Blame the managers, not the workers, for our economic woes

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

February 13, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

For centuries, the popular histories say, people of European ancestry roamed the world, and wherever they went, the colored peoples they encountered worshiped them as gods.

It didn't matter who or what they were: shipwrecked sailors in rags, criminals in chains, natural scientists in funny hats. The adulation was all but automatic.

You've read the stories. You've seen the movies. From the history books to the comic books. From Edgar Rice Burroughs to Rudyard Kipling. From movies like "King Kong" and "Lord Jim" to the musical "The King and I" to virtually every cowboy-and-Indian flick ever made. The notion of godhood is an indelible part of the American psyche.

I think that's one of the reasons the recent stream of Japanese invective against American workers has been so shocking.

Lately, it has seemed as though Japanese politicians are trying to out do each other in the Yankee-bashing department.

One official will take the floor of Parliament and announce that American workers are lazy and all but illiterate.

Another official will leap to his feet to proclaim that America's trade deficit could be blamed on workers who have lost the desire to live by the sweat of their brows.

Inspired, a third official will add that auto workers here are so preoccupied with their weekend plans that they are unable to put together a decent car on Fridays and so exhausted from partying that they are unable to produce on Mondays.

Add to this the past pronouncements from bigwigs over there about the laziness and stupidity of blacks and Hispanics and you get a picture of a nation whose leaders exhibit a profoundly unhealthy ignorance about what's going on over here.

Anyway, don't Japanese politicians have anything more important to do than talk about us?

The fact is, statistics indicate that these stereotypes about American workers are not even true.

By most measures, American workers rank among the most productive in the world. More to the point, they outperform their Japanese counterparts in virtually every category.

Statistics from Japan's own Ministry of Labor indicate that Japanese manufacturing workers produce just 61 percent of the value of goods that American workers turn out.

The U.S. Labor Department reports that Americans spend more time on the job than almost anyone else in the world. The average European, for instance, gets twice as much vacation time as the average American.

There has even been a study showing that Japanese men watch an average of five more hours of television a week than their American counterparts.

The crazy thing about all of this is that if anyone deserves to be bashed, it is American managers, not workers.

A number of studies indicate that this country's corporate management is top-heavy, overpaid, short-sighted, inflexible and often just plain dumb.

Corporate managers pursue policies that spark resentment rather than loyalty in their employees, according to a number of surveys. They pay more attention to pumping up sales through marketing instead of product improvement. They pocket profits rather than use them to increase productivity. They spend their time slouching about Capital Hill sipping martinis and begging for congressional handouts.

Funny isn't it, how bias is blind?

Here we are, staggering through a recession brought about, in part, by the corporate excesses of the 1980s.

Billions of U.S. tax dollars are committed to bailing out financial institutions after the S&L scandals.

The landscape is littered with vacant office buildings thrown up willy-nilly during the real estate boom.

And thousands of productive workers have lost their jobs because their bosses were in such a sweat to join the merger-and-acquisition binge, using leveraged buyouts, and now cannot pay their debts.

Yet, demagogues like David Duke focus resentment over our economic woes on, of all people, welfare recipients.

And Japanese officials ignore their own statistics and keep bashing American workers although these officials presumably come into enough contact with our corporate executives to see for themselves that, well, that there's nothing upstairs.

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