How Slavery Inspired Modern Business Management | Boston Review


The parallels between present-day business management practices and slavery have been persistently neglected in mainstream discussions about the history of U.S. enterprise.

The most striking parallel between slavery and scientific management can be found in the “task idea,” which Taylor described as “the most prominent single element in modern scientific management.” The task system is closely identified with Henry Laurence Gantt, who is well known today for the Gantt chart, a scheduling tool, which still bears his name. During the heyday of scientific management, Gantt developed a “task and bonus system,” which paired a flat task and a time wage with bonuses for overwork. Workers would be paid a base wage plus an additional piece rate for production above a certain minimum. By combining an achievable (rather than a maximal) task with bonuses, workers would enjoy the security of a minimum payment but also be encouraged to strive beyond it.

Economic growth can accompany choice, but it can also build on violence and injustice.

Yet while they introduced some novel details, neither Gantt nor Taylor created the task system. It has a much longer history and was one of the principal methods of organizing labor under slavery. Under the task system, an enslaved person would be assigned a set “task” or quota that he or she was expected to complete by the end of the day; this was in contrast to the gang system, where enslaved people labored under constant supervision for a set period of time. In some cases, slavers who used the task system even gave monetary bonuses for achievement above set targets. They “dangled the carrot” in a way that resembles not just Gantt’s methods but those of the gig economy today. Indeed, except for the base payment and the critically important ability for workers to quit, Gantt’s new system was in nearly every respect the same as the system used by some slaveholders, a fact that Gantt made no attempt to hide. Rather, he acknowledged that the word “task” was “disliked by many men” because of its connection to slavery, and he regarded this negative connotation as its “principal disadvantage.”

This is less surprising considering Gantt’s roots in the South. Born on the eve of the Civil War to a slaveholder in Maryland, Gantt’s father, Virgil Gantt, owned more than sixty men, women, and children. As Gantt wrote, “The term ‘task master’ is an old one in our language; it symbolizes the time, now happily passing away, when men were compelled to work, not for their own interests, but for those of some one else.” Gantt’s goal was not to abolish this old system but to adapt it to modern needs. As he explained, “The general policy of the past has been to drive, but the era of force must give way to that of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and to lead, to the advantage of all concerned.”

In a sense, scientific management replicated slavery’s extractive techniques while jettisoning the institution itself. Gantt’s rhetoric was not necessarily of distance but of progress; he purportedly liked to say that “scientific management marked a great step forward from slave labor.” James Mapes Dodge, a Philadelphia manufacturer and early supporter of Taylor, explained in 1913 that “we cannot tell who first liberated the germ idea of Scientific Management, as it was born to the world in the first cry of anguish that escaped the lips of the lashed slave.” Dodge’s reference was metaphorical, to a vague and distant past where slavery prevailed, not to the slave South. But he understood that “the present generation” had inherited “from the past the relationship of master and slave” and saw it as the job of scientific management to move beyond it.

Source: How Slavery Inspired Modern Business Management | Boston Review

Michael Baisden and the Assault on Black Radio: A Question of Leadership l Bob Law, former Vice President of Programming at New York’s WWRL radio

Michael Baisden and the Assault on Black Radio: A Question of Leadership

  By Bob Law
May 17, 2013

We are witnessing the very serious decline of Black radio in general and Black owned radio in particular.  This is happening at a time when Blacks can ill afford to be without voice in the marketplace of ideas.

It is important to take into account the factors that have made Black radio so vulnerable. Two Major contributing factors to the demise of Black owned radio are the 1990 Bill Clinton telecommunications ACT, and the bias inherent in the radio ratings system, a system whose incorrect information has consistently deprived Black radio of a fair share of advertising revenue, leading to the financial demise of a number of Black owned radio stations throughout the nation.With the hateful indifference to Blacks that dominates so much of what is considered mainstream media, Blacks must have access to social, political, esthetic and cultural expressions that are born of the Black experience in the world.

It is the Federal Communications Commission, however, where these destructive factors find their greatest support. One of the reasons that these and other unfair business practices persist is that the mega corporations, when taking advantage of Black stations that find themselves forced into irreversible decline, are assured that the FCC will grant them the stations broadcast license, in spite of what often appears to be unethical and perhaps even illegal behavior.

The mega media corporations in their rampage to consolidate and dominate all media markets have been able to strip the FCC of all rules and guidelines, making it impossible for members of the general public and independent station owners to have legal standing when appealing to the FCC to protect the air waves from mega corporate take overs.

Recently, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn standing on her own, blocked the commission from literally sneaking through additional rules changes that would have allowed further media ownership by Rupert Murdoch without giving the public ample time to review and comment. We applaud commissioner Clyburn’s integrity.

It is Congress however, that has oversight over the FCC, and it is Congress that must restructure the Commission, and since it is the Black community that has so much at stake, on Dec. 6, 2012 in our capacity as representatives of a putative class of African American citizens, Bob Law, Betty Dobson, Michael North and New York City Councilman Charles Barron appealed to the Congressional Black Caucus to place the FCC on the congressional agenda for 2013. We went directly to the then chair of the caucus, Emanuel Cleaver, with an open letter to the CBC office in Washington D.C. and as instructed by his Chief of staff, an email of the same letter to his district office in Kansas City.

Our efforts to engage the CBC were freely dismissed. We also emailed the letter to the New York congressional delegation, Charles Rangel, Yvette Clark, and Gregory Meeks, all of whom ignored us. The letter was hand delivered to Congresswoman Barbra Jackson Lee, of Houston Texas. To date the CBC has ignored this request coming from respected members of the Black community.

On the occasion of Martin Luther King’s birthday, Marcia L. Fudge, the new chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, announced that in the spirit of Dr. King, the CBC must commit itself to the fight for the rights of all people. This interpretation of Martin King comes at a very strange time.

When you consider that Blacks have the highest unemployment rate of all ethnic groups, the highest debt, the lowest median family income, the most dysfunctional schools, the highest incarceration rate, a street violence that is of epidemic proportions prompting a growing number of African Americans to even urge the president to address the needs of Blacks head on.

At this time, when their own constituents need them the most, the CBC ignores a direct appeal from Blacks, and according to chairwoman Fudge chooses instead to chase the broad ambiguous notion of securing everyone’s “version” of the American dream. As though the needs and concerns of Blacks do not qualify as a legitimate version of the American dream.

Were it not for the courage and commitment of Maxine Waters, the CBC would have no relevance at all. Nonetheless, the CBC overall raises significant questions for African Americans. At this point, can we really afford leadership, both elected and appointed, that is so befret of the skills and vision needed to move Black people forward?

It was Frantz Fanon, in his classic study “The Wretched Of The Earth” who pointed out that a deserving people, a people conscious of its dignity, is a people that understands and insist that the government and the political parties are to serve the interest of the people. Fanon says that ultimately, a government or a party gets the people it deserves, and sooner or later, a people gets the government leadership they deserve.

The overall condition of Black Americans remains bleak as long as we tolerate totally inadequate leadership. It is time to replace those leaders and elected officials who offer no vision or strategy to actually move Blacks forward. As long as we leave these politicians in place, we may be getting what we deserve!

Bob Law served as the Vice President of programming at New York’s WWRL radio for 3 years. Prior to that, he was the host of NIGHT TALK, the nation’s first nationally broadcast daily Black call-in show on the National Black Network for two decades. He is currently chairman of the board of the Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens, New York, and has begun a new career in filmmaking. His first film Saying it Loud, a documentary about the power and significance of Black radio, is being well received by audiences around the country.