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Taylorism and American Growth

In the midst of the Second Industrial Revolution, America was on its way up to become the world's largest consumer economy. From the forests of Michigan to the cottonfields of Alabama to the silver mines of Nevada, raw materials were shipped to the factories of the East to be turned into the clothes, furniture, and machines that would power American growth.


In order to power this growth, however, sweeping reforms were required on the part of labor in relation to production, a factor with limited focus in the past. For all of human history prior to this point, productive labor had been divided into unskilled manual labor and skilled artisanal craftswork; think slaves, farmers, masons, and blacksmiths. Lack of automation and constraint of resources kept it so that improvements in efficiency would nearly always be dwarfed by sheer numbers; no ruthlessly efficient management theory was needed for a pharaoh whose kingdom's worth of laborers could build the pyramids at his will.


Even when competition demanded efficiency of systems, it necessitated reform less regarding worker efficiency than about the systems themselves. The Achaemenid Empire's famed bureaucracy of antiquity was just that, as was the Roman Empire's longstanding legions who managed to conquer and hold half of Europe. At the individual level, management of motivation was constrained mostly to militaries, themselves limited to the incentives of plunder or status, or beginning with the growth of the Abrahamic religions, theological validation.


Thus, the growth of Taylorism in the late nineteenth century can be considered the dawn of modern, sophisticated, production-related management theory. Through the utilization of a combination of selective hiring, on-the-clock supervising, and specialized training, Taylorism took to leveraging maximum efficiency from the workers themselves rather than remodeling the system in order to maximize production.


The legacy of Taylorism remains strong within American industry to this day. Despite the transition of the American economy from an industrial to a service one, the principle of maximum efficiency has stuck within many jobs within the service sector. Office jobs, retail, and medical work, significant sectors of the American economy, incorporate many of Taylor's original ideas into their functionality.


It is important to remember, however, the circumstances under which Taylorism arose. It was the product of an era of change that brought fully industrial empires of age, requiring the maximization of production to the point where improving merely technology itself was insufficient for growth. Given the widespread labels "digital revolution" and "Fourth Industrial Revolution" applied to the present time, it is easy to deduce that a new overhaul in management theory is beginning, if not already under way. Information technology companies are known to have largely shed Taylorist principles in favor of concepts that encourage creativity and problem-solving over brute efficiency.


Yet it cannot be said that this overhaul will completely sweep Taylorism under the rug. Large swaths of the American economy still function in a way that necessitates sheer productivity. Worker efficiency, especially with such a large labor force, will likely remain a vital component within several jobs, and the aforementioned novel form of management only applies to select fields, most notably technology.


In the end, however Taylorism's role in the future world may change, it still stands as the first modern example of management theory, and as a theory whose various principles remain as legacies in today's industries. Given the volatility in attempting to address the changing presence of Taylorism in the future, it serves more as a vital case study of the relationship between economic and production shifts and the response of management theories to address these new circumstances. If used this way, Taylorism can greatly help navigate the turbulent years ahead and help develop proper management theories in any time to meet any novel challenge.

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