Website owner:  James Miller

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Reasons for shoddy workmanship in our society

   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 

   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 

   Jan 1992

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