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Businessweek Archives

Why Downsizing Doesn't Add Up

Readers Report


It's heartening that productivity increases are now coming from efficient uses of information technology, networking, and speedier communications rather than from job cutting ("How long can this last?" Cover Story, May 19).

Downsizing to me is epitomized in the centuries-old Greek tale of the peasant-farmer who wanted to save money and decided to economize on the fodder he gave his donkey. Every day, he cut down a bit more on the hardworking animal's rations. On the 10th day, a neighbor asked: "How is your donkey-fodder downsizing going?" Replied the donkey owner: "Everything was going fine, until suddenly, for no obvious reason, my donkey dropped dead yesterday." Surely, there's a moral there for CEOs to mull over?

Marjory-Helen Laing

Zug, SwitzerlandReturn to top


John Carey's article ("What price science?" Science & Technology, May 26) helps correct the long-standing but simplistic assumption that there is a direct, linear relationship between basic science and commercially relevant technology: Put science in one end of the pipe, and technology comes out the other. In the three cases of engineering innovation we studied--reaction injection molding, magnetic resonance imaging, and the Internet--new technology did not flow directly from breakthroughs in basic science. But without the fundamental knowledge that basic science yields, none of the innovations we studied would exist.

For example, the National Science Foundation's primary role in the Internet may have been that of matchmaker, but the electronic and physical infrastructures that comprise the Internet depend on information theory, solid-state physics, electro-optics, and other fields--for which the NSF has provided substantial research support.

The relationship between research and development and "payoff," however defined, is complex. Although industrially useful technologies do not emerge in a linear fashion from breakthroughs in fundamental science, it is wrong to infer that fundamental science plays no role in their origins and improvement.

David Roessner

Program Manager

for Technology Policy

SRI International

Arlington, Va.Return to top


Howard Gleckman's insightful commentary ("The political lube job they're calling tax reform," News: Analysis & Commentary, May 26) about the balanced-budget agreement between President Clinton and Congress illustrates the misguided priorities of both major political parties. The Republican and Democratic parties seem not to know when to switch off their "campaign mode" long enough to govern prudently. The Republicans will sacrifice higher deficits in the first three to four years of this agreement to appease wealthy campaign donors with tax cuts, while the Democrats are looking for new areas of social spending--education, in this case--on top of the current social spending we can't afford.

As a taxpayer under 40 years old, I can see how those of my generation will become totally distrustful of the politics of both parties. Is it a wonder why more young people believe in the existence of UFOs than believe they will collect Social Security? I look forward to the day when good politics of pandering to special interest groups will be ridiculed as bad policy and poor governing.

James H. Nicholas

Sellersville, Penn.Return to top

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