Looking Backward From 2000 to 1887 HTML version

Chapter 17
I found the processes at the warehouse quite as interesting as Edith had described them,
and became even enthusiastic over the truly remarkable illustration which is seen there of
the prodigiously multiplied efficiency which perfect organization can give to labor. It is
like a gigantic mill, into the hopper of which goods are being constantly poured by the
train-load and shipload, to issue at the other end in packages of pounds and ounces, yards
and inches, pints and gallons, corresponding to the infinitely complex personal needs of
half a million people. Dr. Leete, with the assistance of data furnished by me as to the way
goods were sold in my day, figured out some astounding results in the way of the
economies effected by the modern system.
As we set out homeward, I said: "After what I have seen to-day, together with what you
have told me, and what I learned under Miss Leete's tutelage at the sample store, I have a
tolerably clear idea of your system of distribution, and how it enables you to dispense
with a circulating medium. But I should like very much to know something more about
your system of production. You have told me in general how your industrial army is
levied and organized, but who directs its efforts? What supreme authority determines
what shall be done in every department, so that enough of everything is produced and yet
no labor wasted? It seems to me that this must be a wonderfully complex and difficult
function, requiring very unusual endowments."
"Does it indeed seem so to you?" responded Dr. Leete. "I assure you that it is nothing of
the kind, but on the other hand so simple, and depending on principles so obvious and
easily applied, that the functionaries at Washington to whom it is trusted require to be
nothing more than men of fair abilities to discharge it to the entire satisfaction of the
nation. The machine which they direct is indeed a vast one, but so logical in its principles
and direct and simple in its workings, that it all but runs itself; and nobody but a fool
could derange it, as I think you will agree after a few words of explanation. Since you
already have a pretty good idea of the working of the distributive system, let us begin at
that end. Even in your day statisticians were able to tell you the number of yards of
cotton, velvet, woolen, the number of barrels of flour, potatoes, butter, number of pairs of
shoes, hats, and umbrellas annually consumed by the nation. Owing to the fact that
production was in private hands, and that there was no way of getting statistics of actual
distribution, these figures were not exact, but they were nearly so. Now that every pin
which is given out from a national warehouse is recorded, of course the figures of
consumption for any week, month, or year, in the possession of the department of
distribution at the end of that period, are precise. On these figures, allowing for
tendencies to increase or decrease and for any special causes likely to affect demand, the
estimates, say for a year ahead, are based. These estimates, with a proper margin for
security, having been accepted by the general administration, the responsibility of the
distributive department ceases until the goods are delivered to it. I speak of the estimates
being furnished for an entire year ahead, but in reality they cover that much time only in
case of the great staples for which the demand can be calculated on as steady. In the great
majority of smaller industries for the product of which popular taste fluctuates, and