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The Case for the Universal Card (Fortune Magazine , April 1954)

“The very boldness of the plan has disturbed some people. In American business, unfortunately, there are still many personnel men who have a laissez-faire attitude toward human relations, who argue that there is a large part of the employee’s life and personality that is not of concern to the corporation…

As a result of this surveillance, and such encouragements as probationary fellowships, we would ensure a constantly replenishing reservoir of potential cardholders…

At the same time, we were bringing newcomers in we would be pruning the current membership. There would be nothing static about the system, and if a man fell beneath an acceptable rating, we would revoke his card. This would be hard on the people concerned, but they would be the lone-persons, the mystics, the intellectual agitators–which is to say, the kind of people that the modern organization doesn’t really want anyway.”–“The Case for the Universal Card,” Otis Stanford Binet (pseudonym for Wm. H. Whyte, Jr.), publ. in Fortune Magazine. [Irony or Fact at Coderanc)]

As the modest proposal appeared in Fortune in 1954:

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  • ghostsniper March 22, 2021, 12:15 PM

    Would negro’s have 3/5 of a card?
    What about flatheads, would they be required to have a card?
    Are the cards renewed annually, or weekly?
    Color? Or B&W?
    Creates more questions then answers…

  • Sam L. March 23, 2021, 9:27 AM

    SAY!!!! Why don’t we have all that info tattooed on our arms????? With UPDATES as we move from job to job and state/city to state/city??????? (Wrinkly skin! WRINKLY SKINNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!!!!)

  • david foster March 23, 2021, 9:36 AM

    Good grief! Maybe the stereotype of the Conformist 1950s isn’t so far off, after all.
    I ran across a William Whyte article in which me mentions a documentary put out by, sometime around 1952.

    “It was a pretty good film, but what did it have to do about Monsanto’s research–much of which has been most imaginative? In one part of the picture you see five young men in white coats conferring around a microscope. The voice on the sound track rings out boldly, “No geniuses here. Just a bunch of good American working together.”

    I doubt that very many companies would want to make such an assertion about their researchers today. And, almost certainly, there were indeed some actual geniuses at Monsanto in 1952.

    It’s questionable whether the early 1950s were *really* more conformist, overall, than America today….we have our own forms of conformist pressures. But the Monsanto film, and other similar items mentioned by Whyte, do seem to point to a rather extreme anti-individualist, “team, team, team above all else” attitude.

    Maybe the 1960s were to some extent a needed reaction to this kind of thing.

  • James ONeil March 23, 2021, 10:49 AM

    The Fortune article? In my opinion not a statement of consensus in the day but instead a run up the flag pole to see how many might salute.

    Growing up in the fifties most folks I knew were still suspicious of social security numbers, reminding each other that when the law passed in the mid-thirties, our then beloved legislators assured the populace the numbers would never be used as national IDs, but…

    Why yes children, those of you not past 70, based on personal experience I can tell you there was a lot of conformity way back in the day. However such was built of social pressure, community standards, right thinking people will… , -but not, most definitely not, our elected officials noting this is the law of the land and you must obey!

    Today of course, remember to get your REAL ID drivers license, look forward to your vaccine visa coming soon and don’t be surprised when your, requited for all transactions, public or private, Visa card’s an embedded chip.

  • Jack March 23, 2021, 3:55 PM

    I’m an old and often ornery non-conformist rebel and God help me, as long as I’ve been aware that I exist, I’ve been that way. It ain’t never been easy but it’s always given me more peace than by following the crowd and, just like these covid shots which I ain’t gettin’, I’ll probably refuse the card or the chip or whatever the fk they want me to do. I’m just a bad machine.

    But, I was in the oil and gas exploration business for a long number of years and I’d still be hacking away at it if there was any work for my particular skill set and I just wanted to say that if an image similar to Mr. Fellenshee’s finger print appeared as the image you’d get with a processed geologic seismic line, I’d mortgage everything I own to buy leases on top of that structure.

  • EX-Californian Pete March 24, 2021, 1:38 PM

    No need at all for that “Universal Card” stuff nowadays.
    If you have and use a Smartphone, it’s collected (and has shared) 10,000 times more of your “personal info” on it than any card could ever hold.

    I’ll keep my cheapo $50 flip phone (that only does calls and maybe texts) til the cows come home.