The Concept of Efficiency

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The Concept of Efficiency

This article aims to give an analysis of the concept of efficiency. The importance of such an analysis lies in the fact that the role which efficiency plays in different sectors of our society leads to opposite evaluations resulting in a clash of opinions concerning this role. In order to clarify this situation, I first trace the historical roots of the concept. This brief historical reconnaissance shows that ‘efficiency’ is not a unitary concept. Moreover, I also argue that our use of the concept of efficiency presupposes the decisions which we make with regard to the kinds of costs we recognize. Such decisions do not come out of the blue; they relate to the opposite evaluations of efficiency mentioned above. The decisions concerning what we consider to be costly determine in part the actual content of the concept of efficiency. I argue that this content must be in harmony with the meaning of the different practices in which we are engaged, otherwise this concept can easily lead us astray. Therefore, a proper use of the concept of efficiency demands a clear and reliable view of these meanings.

1. Introduction

Efficiency is a concept widely used by economists, engineers, organization theorists, consultants, politicians, managers and others. It figures large in the many vocabularies that abound in the world today and it seems that 'efficiency' is one of the focuses of Western culture.

Efficiency has met with enthousiasm as well as critique. An early advocate of efficiency is Frederick Taylor (1911). (1) Shortly after, John Dewey made critical remarks on scientific management but considered efficiency to be a "servant of freedom" (Middle Works, Vol. 10, p. 119). Kotarbinsky (1968) defended e...

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