Website owner: James Miller
Shoddy workmanship. What causes it? What is the reason for all the shoddy workmanship in house construction? Yesterday I was talking with a co-worker, Don, about the sad state of affairs with regard to house construction. In the case of our house we have a number of wall cracks on the top floor that re- crack again in a couple of months whenever you repair them, a floor that is sloping by over an inch in six feet in one of our third floor bedrooms, defective exterior bricks that keep spalling, a commode leaning at an angle, gutters sloping in the wrong direction, and a few other minor things. Our problems are irritations but really very minor compared to those of a number of people I know. Many people have really serious problems: structural problems, foundation problems, etc.. I told Don I blamed management. I said, "Management is responsible. The construction foremen are responsible for allowing that kind of work to pass." Don didn't agree that it was all the fault of the construction foreman. He said that a fellow that went to his church was a carpenter and worked as a construction foreman in house construction. This fellow had told him of the frustrations of his job. The fellow said that the people under him doing the work were all unskilled laborers who knew nothing about carpentry. It was very frustrating trying to get things done right with those kinds of people working for you. If you tried to correct them they would say "Here, you do it!" And he just didn't have time to do all he had to do and train them also. Just too much was expected of him. His job was a frustrating job. So what is happening? The builders are trying to build houses at minimum cost. So they use the cheapest materials, employ the cheapest labor, pressure the workers to work fast, and make shortcuts wherever they can. Why do they try to build houses at minimum cost? To make more profit! Greed! But that answer is probably a little simplified. It may often be that simple but there are other things involved also that cause them to do it. They are driven to do it by the competition of the marketplace. All their competition is doing the same thing, cutting costs to a minimum, so they have to do it in order to compete. It is a matter of survival. If they don't do it they will go out of business. So who is to blame for all the shoddy construction? Who do we assign the blame to? Sometimes the blame may be with the workers. Sometimes it may be with the construction foreman. And sometimes it may be with the builder. But often, perhaps, none of these are to blame. No one is to blame. The system is to blame. It is the mechanism that is to blame. We have the builders pressured to use the cheapest materials and the cheapest kind of unskilled labor. And the consequence is frustration and demoralization on the part of everyone involved. The workers feel frustrated and demoralized because they are being asked to do things for which they have not been trained, things they don't know how to do right, and in addition, are being asked to work too fast for a decent job. Construction foremen feel frustrated and demoralized because of their inability to get the kind of work they would like. And the builder feels frustrated and demoralized because he feels he is forced by market mechanisms into doing things in the way he is doing them. It is a situation where no one can take any pride in their work, no one can achieve any honest satisfaction from their work. Everyone works in a climate of expediency, improvision, confusion, disorder, sham, farce, dishonesty. No one likes the situation. Everyone is unhappy and disillusioned. Everyone is just dispiritedly hanging on because they need a job, they have a wife and children that need to eat and depend on them, and they know that things are the same wherever you go and that jobs are hard to find. They are in a prison. Life is ugly. Everyone is a victim. No one is at fault. An impersonal mechanism is at fault. So what is the solution to all this? Is there no solution? This problem is not unique to house construction. Shoddiness is everywhere in our society. Whether you want to get your car repaired, a water-damaged ceiling repaired, a roof leak fixed, or whatever, the likelihood is very high of getting ripped off with an outrageous price and shoddy work. A great of this is undoubtedly just dishonesty, greed, laziness and the decaying morals of our society. But the cause for a good portion of it may also come down to "the system" rather than to people. Can "the system" not be altered in such a way so as to avoid some of these problems and make things work better? How about higher and better standards for house construction; standards for the quality of materials that must be used; standards on minimum training for construction workers; a system of trade schools for training carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, etc.; required disclosure by builders of the exact type and quality of materials they have used in a house? Isn't the problem largely a matter of a lack of rules that everyone must adhere to? If two combatants come together to fight in a contest (as in ancient Greece) and are not required to be constrained by any rules the fight will surely become rough and nasty. On the other hand if you require that they adhere to some reasonable rules the fight will be more civilized. It is psychologically important for every man to do good work. It is important that he be able to take pride in his work, to feel a satisfaction in his work. It is important to his self- esteem. Every man should be shown how to do his job properly, given the time to do it properly, and encouraged to do it properly. To prevent him from doing it properly (as by rushing him, pressuring him to do it quickly) is demoralizing, dispiriting and wrong. In its purest form, unaltered, Capitalism is like the following: Picture a race of five tiremes in the days of ancient Rome where the rules of the contest are as follows: The captain of the winning tireme is showered with vast amounts of gold; the captains of all the losing tiremes suffer a penalty of death along with all their crew. With this inducement to win we watch in our mind's eye the race. The captains are all using their whips mercilessly, pushing the crew to row harder and harder. The crews are all rowing to their limits, knowing that to lose is to die. In its purest form Capitalism is cruel and merciless. It must be modified by some rules. Pure competition, unregulated, is harsh. Jan 1992 More from SolitaryRoad.com:
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