Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Producers vs "hangers-on"

How many people do you see here actually working?

Have you ever stopped to think about all the jobs there are in this country, around the world even, that don't directly produce anything?

For example, there are people who mine the raw materials that go into making the steel and rubber and plastic that will eventually become a car.  Engineers add their smarts, some make the parts, and finally others screw it all together.

Eventually, waa laa....CAR!  All those people DIRECTLY add to the economy.  They PRODUCE something of value.  Same with the geeks at Apple.  They dream up things....they're part of the process....that eventually PRODUCES iPhones and iPads and such.

But along the way there exists a huge workforce comprised of what I call the "hangers-on".  They don't DO anything except watch the people who do the work.  

For example, the Human Resources folks don't produce anything, they just make sure you comply with all the rules imposed on you by other people who likewise don't produce anything.  (Full disclosure:  K works in HR.)  

I can understand a "safety officer", but why a "safety inspector" AND a "safety manager", too?  Why do we need layer upon layer of hangers-on watching workers work?  

Consultants are everywhere, many because they're just unemployed producers themselves.  Don't even get me started on the bean counters and their "generally accepted accounting pricnciples", which is code for "What do you want it to say?"  They can obfuscate anything.  

Yes, I know there is societal value in making sure polluters don't mess up our air or water, and to putting out fires and locking up criminals, even though you can't put a price on how much those jobs add to the economy.  But IMO too much time is spent making sure the file cabinets are full of cover-your-ass paperwork in case a lawyer (another large group of non-producers) comes along and wants to extort a few mil.  

By and large most hangers-on are simply necessary liabilities, not assets.  They take their paychecks and buy those cars and computers and TV's produced by others, and that's a good thing, but really they're just the "filler" in the economic smorgasbord, not the "entree".

Now don't get your knickers in a knot.  Before anyone gets their feelings hurt, know that I consider much of what I did for nearly 40 years was of the "filler" variety, too.  I'm just calling 'em as I see 'em.

Did you know my city has a guy whose job, one of them at least, is to go around and make sure all the construction site porta-potties are properly staked down per ordinance?  

In France there are laws that dictate how large the signs painted on store windows can be.  And field inspectors who go from store to store with tape measures to make sure all are in compliance.  How is that adding anything of value to the economy?

Remember the book Future Shock?  It mentions a time in the future when more and more of the work will be done by fewer and fewer of the people.  I think we've found that time is here right now.



  1. When in another country, I was stuck in traffic at a bridge. I got out and walk up to the bridge to ask how long it would be. I was shocked to see a man in ancient tribal garb dancing on the bridge snaking a chain behind him. What is up with this? The construction guy said they always had to hire a local priest to bless their bridge before work could begin each day. National Law. That one still takes the cake for me.

    1. Wonder where I could me a gig like that Tom? I'd want benefits. You think it comes with benefits? ;)

  2. I have a friend who is assistant to the buyer's assistant at a large company that manufactures electron microscopes. These devices cost millions of dollars, but I can't understand why the buyer (for parts) doesn't order these parts himself. Why does he need an assistant to do it? They only sell a handful of these microscopes a year.

    1. A perfect example Steve. There are a lot of people living off the work of those who actually produce something. There's very little "value added" by these hangers-on.

  3. You want to cut out the middle men. Makes sense. But the systems will have to see some major changes. Don't think it's an easy fix.

    1. I don't think it IS fixble Steve. If these non-producers were cut loose they wouldn't have the purchasing power to buy what the producers are producing. Then everything would collapse. This is what happens when we become TOO productive. We don't need as many producers to satisfy demand, but the non-producers have to be given something to do just to keep the economy going.

  4. husband is one of those "non-producing bean counters." One of those "dime-a-dozen" liabilities that the producers would love to lay off to make a company more lean and efficient. Only, he saved his company $10M last year by preventing overpayment of taxes to the government.

    Of course, that same company has someone in charge of cubicle assignments. Three months after they had to move to new cubicles, the employees were told they had to update the roster. In a way that made sense - someone should have a map of where everyone sits (it's a large company). The trouble was that when the employees tried to update this roster, they had a hard time getting into it, computers crashed, wasted time, etc. My husband was one of the lucky ones and was able to update his spot on the roster. This generated a "ticket." At the end of the day, the "ticket" was "denied." What? Angry email to the roster department. I was told to move here. I've sat here for three months! Do you want me to move back??? Now there's a job that could be eliminated...

    1. Nothing personal Betina. My oldest daughter is a bean counter, too. He should rightfully be his company's MVP for saving them $10M. But let's be honest....our tax code is as complicated as it is because the bean counters and lawyers want it that way. A flat tax would be their worst nightmare.

      It's only going to get worse. As productivity increases it will take fewer producers, leaving more of us to make seating charts. ;)

  5. I am not sure I understand this post.....I am not sure i understand what the point of it is....I guess we can always take it to the extreme and say if you don't "add value" then we can euthanize you and that will save us a bit of $ in the long run. But then who decides who "adds value"? Is it a really smart guy and girl? Is it a computer algorithm?

    Or maybe if you add value we keep you around until say your mid 40s and then euthanize you because you will eventually get sick and no longer add value.

    I guess I can see the point, as mysterious as it is, in a "Money is the only reason we are alive" kind of aspect.

    If money is the only reason we are alive ... or if money is the only reason we believe we are alive...well that's a damn sad society anyway.

    I feel I may be rambling and I have only had 1/2 a cup of coffee.

  6. Boy do I get this - I used to work in HR and now I work for our corporate counsel & we DEFINITELY were considered non-revenue producing departments by the operations side of think. Overhead is what we're called - ha! Of course our whole industry (collections) is on the negative side of the equation anyway :)