Skip to content

That’s How Capitalism Works, Dummy

June 3, 2009

I recently ran across this news/opinion piece over at ChattahBox.com titled “Hoping Japanese Canon Workers Don’t Become the New Model for the Corporate World.” Here are a few selections:

“Lets rush–if we don’t then the company and world will perish.” Those chilling Orwellian words are printed across the floors of a large Canon Electronics factory in Japan. A stark reminder to factory workers to pick up their pace, as they are nothing more than cogs in a machine who are easily replaced.

… If you think these descriptions are a bit exaggerated, think again. Hisashi Sakamaki, president of Canon Electronics, wrote a book, entitled “A company will do well if you get rid of the chairs and computers.”

… The workers at Canon resemble robotic drones; all wearing the same uniform of non-descript khakis and crisply pressed blue and white striped shirts. Smiles are a rare commodity in this factory, as workers hurry to complete their tasks.

… Even worse, sensors are embedded into the floors to detect the walking speed of workers. If a worker has the audacity to walk slower than 5 meters for every 3.6 seconds, an ear piercing siren and flashing lights are set off, reminding a worker of his or her slothfulness.

… Let’s hope Canon Electronics’ bizarre policies don’t start a trend and become the new model for the corporate world.

First, there’s nothing new or “bizarre” about these policies. Foucault wrote about this stuff forty years ago: it’s called discipline.

Second, stuff like this doesn’t just become “a trend” without there being some sort of incentive. What’s the incentive?

Well, there are millions of Americans going shopping for printers and cameras and other electronic devices, and they can choose between Canon and other brands. Since bargain shopping is apparently America’s #1 virtue, these shoppers will probably choose the cheapest one with the features they want. If Canon doesn’t offer the cheapest one, then those shoppers will vote with their checkbooks, so to speak.

Canon can ensure that their product is the cheapest if they institute policies like these in their factories. Their competition will have to institute similar policies to keep their own prices down. It’s a race for the bottom.

The article concludes, “Let’s hope Canon Electronics’ bizarre policies don’t start a trend and become the new model for the corporate world.” Well, that’s sort of up to you now, isn’t it? Did you write that article on the cheapest computer you could find at Best Buy? If so, then you’re contributing to those “bizarre policies.”

NB: I’m writing this post on the cheapest computer I could find at Best Buy, which is sitting right next to a Canon printer, which I bought because it was the cheapest one with the features I wanted.

Bargain shopping should be a sin.

Advertisements
7 Comments leave one →
  1. John permalink
    June 3, 2009 1:49 pm

    That last sentence–“Let’s hope Canon Electronics’ bizarre policies don’t start a trend and become the new model for the corporate world.”–is so perfect. The reality of it is that such policies have been a “trend” and a longstanding “model for the corporate world.” This is simply Taylorism. Aside from the “sensors in the floor” part, take out the name of the company and what they are building and it could be about any factory in the past 100 years.

    This is a regular propaganda tool (whether the author of the article meant it to be or not): point out what is basically the norm and treat it like it is a special, extreme case. If only we can be a little nicer to the workers, capitalism would be perfect. But this factory just goes too far, etc. It also helps that this is a Japanese company. The reader can chalk it up to that crazy Japanese culture of overworking. Our American companies, of course, are different! and better.

  2. June 3, 2009 10:47 pm

    Ugh, sensors yet!

    This what John wrote made me think of how racism in America works too,

    This is a regular propaganda tool (whether the author of the article meant it to be or not): point out what is basically the norm and treat it like it is a special, extreme case.

    Maybe that’s why Rush and Pat Buchanan get so much air time?

    Of course, that would be different from the other racism you insightfully go on to point out, wherein Americans point to those crazy Japanese.

    Don’t American workers actually work more hours now than American ones do?

  3. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 4, 2009 9:29 am

    Don’t American workers actually work more hours now

    Americans are hardly working at all, now that jobs have moved to where the dollar is worth more …

  4. June 4, 2009 9:38 am

    Yes of course, but there are a lot of people in Japan out of work as well. I wrote “workers” to mean people actually working. The American concept of Japanese workers is that they’re drones who don’t “have a life” because they work 60 or 70 or whatever hours a week. My question was, I’ve heard that actually, those Americans who are working actually work more hours per week, and thus are more drone-like in that sense, than Japanese workers are.

    Anyway, the latest New Economy is probably changing that again, with many American workers being asked to take “furloughs” and work part time and so on.

  5. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 4, 2009 10:06 am

    My question was, I’ve heard that actually, those Americans who are working actually work more hours per week, and thus are more drone-like in that sense, than Japanese workers are.

    I don’t know, but I’d believe it.

    You should expand on your comment about Rush and Pat Buchanan treating the norm like a special case. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about that …

  6. June 4, 2009 10:18 am

    Thanks for the invitation to expand, but I don’t know that my thoughts there are all that profound, and I don’t know how well “treating the norm like a special case” fits what came to mind for me. Which was basically this: the combination of your post and John’s point reminds me that giving air time to Rush and Pat’s more or less overt racism may well function to put racism Over There, in Them, rather than Right Here, in daily lives and practices. Whether intentional or not, their readily identifiable racism seems to divert attention from its more quotidian, and really more pervasive and damaging, forms.

    So if the norm is racism in this case, then the racism of Rush and Pat gets treated like it’s a special case.

    Does that make sense?

  7. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 4, 2009 10:39 am

    Right; totally!

    I was recently arguing that Americans like watching holocaust movies because it makes them feel good about themselves: we’re not like Nazi Germany (so we must be doing everything fine).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: