreciation, whether it is done in an office or on a farm or in a mill.
An economic principle which we call the law of least social cost is this: a worker is most likely to succeed if he engages in those activities for which he is best fitted and which he most enjoys. The same principle applies to communities. There the law might read: a community is most likely to succeed if it engages in those industries and occupations for which it has natural advantages. If we could bring about these conditions for every worker and every community, we might hope for a whole nation prosperous and free from discontent.
Make a list of five occupations which you thick you would not enjoy. Consider each of them with reference to its service to the community and decide what kinds of people would satisfactorily carry on such work.
Make a similar list of five occupations which you think you would enjoy. Why do you feel that way about these occupations? How helpful are they to society in general?
Is there any evidence that your community in its own activities is or is not obeying the law of least social cost?
Cooperation in Work
We have already had much to say about cooperation, or teamwork. How necessary shall we find this to be as we study our economic life! The work of the nation might have to stand still if just one large class of workers should not perform its customary duties for even a week. We expect others to feed us, to clothe us, to carry our messages, to provide the means for us to travel in work or play. We depend upon others even in the actual carrying on of our own work.
Even when primitive men hunted and fished, they found it helpful to work with one another. In early times every man had to be a jack-of-all-trades. Everybody did about the same kind of work. When they worked together, it was simply a case of several people combining to do the same thing simple cooperation. This is still necessary at times, as you realize when you see half a dozen men lifting and carrying a steel rail.
As people increased in number, men began to give more time and attention to those things that each one could do best. Thus division of occupations came about. Some devoted their time to building, some continued to be farmers, some made clothing, some made tools for other people to use. But still the builder did every thing necessary in putting up the house, the farmer raised and marketed every kind of farm product, and the shoemaker put together the entire shoe.
As time went on, however, the operations of a single trade were divided, and definite division of labour came about. Now the builder did not attempt to put up an entire house himself. Today be makes use of carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, painters, electricians, and other kinds of workers.
The process has now advanced to the stage which we call specialization. The wood-worker may make only doors and windows instead of doing all the wood-work about a building. The doctor who tried to remedy every human ailment may now specialize in diseases of the eyes or throat. Some lawyers will accept only certain kinds of cases A teacher may not be allowed to teach anything but English and history, for example, if those are the only subjects in which he has especially prepared himself. Specialization has been carried down to a very fine point.
Why did man at first perform all his own tasks? low was simple division of labour a benefit? Has complex division of labour advanced too far?
Classes of Occupations
Those qualities in goods which enable them to satisfy wants we call utilities. Every occupation men engage in either gives utilities to goods or makes use of their utilities.
We say that a good has time utility if it is present when it will be of use. A storage house, for example, may keep our furniture for us until we can use it more advantageously. A good has place utility if it is in the location where it will be of service. Time and place utility often go together. The railroad and the automobile each may supply place utility. A good has form utility if it is in the shape that will permit it to render service. We want a book, for instance, in the shape books are usually made rather than as large sheets of paper. The manufacturer has the special function of supplying form utility. Possession utility exists when one has the right to use a certain commodity. A house has no possession utility for us unless we have bought or rented it. The merchant or the broker may provide possession utility for his patrons. There are also qualities which we call natural utilities, put into goods by nature. An apple to satisfy our hunger must be a real one, possessing natural utility, and not an attractive imitation made by a skillful toy-maker. Such workers as the farmer and the forester do more than others to help nature provide the natural utilities that permit certain goods to satisfy our wants.
We use the word industry most often to suggest some activity connected with manufacturing or mechanical labour All the great industrial activities of men can be grouped under a few general heads. Indeed, they can all be classified as primary or secondary. Primary industries, like farming, mining, and fishing, deal directly with natural resources and are therefore fundamental. Others, which cannot be carried on until after the products of the primary industries have been made ready, may be called secondary industries, such as manufacturing, transportation, and all the activities connected with buying and selling, or trade. You can’t make steel until the ore has been taken out of the ground, and you have no use for a railroad unless there is something to carry.
