Sumner Slichter on the Drive System

“Of the numerous causes which combine to create low industrial moral several of great importance may be passed over with little or no discussion. Fatigue, ill health, and nervous strain are well known to cause low morale… (but their analysis) must be left to the physiologist and the psychologist.”

then Slichter runs through the usual gamut: lump of labor theory, pathological radicalism…


“Finally, and perhaps most important and self-evident among all the causes of low morale, is the use of drive methods by management to sustain and increase output. A more effective means  of creating low morale could scarcely be conceived, because the the drive system renders conflict instead of cooperation between the men and management inevitable” (171)

Men “do not cooperate with those against whom they are struggling. Instead of affording a basis and inducement for cooperation, the drive system compels the men to concentrate their attention and ingenuity upon limiting output, and upon frustrating the efforts of the management to push up the pace” (170-171)


“The traditional drive system of management naturally gave rise to many methods of handling labor which created ill will and resentment. In order that enterprises should gain the good will of their men, it was necessary for them to effect substantial improvements in the practices of foemen and other minor executives  in dealing with labor…

… that used most effectively has been the transfer of authority to discharge from the foreman to the head of the labor department… Restricting the freedom of the foreman to discharge has profoundly affected his methods of handling men because it has deprived him of his chief disciplinary device. This has compelled him to rely less upon threats of obtaining results and to make greater efforts to get along amicably with his men” (196)

Potentials of the American Economy: Selected Essays of Sumner H. Slichter. Edited by John T. Dunlop. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961).

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