This section is from the "Economics In Two Volumes: Volume I. Economic Principles" book, by Frank A. Fetter. Also available from Amazon: Economic
§ 1. Subjective and objective factors of efficiency. § 2. Food and efficiency. § 3. Clothing and housing. § 4. Schooling. § 5. Political security and honest government. § 6. Effect of caste upon efficiency. § 7. American democracy and efficiency. § 8. Balance of advantage between work and leisure. § 9. Division of labor and exchange. § 10. Individual and territorial division. § 11. Advantages of specialization. § 12. Best adjustment of talents and occupations.
§ 1. Subjective and objective factors of efficiency. The efficiency of labor, in its broadest sense, is its ability to render services or produce things that minister to welfare. It is a resultant of many influences. In its broader sense, the phrase "efficiency of labor" implies any and every influence that makes for a larger and better supply of goods. In part it depends on the physical and mental powers of men, in part on things outside of the worker that either stimulate and strengthen him, or give him more favorable conditions in which to work. These are respectively the subjective and the objective aspects of efficiency. Many of the objective conditions count in the result only as they affect the men, benefiting their health and strength, stimulating their ambitions, promoting education, invention, thrift, etc. It is this class of forces, acting in and through men, of which we are now to speak. We leave aside for the time one of the largest objective aspects of the question, that of the material equipment with which the community as a whole is furnished, relative to the population. According as this equipment is more or less abundant, as labor is employed in a fertile or a barren field, with a sharp tool or a dull one, with a highly developed machine or a poor one, the product is more or less.1
We limit our attention here to the conditions of efficiency midway between the qualities and abilities of men (primarily subjective) and the natural equipment (primarily objective). Among a population of a given grade of intelligence and a given economic environment of natural resources, what causes will operate to make the laborers vary in their efficiency ?
§ 2. Food and efficiency. Usually workmen that are getting good wages enjoy abundant food and creature comforts; poorly paid workers go scantily fed. The question arises: which is cause, which effect ? Some maintain that all that is needed to make workmen more efficient is to feed them well. In some cases this is probably true. The Porto Ricans enlisted in the American regular army are reported to have increased at once in strength, weight, and vigor; the Filipino recruits, thanks to the American army rations, soon outgrew their uniforms. Some employers in Europe pay their workmen an extra sum on condition that it is spent for meat. But if wages increase, it is by no means certain that more or better food will be bought; or, if it is, that the workmen's powers will be increased. There is a limit to the gain in efficiency by increasing food. There is some reason to believe that in America great numbers of our people, perhaps even many manual laborers, would be better off if they bought simpler and less costly food. The maximum of health and vigor may be attained with moderate outlay, and beyond that point richer food doubtless does more harm than good. Poor judgment in the selection of food is shown in many families, and there is little appreciation of its influence on health.
At one time an experiment in feeding pigs was tried on the Cornell farm. Four groups of six pigs each were kept in four different pens and fed four different rations. Tho alike in breed and age, the groups began at once to differ in disposition. One group squealed more; another scratched more; another waxed fat faster. Every week they were weighed, and finally were butchered, hung up, and photographed. At that same time, at the Elmira Reformatory some experiments were being tried on some criminals of the lower class. They were given daily baths, special physical exercises, and were fed on a specially bountiful diet. Scientific philanthropy stopped there, but photographs "before and after," reproduced in the printed reports, show the great physical improvement that resulted, and a marked change occurred likewise in disposition and intelligence. Many laboratory experiments have been made of late to test the chemical nature and the physiological effects of foods. It is becoming more fully recognized that the quality and quantity of food, and the cooking of it, have a great influence on the economic quality of the worker.
1 Some part of this subject has been already touched in discussing wealth and its uses, and the other parts will be more fully treated in Part VI with population, diminishing returns, and machinery.
§ 3. Clothing and housing. Variation in quality and amount of clothing, while of course varying with the climate, is on the whole of less practical effect upon efficiency than that of food. Loss of heat and energy, dulling the powers, stiffening the muscles, causing illness with many trains of evils, make ill-clad workmen inefficient. The cost of clothing enough for comfort is, however, comparatively small, the amount spent for ornament is comparatively high. A man spends about one third of each day in sleep and his physical and mental powers and efficiency in his hours of work depend in large measure on the conditions making for restful sleep, on the comfort, decency, light, ventilation, and sanitary surroundings in the home. Nearly another third of each worker's life (about half his waking hours) is spent in his house or in its neighborhood, where the sights, sounds, and physical conditions of streets, alleys, and places of amusement are constantly helping to determine his fitness for industrial tasks. Even more important are these conditions of the house and surroundings, good air, water, playgrounds for growing children, to enable a population to continue and renew itself with healthy and efficient workers. Many of these conditions are free goods in the country, and the simplest cottage in an open field makes them possible. They become more difficult to secure as manufacturing and densely populated commercial districts grow. People come to live in unnatural conditions, and evils of slums and bad housing appear.
Another third of the worker's life is spent in his work-place, whether it be in the dwelling or in the field, street, store, or factory. Astonishingly little thought has been given, even by men working for themselves, to the effect that the work-place may have on the worker's efficiency. Many employers, however, have come to see that it does not pay to have bad factory conditions. Even if the ultimate effects in causing sickness and shortening the worker's life be ignored, the bad immediate effect to the employer is a reduction in the efficiency of the worker. A slight change in the weather affects the working of even a gasoline engine. Is not a worker as sensitive to condition of physical comfort and health ? Any piece of machinery requires to be installed, maintained, and adjusted just right or it will fall short of its full capacity and wear out more quickly. It is so with a man. The best factories are now being planned as carefully as is the machinery, with a view to having excellent conditions of light, heat, ventilation, cleanliness, and comfort of the employees. Doubtless much larger and fuller provision of this kind would be to the advantage of employers, as well as for the welfare of the workers and of society in general.