It is not always easy to classify particular workers. Should we, for instance, consider an office worker as in the furniture industry if he is employed in the office of a furniture factory? Even the Census Bureau publishes two kinds of classifications of workers — one by industries, and another by occupations, which tabulates them more nearly in accordance with the work they do.
I what occupational groups would you classify the following: gardener, baseball player, minister, salesman for a grocery firm, tailor, carpenter, bookkeeper?
Grades of Workers
Individual workers naturally vary in their ability. Sometimes we classify workers with reference to the training levels on which various occupations rest—that is, the amount and kind of preparation needed for their line of activity.
The ditch-digger or street-sweeper requires little more than physical strength and endurance to accomplish his work. A girl who pastes labels on bottles, or sorts papers, or does some other simple task, needs little more than quickness. Because little special training is required of such workers, we call them unskilled or little skilled.
Next come the semi-skilled workers. These need some experience and training before they can do their work well, but the variety of things that they have to do is limited; and when they have once learned their job, they need only to keep on doing the same kind of thing day after day. The street-car motorman belongs in this group, as well as those who operate much of the machinery in mills and factories.
The skilled laborer needs a considerable amount of training and experience which may run from several months to several years. Besides, he has to be able to adapt himself to jobs which may not be exactly alike. Such workers as the carpenter, the plumber, the paper-hanger, and the like, are in this class, as well as workers with machines who have more to do than merely watch the machine operate.
Next we come to the science level of workers. For them it is not so much a matter of skill in doing mechanical things as of knowing facts and being able to apply them, The chemist, for instance, is engaged in carrying on experiments or otherwise serving in a great factory. He must have special training and possess special information in his particular line of work. A photographer might perhaps belong in this class also.
The fifth class is the expert or professional group. These are the workers who must possess special intellectual ability, extensive study, and practice over a long period in a limited field. The physician, the teacher, and the lawyer are in this group.
Do you think of any kinds of workers whom it might be difficult to classify in any particular group? Which class of workers do you think is the largest? Which class generally receives the highest salary or wages?
The Circle of Economic Activities
Everything that people do or want to do, as far as it has an economic side, will find a place somewhere in the circle of four economic activities — consumption, production, ex change, and distribution.
The use of goods to satisfy wants is known as consumption. In one sense consumption means destruction, as when we eat an apple. With our books, clothes, and homes, the process is more gradual and may not be noticeable at any one time. Consumption is in a way the foundation of our modern life. We would not produce goods unless people wanted to consume them or the producer thought he could make people want to consume them.
Then comes production — the preparation of goods to satisfy human wants. Production is the giving of utilities to goods. Growing things, as the farmer does, making things in the sense that the manufacturer does, and the giving of time utilities and place utilities, such as the railroad and the storekeeper give, are all forms of production.
Even a man in primitive days might produce more things of a certain kind than he could use. Then he would seek to exchange with somebody else who might have produced more of other things than he could use. As our activities have become more and more specialized the necessity for this phase of the circle — exchange — becomes greater. By exchange we mean the transfer of ownership or possession of goods from one person to another. Generally this calls for the use of money or some substitute for it.
The fourth phase of our economic interests we call distribution. This does not mean the carrying or marketing of goods, for those activities belong to production or exchange. Distribution has to do with what becomes of the profits or returns that are earned by those who have helped in production. How much should each worker receive? How much does he receive? The answers to these two questions may be far apart.
Now you see how these four phases of our economic activities form a circle. We want to consume; therefore goods have to be produced for us to consume. Since we do not and cannot all produce the same thing, there must be exchange. We expect some kind of compensation for the services or goods that are ex changed, and with the help of this compensation we are in a position to consume and so go around the circle again and again.
If anything happens to the orderly process of going around this circle, embarrassing times may result. Sometimes more goods are produced than there is a demand for; then business slows up. If workers do not, through the process of distribution, receive the “wherewithal” to buy goods, the process is held up at another point. That is the worst feature of business depressions. When business in some lines is slack, employers may lay off some of their workers. Then those workers cannot buy as they did before, and other lines of business suffer. Then workers are laid off there, and still more cannot buy. To have contentment in our economic life our circle must keep going round and round regularly.
