Morning Star is a California company that is responsible for processing 40% of California’s tomato crop. They also have no management. (Via Reason.tv):
Morning Star has many of the usual positions that one would expect at an ordinary company: there are floor workers, payroll personnel, folks that handle the mail and outside communications, and so on. The difference is that, from a bird’s eye view, no single person at Morning Star is anybody else’s boss. The entire operation appears to thrive on the power of collective expectations, and by giving workers a direct stake in the success of the company. Workers at Morning Star make their own decisions about how to perform their job, what tools they need to keep the machines running, and how to structure their work day to keep production running smoothly. As one employee put it, there is no bureaucracy that he has to fight through if he needs something for his lab. He just goes out and purchases it.
To some, this may seem like a frightfully inefficient way to run a business. If employees can make instantaneous discretionary purchases of lab equipment on the company dime, then where is the cost control? Such a system seems doomed to failure without a hierarchy of some sort to check potentially unwise exercises of indiscretion.
The answer is that these checks are built into the system of collective expectations. As another Morning Star employee put it, Morning Star’s business model presumes that employees who are closest to a particular business process are the most qualified to make decisions about how to keep that process running efficiently. Thus, one would expect an unwise purchase to be met with scrutiny by one’s peers on the factory floor. Morning Star’s firm model thrives by ensuring that one individual is never and uncontested decision-maker solely responsible for decisions related to a business process at the company. Every worker has a stake in the outcome of everybody else’s labor. The threat of discipline from management is unnecessary to achieve desired outcomes.
Morning Star is not the first company to adopt this business model. Valve Corp., a wildly successful Video Game company that currently dominates the Video Game industry through it’s Steam platform, also has no formal management. Gore Inc., the makers of Gore-Tex, are an 8,500 strong company that has no company organization chart. Though Gore does retain a few corporate officer titles for various purposes within the company, those officials have little direct power over other employees in the corporation. Those same officers are also not unilaterally chosen by the Board of Directors, but rather, in a more democratic fashion:
In Gore’s self-regulating system, all the normal management rules are reversed. In this back-to-front world, leaders aren’t appointed: they emerge when they accumulate enough followers to qualify as such. So when the previous group CEO retired three years ago, there was no shortlist of preferred candidates. Alongside board discussions, a wide range of associates were invited to nominate to the post someone they would be willing to follow. ‘We weren’t given a list of names – we were free to choose anyone in the company,’ Kelly says. ‘To my surprise, it was me.’
Other firms have shown that “non-management management” approach is feasible. At IDEO Corp., a Palo Alto engineering company responsible for such ubiquitous inventions as squeezable toothpaste tubes, or the mouse you are using to point & click things on your computers, there are no bosses, and no management structure. Sun Hydraulics is a $170 million dollar manufacturing firm with no job titles, no organization chart, and even lacks job performance criteria for its employees. There is a Plant Manager, but their job is not to supervise employees: it’s to water the company’s plants.
How are so many companies, in areas as diverse as tomato farming, hydraulics production, and video game production, running successful businesses without traditional management? In a society built on Capitalism, the common wisdom is that productive firms require managers with coercive authority to motivate people to do their jobs. Most ordinary people are shocked when they learn that there are companies who stay profitable with no bosses. How can this be an efficient way to run a company?
As it turns out, there’s a lot of evidence that top-down management is an inefficient form of firm organization. Gary Hamel, writing for the Harvard Business Review, noted several reasons to abandon traditional management hierarchies, one of which is the fact that managers add both personnel costs and unnecessary complexity to a firm:
A small organization may have one manager and 10 employees; one with 100,000 employees and the same 1:10 span of control will have 11,111 managers. That’s because an additional 1,111 managers will be needed to manage the managers. In addition, there will be hundreds of employees in management-related functions, such as finance, human resources, and planning. Their job is to keep the organization from collapsing under the weight of its own complexity. Assuming that each manager earns three times the average salary of a first-level employee, direct management costs would account for 33% of the payroll.
