Since I enjoyed his Men And Machines a lot, I continued reading the other Chase book in my collection right after. And I am sure I will visit this fascinating author more often in the future!
This booklet (a mere 60 pages) is in fact the 1931 version of a pamphlet originally written in 1922. At the time it was titled The Challenge of Waste. The author reworked the pamphlet in 1925 and 1930, and for this reprint it was revised once more and combined with the pamphlet One Billion Wild Horses, which is actually a (very) short version of the Men And Machines book. In this summary, I will concentrate on the first two-thirds which are the ‘waste’-sections. For the Billion Hoses part, please check my summary of the Men And Machines book.
It is interesting to see that Chase has a broader understanding of ‘waste’ than most will apply. He does not merely address the everyday use (i.e. trash - things we throw away and possibly recycle), neither does he restrict himself to the thinking in (production) efficiency as at the time propagated by scientific management and the efficiency movement, or in our days, by the disciples of LEAN. The latter are part of Chase’s view on waste, but in his opinion they only see avoidance of waste as a mean to an end (namely, the increase of profit) while Chase’s aim is on another level. As he says, you can produce unnecessary or inferior - and thereby wasteful - products in a very efficient way.
According to Chase, waste can be divided in four main classes:
- Waste through unused man power. Many people are idle, not because they want to be, but because they are force to. (Note that this reprint appeared right after the Great Depression, and in the Introduction, Chase makes a clear connection between waste and economic depressions).
- The production of harmful or useless things.
- The waste of man power because not the most optimal ways of production and distribution are used. Included here are “preventable” accidents and work-related accidents. While Chase discusses Taylor-system approaches, these must be adopted with a safeguard for workers.
- The (unthinking) waste of natural resources.
Drawing on lessons from the First World War, crude as they are, Chase stresses the importance of planning and coordination. And in contrary to most proponents of efficiency and scientific management, Chase does not apply the avoidance of waste in a reductionist way (i.e. optimizing a machine, process, or factory), but has a clear systems approach (while not using that term) by observing the entire economic system as one.
Chase, S. (1931) Waste and the Machine Age (revised edition). New York: League For Industrial Democracy.