(This passage was written in 1993.)

Fueled by Japanese economic success and by concern over the viability of American industry, interest in Japanese production strategies has exploded in the last decade. Supporters of the Japanese production model claim that it supplants the "Fordist/Taylorist" system—which emphasizes mass production, assembly lines, the breakdown of complex jobs into simple repetitive tasks, and the separation of manual and mental work—with a system of flexible production based on work teams, integrated tasks; and the reunification of manual and mental work. They contend that the Japanese system treats its workforce as its most valuable resource and benefits from practices that maximize the skills, cooperation, and job retention of its workers. Yet to its critics, the Japanese model is merely an aggrandized assembly line. They argue that, compared to the FordistTaylorist" system, the Japanese system subjects its workers to higher levels of production speedup, supervision, and stress; furthermore, the critics claim, higher Japanese production rates are due to production speedup, not to organizational innovation or the maximization of human resources. In fact, however, the Japanese model is neither as miraculous as its supporters claim nor as bleak as its critics contend: it may facilitate production speedup and increase workers' stress levels, but because the Japanese model is so dependent on their skills, it may also give workers greater bargaining leverage.

The primary purpose of the passage is to

argue in favor of an innovative system of production

examine the origins of certain new production strategies

suggest a middle ground between divergent positions

discredit an argument by exposing its underlying assumptions

suggest modifications to existing production strategies


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