ONLY yesterday an alumnus of our college was discussing with me the changes in economics , which confront the young engineer today—chances which have occurred within the few brief years of his engineering practice. He graduated in 1927. He is now a chief of a section in a producing plant employing hundreds of men. Perhaps half a-hundred look to him as "boss." And as I visited with him, I felt that he had at heart the interests of these men, as fully as the interests of his company.
A few years ago, his earliest observations and his first experience had been in a world where pro-duction at low cost was the whole objective of management. Cost cuts were made wherever and whenever possible. An adjustment here, a change there, the introduction of a machine elsewhere, the dropping of men from their Jobs—all were studied practices. And men so released drifted on to other employers, and even into other fields of work. No great thought was given to the man so turned out. He could get a job elsewhere—soon—probably. At any rate, he was not one of management's worries. Management's every duty, as they con-ceived it, was to promote the stockholder's benefit. This did not necessarily mean in a cold-blooded way. Comfort and well being of the workman were to be attained, but even here the argument therefore was not so much humanitarianism, as it was protection of profits.
In many. far too many, cases the workers' wel-fare was considered so unimportant that it formed a negligible influence upon practices and conditions. Certainly, if you could do without a man, you did not have to explain his dismissal. You were much more likely to be called upon to account for his retention if you kept him on. Management was property -conscious, not employee-conscious.
In thus characterizing business, I am speaking in general terms. Many
exceptions to this state existed. But if you will look at those cases they
will serve to prove my point. Wherever the hu-manitarian side of employment
was greatly empha-sized. The company was held up to public eve as ultra
fine. Many a staff bragged about it. Such practices were considered unusual.
Now, human nature cannot be made over in a year or two. The oldest records we have of man's doings sound strikingly familiar to us when clothed in modern language. A person always remains an individual, and individualism must always be recognized as a major item in the problem of man's economic relations to other men.
But, the fact is being very effectively pressed upon' us today that a new responsibility has come upon us. Or, perhaps I should say, a new view of our responsibilities has been displayed.
No longer do we have vacancies in one industry ready to absorb men squeezed out of other indus-tries. No longer is there plentiful new land to open to those who are forced out of industrial production.
We now have the major problem of unemploy-ment. The man who loses his
job is not nabbed by someone who has been watching for him. He is. just
now, down and out. The young man who is ready to enter life's work finds
himself un-wanted. And while these conditions are not stand-ard or permanent,
they are not quickly transient. and our generation must adjust itself to
them. Of all animals, man can fit himself to the greatest varieties and
extremes of conditions, by reason of his intelligence. Certainly, the present
economic conditions call for a display of judgment, poise, and mental acumen.
We must think through it, rather than '"muddle through" it.
Survival of our civilization on its present basis of rights and facilities, of pleasure? and oppor-tunities, requires voluntary inhibitions—self-im-posed limitations, and modest personal demands upon society. Upon the other hand, it also re-quires recognition of full personal responsibility to and even for the other man. One's economic thinking must include his neighbor, or it will not last to guide him beyond the turn of the calendar.
Engineers are deep in this confused and tangled mass of elements. Its
sweep is almost tornadic. Only by a display of utmost wisdom can they weather
it. The guide to their thinking must be a clear belief that this is a day
when the respon-sibilities of economic independence transcend its rights.