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Frederick Winslow Taylor
Style over substance
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Efficiency, efficiency, they say/Get to know the date and tell the time of day.
—John Cale, "Paris 1919"

Taylorism is the popular name given to industrialist woo created in the 1880s by Frederick Winslow Taylor. It is also known as Scientific Management (Taylor's preferred name for it) or The Taylor System. It was practiced in most of the industrialized world from the early 1890s until the early 1930s when the labor union movement gained power.

The basic tenets of Taylorism are centered on the belief that achieving maximum efficiency in production is the primary goal of manufacturing. To achieve this end, workers are viewed as replaceable parts in the assembly line. Each "part" performs a specific task on an assembly line, being allowed as few breaks as possible during the work day. When the "part" slows down or breaks down, it must be immediately replaced with another "part" in order to maintain maximum efficiency.

Taylor used "time and motion studies," involving stopwatches and slow-motion photography, in order to determine the "most efficient" means of doing things. In fairness to Taylor, he was working at a time where labor practices were not well-studied and he believed that Scientific Management™ would benefit labor by increasing the wages of the best workers. As time went on, however, Taylor and his followers became more fanatically obsessed with efficiency and division of labor until their recommendations resembled the workings of military institutions. This eventually led to factory strikes and a Congressional investigation into Taylorist practices.

To achieve efficiency, Taylor argued that all decisions should be made by upper management with no input from the "parts", whether individually or collectively. This is because Taylorists believe that Harvard graduates (who have done very little study into what blue-collar work is actually like) know more about this than actual workers.

Taylorism served as a model for slave labor in Manchoukuo under Imperial Japan's rule after war criminal and economic manager of Manchoukuo Nobusuke KishiWikipedia was impressed after visiting a Taylorized factory in the United States.[1]:267-270

Media portrayals of Taylorism[edit]

Many books, movies and TV series have spoofed Taylorism. Here are a few famous examples:


The dystopian novel Мы (We) by Yevgeny Zamyatin (Евге́ний Ива́нович Замя́тин), depicted a regimented society under a totalitarian one-world government and made references to Taylorism as one of the foundational principles of that society. The novel first appeared in Russian in 1921.[2] The English translation was first published in 1924.[3]

I Love Lucy[edit]

In the famous 1952 "chocolate factory" episode, "Job Switching," a supervisor says, "Now you understand from your indoctrination session you're here for one purpose — to work!"

Modern Times[edit]

Charlie Chaplin's 1936 classic film, wherein the Little Tramp is chewed up and spit out by a modern factory.

And what better demonstration of Taylorism than a machine that feeds a worker at his work station? No more lunchrooms or lunch breaks! Hooray for workplace efficiency!


A scene from the 1927 German silent movie, in which regimented lines of workers shuffle to and from work through underground tunnels, may capture the ultimate wet dream of those who subscribe to Taylorism — the division of labor (from the rest of society).

Bioshock Infinite[edit]

Fink Manufacturing, a location in the 2013 first-person action game, is a massive, turn of the century factory modeled on Taylorism. The laborers are seen to have all of their actions timed to the rhythm of a clock, and propaganda that extols the virtues of ceaseless labor and vilifies unionization can be heard playing through loud-speakers.

Taylorism today[edit]

It's not dead. Its followers just do their best to hide their affinity for it (often referred to pejoratively as "neo-Taylorism"). One of the most common instances is the use of the "rank-and-yank" system in which employees are ranked on a bell curve and the lowest ranked are systematically fired.[4]

  • Jeff Skilling of Enron famously mixed this with a philosophy of social Darwinism (his favorite book was Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene).[5]
  • "Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, "famously argued that leaders should fire the bottom 10 percent of their workforce each year, as part of an orderly continuous improvement process."[6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]