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Corporate Mandarins and The Tyranny of *Hierarchy* (was: tyrannyof corporations (was: Corporate Nations))
At 11:44 PM -0500 on 12/6/98, Steve Schear wrote:
> whereupon she said that my profile was an exact match with those who
>reach the highest levels of the corporate world. Then the bad news, its
>also the profile of a master criminal. I kid you not.
What a canard, Steve. I hope you don't actually believe it.
That sounds to me more like a romantic leftist sociological
pseudoscientific fantasy (I know, quintuply redundant :-)) about what it
takes to run a large business than any actual scientific observation of
This "sociological" analysis probably went over really well at a
touchy-feely corporate navel-gazing camp because it's more the way some
grey-flannel men *wish* they were, than the way they actually are. Thus the
prevalence on business bookshelves of titles like Machiavelli's "The
Prince", or Sun Tsu's "Art of War", or actual dreck like, I don't know,
"Accounts Receivable Secrets of Genghis Kahn", or something.
The fact is, people who've *built* very large businesses more or less from
scratch, like Sam Walton and Hugh Heffner, or even "criminals" like
Rockefeller and Gates, even people who took daddy's money and made it
outrageously larger, like J. Pierpont Morgan, Ned Johnson and Malcolm
Forbes, are no more criminal in their intent, much less behavior, than my
77 year-old mother is. Like any real entrepreneur, from junkyard owner to
dry-cleaner, these people are just motivated, and they work very hard at
something they like. The size of someone's success in building a business
is certainly more a function of brains -- and maybe a smidgeon of luck --
than brutality or ruthlessness.
Most senior corporate *managers*, on the other hand, especially those at
the top, are much more like blue-button mandarins than Genghis Kahn. They
got there by facilly regurgitating the modern version of Confucian Analects
back to their teachers, from kindergarten all the way through business and
law school. Actually working hard would break their long fingernails.
And, please, don't a confuse the time these mandarins spend at the
Emporor's court with hard work, as most very high-level "meetings", like
the corporate "retreat" above, are social functions in disguise -- parties,
in other words. As a result, these modern mandarins would rather fantasize
themselves as murderous feudal aristocrats -- or, more laughably, as the
modern equivalent in organized crime -- to justify their existance, or more
realisticaly, to relieve the tedium of supervising an enormous enterprise
which usually makes much more money simply by leaving it alone than it does
when actively "managed" or "regulated".
"Greed, for the lack of a better term, is good", as Oliver Stone
sarcastically said, damning progress with typical leftist Luddite faint
praise. Yet, as Russell observed, leftist ideology [like Luddism] is just
fuedalism's response to industrial progress. In that light, it makes much
more sense to actually take Mr. Stone at his word, and ignore his
So, money and power begets envy. So, what else is new? People who can, do.
Those who can't, teach Sociology and call those who can "criminals", much
to the titilation of their customers in senior corporate management.
Meanwhile, the only *real* criminal activities, force and fraud, are *bad*
for business. Ask anyone living in Afganistan or Bosnia, or in North Korea
or Iraq, or, within recent memory, in inner-city Boston or Chicago.
Fortunately for us, the time is coming when people who invent *new* ideas
will make more money and have considerably more aggregate power than people
who live at the top of, or even those who create, large hierarchical
organizations in order to finance, and market, and, eventually, regulate,
And, since society can axiomatically produce literal swarms of people who
are creative and inventive, all in their own specialties, many more than it
can a few mandarin senior managers and politicians at the top of very large
hierarchical organizations, "power" itself, the ability to use force, or
more recently, fraud, to coerce or extort behavior from someone else, will
become much more diffuse. Except, that is, on occasions when almost
everyone, probably using a market to do so, agrees on what must be done.
And, anyone who's watched the capital markets lately knows how fast a
market can act when the time comes.
The reason for this change is simple. If infinitely-replicable information
becomes more important than finite land or machinery, and, more to the
point, if *new* information can be auctioned, for cash, at a higher price
than old information, instantaneously, recursively -- and anonymously --
across an increasingly geodesic network, then the power, the very *glamour*
of hierarchy -- and the snycophant court jesters it creates, like the
aforementioned "corporate sociologist" -- will be as dead as Sun Tsu's
middle-kingdom warlords, or Machievelli's renaissance princes.
Or, more properly, Ming-dynasty blue-button mandarins.
Robert A. Hettinga <mailto: [email protected]>
Philodox Financial Technology Evangelism <http://www.philodox.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'