I think it is very interesting that one of the primary ‘myths’ on which the Capitalist social and economic system rests is the myth of efficiency. First let me point out in the interest of clarity that the word ‘myth’ has a number of different uses in modern and ancient thought and I am using the word to essentially refer to a socially constructed story which, though it may contain a small kernel of truth, is largely a falsehood, a narrative that greases the wheels, so to speak, of a system or social structure. This particular myth consists of the idea that the success or failure of a particular enterprise rests primarily on a basic, and measurable, level of efficiency of that enterprise and its employees. Of course, even this notion is much more complex than it first appears because while massive failures in efficiency are often obvious, the actual level of efficiency of any enterprise is fairly abstract and difficult if not impossible to measure in many cases. Anyone who appreciates art knows this problem of judgment well: it is often easy to say what is wrong with a work of art but sometimes very difficult to say what is right. Anyway, though very few capitalists will admit it, the success or failure of many enterprises rests not primarily on efficiency but on a myriad of factors. In fact one could say in many cases the success of an enterprise is over-determined, that is to say rests on too many factors to be able to be accurately measure or comprehended. Like anything in life, success may rest entirely on luck. Or it may rest on local or regional factors in production or sales. It may very well rest on the hard work of a small group of people but not always. I have seen people succeed who didn’t work hard but fell ass-backwards into their triumph. If one listens carefully to the discourse of capitalists and business advocates one will realize that in 90% of cases, when they talk about efficiencies the only thing that one can really point to is wages. They like to decorate their discourse with lots of fancy and complex talk but it almost always comes down to who can pay their workers the least in a particular sector are the most efficient, and therefore the most likely to succeed.
Capitalists are desperate to perpetuate their particular myth of efficiency because the cheaper individual units of labour are the more money they can make in the short term and, more importantly, they imagine that the less money a working population makes the easier they are to control and the more vulnerable and the easier they are to manipulate as a group. This myth of efficiency is also important because it is the most often brandished weapon against any the use of social enterprise. Thus capitalists will claim ad nauseum, and without any actual evidence, that the ‘private sector’ is more ‘efficient’ than the public one. This myth is particularly false in sectors in which there are social goals that would not necessarily be improved based on efficiencies in savings like universal education.
The reduction of success to the notion of efficiency is based upon a false modeling of enterprise. If one studies economists, therefore, one will therefore, often hear or see the phrase “all things being equal.” This is part of the effort by economists to create the illusion of a science out of what is simply not scientific. But of course there are no cases in which ‘all things are equal,’ and the idea of two or more enterprises competing in an ideal space of sales and production is simply itself a myth. Thus if a number of enterprises are competing in a sector can suddenly cut wages in half over other enterprise, this saving in ‘efficiency’ will most likely give them a significant advantage but it will not always guarantee success.
But the myth of efficiency must be perpetuated for capitalism to continue because it must continue to be seen as essentially fair and, more importantly, to be seen as a meritocracy lest people begin to question it primacy. It must continue to function as a myth the same way that the myth of the universal benefits of competition must continue to function.
But next time someone passes quickly over concepts such as efficiency or the good of competition, stop and take note and think about what they really mean. There was a time when almost no member of the Aztec society would have questioned the divinity of the Sun because few Aztecs were willing to ask the simple question that should be asked of any prevailing idea that perpetuate power – cui bono – who benefits?