When Hell Downsizes (2002)
Why do something when you can get someone else to do it for you -- cheaper -- without union interference -- and tax free? And if American workers get NAFTA CAFTA shafted, well, it's the NEW IMPROVED American Way.
Bloodletting and downsizing have a lot in common. The 18th-century practice of phlebotomy as a cure for fevers was as popular as it was ineffective. Today, downsizing continues to be the fashionable treatment, despite evidence that it is about as effective as bloodletting for curing competitive ills.
Evidence from studies by the American Management Association (AMA), Society of Human Resource Management, academic researchers, and management consultants reveals that downsizing generally fails to improve performance, productivity, or profits. Two-thirds of downsized companies have not realized productivity gains, according to AMA research, and most executives who cut back on personnel report unanticipated negative side effects.
The roots of this movement lie in corporate reactions to the growing threat of hostile takeovers in the 1970s and 1980s. Under attack by raiders, businesses searched for quick and easy ways to cut costs. They discovered that layoffs of workers and managers could boost short-term profits, make the company appear more efficient, and stave off takeover attempts. This was a novel and innovative use of layoffs, especially as the practice penetrated managerial ranks. Once considered an admission of business decline or defeat, layoffs started to be viewed in a new light --as a legitimate multi-purpose tool to preserve and advance corporate interests. Current names for layoffs -- downsizing and the euphemism "rightsizing" -- indicate its newfound legitimacy.
Today, downsizing is irresistible because it is firmly planted in business culture — beliefs and norms about what constitutes [sic] proper policies and practices. Like most social movements, it is not slowed by negative or ambiguous results. Doomsday cults, for example, do not disband when the date of the world's demise comes and goes; rather, they simply revise their predictions. Similarly, when downsizing does not produce desired results, the recommended treatment is more layoffs.
Many reasons are cited for the failure of downsizing, lowering of morale, exodus of the best people, loss of organizational memory, increased conflict, etc. These results, however, are caused by a deeper problem — the destruction of the corporation as a social institution. Downsizers act as if the organization were a collection of independent individuals — like a crowd. To them, eliminating people simply reduces overcrowding. Yet, what makes an organization different from a crowd is the network of formal and informal relationships people build with each other. This social network makes every organization function, and the right network makes them flourish.
Downsizing devastates social networks. When a person is laid off, an entire personal network of internal and external relationships is lost as well. It destroys informal bridges between departments, disrupts the information grapevine, and severs ties with customers. Moreover, it eliminates the friendships that bond people to the workplace.
The bloodletting metaphor draws blood. The practice was seen as a medical cure but usually killed the patient. Nevertheless, the physician was held blameless. Death resulted from other factors like God's will. Loss of blood, seen as a method for cleansing away impurities, could not possibly be the culprit.
Likewise, downsizing drains away the lifeblood of a company and dehydrates its people and the connections they have built to one another, to customers, and to investors. Moreover, like the uninformed doctor slicing open more veins, rarely is the CEO who authorized the downsizing held accountable. As with bloodletting, if a little loss won't cure the ailment, just cut harder and deeper. With each slash, longstanding social ties spurt away.
Wouldn't it be nice, just once, to give the quack a taste of his own medicine?
A Workman's Comp Revenge Tragedy
[Cartoon by David Horsey]
But if downsizing is such sound business practice, why limit its success stories only to the world of business? Why can't the world itself benefit from creative cutbacks? From an offshoot of Donald Simanek's home page:
The US Congress today, in an effort to rectify the current stalemate with the President over the continuing resolution has made a dramatic announcement. In an effort to reduce the NASA budget, a resolution was passed today to downsize the solar system. According to an unnamed congressional staffer, House Republicans felt there has been "too much redundancy in the solar system" and that streamlining the 4.5 billion year old planetary system is long overdue. Such action would give NASA fewer places to go and this would allow the agency to carry out its space exploration goals within the funding profile that the House proposed earlier this summer.
"Look, we have three terrestrial planets" said Congressman Rip U. Apart (R, Del.), "and only one of them really works! So why not get rid of the other two and clean up the neighborhood?"
The resolution must now be presented to the entire House, where it is expected to pass easily since only a minority of Representatives have constituents on the affected planets. NASA Administrators have vowed to resist any further reductions to the solar system, saying that "NASA has expended considerable effort to make the planets cheaper, faster, and better. Much of this work would be wasted if the solar system were downsized."
Critics say, however, that reducing the number of planets will not produce the expected savings to taxpayers. Textbooks, they note, would have to be revised to reflect the new arrangement, and facilities would need to be constructed to remove the planets themselves. The resolution is also likely to draw strong opposition from religious fundamentalists who have long opposed the elimination of any of the biblical planets. Thus, the matter is still far from resolved.
But simply paring away a few deadwood planets or collapsing the universe in upon itself might not go far enough to reap a greedfest level of metaphysical profits. As today's image suggests, the underworld has got to be getting crowded and in need of plucking and pruning. From an interactive story found on Teenage Wildlife -- the davidbowie.com message board:
It's nothing like what he expected. David had readied himself for visions of perversity and horror that Bosch would never have dreamed of. Instead, all he sees are endless queues, and giant TV screens which seem to be showing nothing but blurry slides of overweight, sunburned old people in exotic locales, and a giant disco dance floor. He interrupts Annette's spiel, during which she has been pointing out amusing trivial facts about certain structures in hell and other little tidbits that can only be known if you take the deluxe tour, and asks, "Where are the boiling pits of blood? The rivers of excrement? The burning plains of the sodomites? It's been ages since I read the Inferno, and I'm really quite disappointed in what I've seen so far." "Oh dear me!" Annette titters. "All that went out years ago when Satan had to downsize hell to keep its competitive edge. We're down to just 3 circles now, but we'll be back up to all the old familiar favorites once the market picks up again.
All in all, I suppose downsizing beats freezing over. Still, I can only think of one instance of downsizing that really lights the oil slick on my lake of fire -- and that's this:
India is booked, but outsourcing opportunities are still readily available for the Abode of the Damned.
Open me up, Doc. I'll gladly be a quart low -- especially if some CEO intelligent designer can downsize Dear Leader from the Oval Office to the Cubicle of Fire.