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4,500 years of government projects

July 2, 2008

A big change between Solomon’s time (c. 990 B.C.) and our own, is the number of supervisors it took to get a government project done.  A quick math check of 2 Chronicles 2:1-2 is revealing:

“And Solomon determined to build an house for the name of the LORD, and an house for his kingdom.

And Solomon told out threescore and ten thousand men to bear burdens, and fourscore thousand to hew in the mountain, and three thousand and six hundred to oversee them.”

Solomon’s temple is doubtless one of the most prodigious public works undertakings of all time. The king engaged 150,000 workers and 3,600 supervisors. The supervisors thus constituted 2% of the project force.

During the Works Progress Administration (WPA) years, New Deal America spent billions of dollars to put millions of people to work. One in 20 workers, or 5%, were now supervisors. The supervisory wildfire was barely ignited.

The Federal government today is the nation’s largest employer, employing about 2% of the total workforce. About 18-20% of federal workers are supervisors.  (Source)

The National Labor Relations Board predicts that by 2012, 23% of the workforce will be supervisors.  (Source)

For all of Solomon’s excesses, he ran a slim ship when it came to hiring supervisors. Maybe instead of a top-heavy crew, he had willing, competent workers.  Maybe they were motivated to eat, and work was the only way that was going to happen.

About sixteen centuries before Solomon, egomaniacal pharaohs were ordering construction of pyramids for themselves. Here are some estimates of the number of supervisors and workers it took to build the Pyramid of Cheops.  Broken down by task, supervisors made up between 4% and 20% of a particular task force. The pyramid took about 20 years to build.  While it is probably the case that most of the pyramid workers were slaves, it likely made little difference whether an Egyptian pyramid worker was enslaved or free.  Work was not optional if one aspired to eat.

The men building Solomon’s temple differed in several ways from contemporary government workers. For one thing, they were building a house of worship. For another thing, they were men. There was no equal-opportunity dickering. It was obvious to people in those times that people who built things were men.

Men don’t spend unnecessary time with treacly ritual greetings of “How are you?” in order to deflect workplace tensions and keep the touchy-feely mood elevated–or at least they didn’t prior to the era of the feminized workplace.

Think of the staff meetings, the Affirmative Action accountings, the EEOC filings, and the union pandering that Solomon didn’t have to deal with. God provided the plans for the temple to David, and David passed them to Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:11-12). No engineering studies were necessary, no wetland studies, no requirements to hire women contractors. No wonder he got the temple built in seven years (1 Kings 6:38). Most cities can’t break ground in seven years because they’re still in environmental permitting stages. And Getting Things Done is one more secret lost in the sands of time.

One Comment
  1. July 2, 2008 10:32 am

    I see our federal government is making great strides toward equality. Following the current curve, in less than 40 years everybody in government will be a supervisor!

    But then they’ll have to find non-governmental people to supervise, I guess. Small price to pay for such a fantastic fantasy.

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