Do men consume in order to produce, as well as produce in order to consume? In which do you think men take the more pleasure? Can a person get an honest living without. engaging in some form of production? Just what does a soldier or sailor produce?
The Factors in Production
Let us think now about some features of production. Four factors, or elements, are necessary in any form of it:
Land is any gift of nature which is used in industry. In this sense the word means not merely the ground we build houses on, but the trees of the forest, mineral deposits, and the water that turns mill wheels. Even the fish in the sea are land in this sense. A longer expression that means about the same thing is natural resources. When land is used for production, the gain or return from its use which the landholder receives is called rent.
Labour is any activity of human beings that enters into industry. This applies to mental and physical effort alike. The man in the office whose work is to think, give orders, and dictate letters is just as much a labourer as the man who looks after a furnace in a great steel mill, or the girl who watches the loom in a cotton factory. Labour gets a return or compensation which we call wages.
Capital is any product of past industry that is used in producing more goods. Be sure to get this idea straight. Money itself is not necessarily capital. Wealth includes capital, but capital is only that part of wealth which is used in producing more wealth. Machinery in the mills, trains on the rail roads, and even the ditch-digger’s shovel are capital. All these were once made by man and are now used directly or indirectly to produce something more. The compensation received for the use of capital by its holders is called interest.
Management is the factor that plans an enterprise and handles or employs the other three factors — land, labour and capital. Industry cannot exist without management. At times the manager may also be a labourer and get wages for his labour, or he may be the owner of the capital employed in the business and receive interest on that account. But the work of management is distinct from either labour or capital. The manager’s compensation or returns we refer to as profits.
Since it is difficult to tell how important is the contribution each of these four factors makes, it becomes a problem to know just how much each ought to get as compensation for its services. Andrew Carnegie was once asked, Which is the most important, land, labour, or brains? “ His reply was, “ Which is the most important leg of a three-legged stool?
Conditions Necessary to Satisfactory Progress
If the circle of economic activities is to move around smoothly, there must be purposeful planning to establish the necessary conditions.
First, there should be individual freedom. You remember the law of least social cost. So one should have what lawyers call freedom of contract and freedom of opportunity to move from place to place and to engage in a job for which he can show he is qualified.
Second, industrial progress goes on most rapidly if workers have some spur to do their best. Such a condition we may call com petition in service. If a person knows that he is the only one who can do a certain piece of work and that nobody else can be secured to take his place, he may be satisfied with less than his best service, unless he has a stronger moral character than some have.
To do their best, however, workers must also have good health and training for their tasks. It is good business, if nothing else, to see that workers have pleasant surroundings to work in and are so protected that their work is not a menace to health.
We need, too, the spirit of cooperation. There should be no unpleasant feelings between one branch of the great industrial world and another. Employers and their workers must be on good terms and mutually understand one another. Farmers and city workers must realize each other’s problems.
Another essential condition to satisfactory progress is security. That may be a personal matter, such as safeguarding a worker on his job in the factory. It may be a community matter, such as protecting the worker as he goes from his home to his place of business or to a factory from marauders or thieves. It may take the form of a sense of soundness in the business world that will encourage business men to keep moving instead of slacking up in their activities and throwing men out of work.
And finally that more or less intangible thing — the square deal must be the motive and ideal back of every one’s business contacts. Suppose the labourer feels that the capitalist wants to get all the returns for himself or reduce the labourer’s returns to the least possible amount. Suppose people in general think that an electric light plant or some other industry on which they depend for convenience and service is carried on simply to make unreasonable profits. Suppose any class of people feels that the activities of its government are carried on to promote the welfare of only one group or a few groups, rather than the best interests of all. Then there will be unrest and discontent and perhaps something worse.
Business and morals cannot be separated. The same Golden Rule which we recommend in our social dealings must find a place in our business relations if they are to go on most pleasantly and efficiently.