How few people actually run things

Something that I have noticed is how few people are now being used to run things

Examples are:

Generally there are only 2 pilots on any of these larger planes and as was pointed out, only 1 stewardess is required for 50 passengers.

Huge trains carrying freight are only run by one or 2 people at times.

Even massive drilling rigs are being operated with very few people. Reading the report on the Deep Horizon disaster mentions that there was a total of 117 people on the rig in total.

Many large cargo ships only have a small crew (maybe 10 - 15 people). Correct me if I am wrong.

I am surprised that there are not more crashes considering these small crews and how they are often worked very hard.

I compare that to watching videos of old battleships where you can see crews of 1000- 3000 people to operate these ships.

I don’t find it strange. You mentioned boats as an example. A military ship will naturally have many more crewmen than a merchant ship because it is designed for a very different job. Even during the age of sail, a merchant ship or whaler might have only 12 to 20 crew, while a military ship of similar size would always need 4 men per gun. By way of counter example, a modern aircraft carrier has 4000 to 5000 crew, because it is essentially a floating airport. About 40% of these crewmen are for flight operations alone.

Some of your other examples are not new at all. A plane doesn’t really need more than one person to operate at any point in history, although they did often include dedicated navigators and flight engineers for safety and convenience. I also can’t recall trains ever needing more than one engineer. There just aren’t any other tasks that need to be performed. A second engineer might be desirable, but they really only exist in case the first one gets tired or something.

Maybe it is something that I have just noticed recently.

It still seems surprising as to how few people actually run things.

Maybe it is my impression, but it seems like there is this tendency to run with a reduced staff whenever possible.

Computers and robots have taken over the planet. But they’re taking their sweet time with my yard work.

It’s not a matter of a reduced staff, but that modern, highly mechanized and computerized facilities need very few people. For example, watch one of the episodes of the program How It’s Made, and you may notice how few people there are in many factories. A giant plant that makes gypsum wallboard or cans vegetables will have maybe a handful of employees.


That’s it exactly.:smiley:

Previously, there would be multiple people in these facilities. Now there are only a handful of people.

Same goes with almost anything in most manufacturing facilities.

Another thing is that Agriculture used to be a heavy labor intensive process. Now, less than 1% of the population in involved with that

Yes, and that’s a good thing. It frees up labor to work at other tasks.

The issue is when all the other tasks have been automated as well. In theory, we should live a life of luxury as the robots do the work. It’s the transition period that scares me.

Earlier trains needed the engineer, a fireman, and a brakeman plus a conductor if there were passengers. The brakeman and fireman got feather bedded when they were both really not needed anymore.


If you’ve ever worked in the financial department of any business, people are usually your biggest expense by far. Anything you can do to shave even a few people off the payroll results in big savings which is why the modern American corporation is obsessed with efficiency.

People like to point to technology and stuff like robots because that stuff is tangible but a lot of the gains actually come from better management practices. As much as people poo poo things like ISO 9000 and Six Sigma, it’s ideas like them that have resulted in the modern workplace with just a few people doing lots of things.

I am well aware of that. With this efficiency, it is also creating a society even more divided between the ultra rich and the very poor were the middle class is getting squeezed out