Marxism vs. Productivity

Monday, May 21, 2018

In Deep Work, Cal Newport describes a common problem among modern knowledge workers:

Marx's corpus notwithstanding, thinking can be a highly productive activity. (Image via Pixabay.)
... They want to prove that they're productive members of the team and are earning their keep, but they're not entirely clear what this goal constitutes. They have no rising h-index or rack of repaired motorcycles to point to as evidence of their worth. To overcome this gap, many seem to be turning back to the last time when productivity was more universally observable: the industrial age. (p. 60) [bold added]
Newport goes on to describe the old Efficiency Movement, whose methods of measuring productivity are being misapplied. Newport makes similar points to an article I mentioned some time ago, noting that, for example, metaphors -- like David Allen's "cranking widgets" -- can lead to what Newport calls, "Busyness as a Proxy for Productivity."

I have to agree that metaphors must be used carefully, but I cannot help wondering whether the saturation of our culture with Marx's labor theory of value makes the problem much worse than it ought to be. For example, how hard should it be for an academic to understand that "cranking widgets" might, in his case, consist of reading or concentrating on a problem for several uninterrupted hours? Conversely, consider how many people, including some in management, don't think management does any "real work." Work is not just physical activity, and its physical products will not always be bulky or widely appreciated, no matter how revolutionary.

Why, then, measure them in the same way one measures factory production?

-- CAV

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