Incompetence and Obsolescence

R.O. Vandercook
Printing Equipment Engineer, November 1931

There is not a piece of printing machinery today that will not become obsolete in a relatively few tomorrows. Never has there been such activity in the experimental and research departments of manufacturers of printing equipment.

Shall we combine to stem the flood of invention which is throwing into the discard devices that represent millions of invested capital?

The printing business is over-equipped. There is now but little market for devices that a few years ago kept factories humming and men employed.

The only hope for the manufacturer of printing devices is to bring out more inventions, for the machine of yesterday will not sell. There are too many of them idle.

What will these improved devices do to labor? And what will labor, driven to desperation, do to them?

We must face the situation squarely. Thinking men are seeing a way out. Invention can not be suppressed.

Capital, timorous and greedy, will go the limit to save itself. Labor, desperate and hungry, will fight for life. These are facts established by history. Many a contribution to chest funds is made, not through the love of humanity, but because of fear. Hungry animals (human or otherwise), are dangerous animals. The ethics first preached about 2000 years ago seem to offer a way out, and many thinkers have concluded that unless these ethics can control the existing conditions, the seething fires rumbling underneath will break forth in volcanoes, the destruction of which will make the least what seem like a bonfire.

One author, giving as a cause for the present unrest, says the results of invention have not been equitably distributed. Capital has absorbed too much profit. If the returns from inventive skill had been so distributed that labor could have had a corresponding increase in purchasing power and a resultant leisure to develop the fine things of life, there could have been no such conditions as face us today—food rotting on the farms and bread lines in the cities.

It must logically follow that the wages of the producers of real value must be maintained and hours shortened. Every manufacturer would like to have the other fellow keep up wages so that the employees of the other fellow can buy his products.  What’s the use of sending goods to market when no one in the market has money? Does the fact that a manufacturer will not or can not give living wages brand him a bad or an incompetent manager and will it subject him to social ostracism? Incompetent manufacturing methods and obsolete equipment can not be made the means of paying the wages that intelligence and proper equipment will pay. If that idea takes root universally it will quell the seething forces that are now most evident in the world.

Verily, the old order is passing. Obsolescence of machines, obsolescence in business methods and even obsolescence in so-called morals is driving men to think as never before in the world’s history.

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