Two wage systems designed to improve productivity among Hungarian workers are compared. The first, calorie money, was a short-term solution to keep workers properly nourished and hard at work in a capitalist economy in the midst of inflationary chaos at the end of World War II. The second, technical norms, was a long-term project initiated by the socialist state to design norms based on workers’ physical capacity in order to extract the greatest amount of effort most efficiently. In both cases, wages were set according to the level of exertion expended by the worker, not by output, which is commonly understood to be the measure of productivity. The purpose of this article is twofold: (1) to situate the early socialist project in Hungary within a longer history of rationalization and scientific management in the first half of the twentieth century; and (2) to explain how different conceptualizations of labor generate distinct approaches to determining wages and establishing norm rates. This approach draws attention to two central questions: the structural character of the transition to socialism in 1940s Hungary and the historical contingencies of the definition and assessment of work.

You do not currently have access to this content.