Top-down management also centralizes risk-taking in the hands of fewer decision-makers, which increases the likelihood of a disastrous event:
… As decisions get bigger, the ranks of those able to challenge the decision maker get smaller. Hubris, myopia, and naïveté can lead to bad judgment at any level, but the danger is greatest when the decision maker’s power is, for all purposes, uncontestable. Give someone monarchlike authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screwup. A related problem is that the most powerful managers are the ones furthest from frontline realities. All too often, decisions made on an Olympian peak prove to be unworkable on the ground.
The personal whims of managers can also kill or disincentivize ideas that are good for the company, especially when ideas have to be filtered through multiple levels of management:
…[A] multitiered management structure means more approval layers and slower responses. In their eagerness to exercise authority, managers often impede, rather than expedite, decision making. Bias is another sort of tax. In a hierarchy the power to kill or modify a new idea is often vested in a single person, whose parochial interests may skew decisions.
Then there’s “the cost of tyranny:”
The problem isn’t the occasional control freak; it’s the hierarchical structure that systematically disempowers lower-level employees. For example, as a consumer you have the freedom to spend $20,000 or more on a new car, but as an employee you probably don’t have the authority to requisition a $500 office chair. Narrow an individual’s scope of authority, and you shrink the incentive to dream, imagine, and contribute.
The success of these business models demonstrate one of the fundamental criticisms of traditional Capitalist modes of production that Marx attempted to illustrate when he was writing Das Kapital. While Marx was wrong (in my opinion) about quite a few things, the success of the companies above demonstrates that Marx was correct to point out that divorcing employees from management decisions related to their own labor is an inherently inefficient means of production. Divorcing employees from the product of their labor separates them from one of the primary motivating forces to perform that labor. This process of alienation itself is what creates the necessity for “bosses”—employees whose primary purpose is to oversee & discipline other employees in their assigned tasks.
Thus, what we really see in Marx’s Theory of Labor Alienation was, inter alia, an argument about firm management: the need for “bosses” in the workplace only arises when employees are completely divorced from the means of production. When workers have a direct stake in the final product of their labor, they no longer need the threat of coercion from superiors to do their job. An employee’s direct interest in the outcome, combined with the power of collective expectations of their peers in the workplace, replaces the threat of, and need for, discipline from above.
With all this being said: I am not attempting to argue here that the success of non-managed firms proves that stateless socialism is viable, or validates Marxism writ large. Indeed, I’m sure that the folks at Reason have a much different view on Morning Star’s success than I do—and moreover, I remain, as I have always been, a fan of mixed economies.
What I think is clear, however, is that Marxist theorists are right to point out that there is nothing inherently “natural” or “necessary” about the way the workplace is organized in most Western societies today. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that top-down hierarchies in the workplace are neither necessary for profitability, nor an extension of natural human activities. Indeed, if Gary Hamel’s observations about the inefficiency of management are true, we appear to have been doing it wrong for quite some time. Though perhaps we could have come to the same conclusion more easily by just reading Dilbert comics:
So while combing through the interwebs for .pdf books on unrelated subjects, I happened upon zinelibrary.info- an anarchist collective dedicated to the free distribution of radical literature. They have a lot of titles by authors mentioned in this post, as well as many others covering relevant topics. Here are a few that I think may be of interest:
- Custer Died for Your Sins- An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria, Jr.
- God Is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria, Jr.
- Acts of Rebellion: The Ward Churchill Reader
- From a Native Son: Selected Essays on Indigenism 1985-1995 by Ward Churchill
- Since Predator Came: Notes from the Struggle for American Indian Liberation by Ward Churchill
- Struggle for the Land: Native North American Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Colonization by Ward Churchill
- Perversions of Justice: Indigenous Peoples and Angloamerican Law by Ward Churchill
- The Bloody Wake of Alcatraz- Political Repression of the American Indian Movement During the 1970’s by Ward Chruchill
- The Case of Leonard Peltier by Arthur J. Miller and Pio Celestino (zine)
- 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance (zine)
- Cultural Appropriation or Cultural Appreciation? (zine)
- Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples by Andrea Smith (article)
- Headdress (a small zine on native appropriation)
- Colonization and Decolonization: A Manual for Indigenous Liberation in the 21st Century (zine)
“Now you may say that this simply reflects divided government. But while there are many instances of divided government on that chart — the 104th Congress, for instance, when Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolutionaries faced off against President Bill Clinton and still managed to pass 333 public laws — there’s no session of Congress with such a poor record of productivity.” - Ezra Klein
Klein also points out that, while Congress is still in session, “the 112th is three-quarters done, and it’s not yet half as productive as the next least-productive congress.”
Michigan’s House has passed HB 5711, a massive bill placing multiple restrictions on abortion providers, amid days of protests by activist groups and Democrat representatives.
1) Bans Abortions After 20 Weeks, Even For Rape And Incest Victims: A woman would not be able to have an abortion after 20 weeks of gestation based on the widely disputed idea that a fetus can feel pain after that point. The only exception would be if a woman’s life was in danger.
2) Transforms Doctors Into Detectives: The Republican-backed legislation would make it a crime for anyone to coerce a woman into having an abortion. Doctors will have to give their patients a questionnaire to inform them of the illegality of coercion and determine if the woman had been coerced or is the victim of domestic abuse before the abortion procedure.
3) Limits Access For Rural Women: Under the omnibus bill, doctors would have to be physically present to perform a medical abortion, thus preventing a doctor from administering abortion-inducing medication by consulting via telephone or internet. This would especially hurt rural women, who may have to travel hours to meet in-person with a specialist.
4) Requires Doctors To Purchase Costly Malpractice Insurance: If HB 5711 goes into effect, then doctors would be required to carry $1 million in liability insurance if they perform five or more abortions each month or have been subject to two more more civil suits in the past seven years, among other requirements. But the qualifications are so vague that almost all doctors who perform abortions could be required to carry the additional liability insurance at a potential cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
5) Regulates Clinics Out Of Existence: HB 5711 would create new regulations so that any clinic that provides six or more abortions in a month or one which advertises abortion services would have to be licensed as a “freestanding surgical outpatient facility.” That means that even if a clinic does not offer surgical abortions, it would be required to have a full surgical suite.
Now that the state House has passed the largest of the three bills, it will likely approve the two companion measures as well. Even though lawmakers rushed the bill through the House, the state Senate is not expected to vote on the measure until September. The body is composed of 26 Republicans and 12 Democrats.
This bill will limit or eliminate abortion access for everyone who can get pregnant, not just cis women. There is still time before the Senate votes on this bill in September, so please start contacting your representatives, organizing protests, and spreading information about this awful bill.
A group of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives proposed this week a bill that would raise the nation’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10 per hour, which they say will help consumer purchasing power catch up to the rate of inflation since the late 1960s.
It’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), is even calling the bill “The Catching Up to 1968 Act.” Jackson explained in prepared text that it “may sound like a hefty wage increase but it doesn’t fully equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968 – which today would be closer to $11 per hour. The bill is really only allowing American workers a degree of ‘catch-up.’”
He’s not wrong about that, either: Had lawmakers kept the minimum wage pinned to the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, 1968′s minimum wage of $1.60 per hour would in fact be worth $10.58 per hour in 2012.
Congress last raised the minimum wage in 2007, moving it from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour over the course of the following two years. Jackson claimed that move provided “an additional $1.6 billion annually in increased wages,” and called upon President Barack Obama to support another increase.
I really want them to push this through…
How amazing would this be?
Come now and bear witness to the sinful wages of Pearl and Lennie’s gay lifestyle! 45 years of love and commitment! The horror!
Context: North Carolina is currently attempting to pass Amendment One, which would remove basic legal protections from unmarried and same-sex couples.
Not to mention Article I section 8 of the Constitution…
Government-run healthcare is more efficient than private healthcare, plain and simple. A study found that Medicaid spending rose less than 4% between 2002 and 2011 due to population growth and inflation. Medicaid programs are extremely motivated for cost containment!
and 2% of GOP Senators.
Even though the rule received majority approval in the Senate, Republicans had to show just how out of touch they are, filibustering it.