Big organizations — like governments, or armies, or transnational corporations — are not known for their agility or creativity (to put it mildly!). That's a source of frustration for many people, particularly those who have activist leanings and who want to promote social change for the better.

But on the other hand, look at all the truly horrid things that a big organization can do if it falls into the hands of bad people. There are good reasons to put handcuffs on government (e.g., as the Framers of the US Constitution did) to keep it under control. Some of the same sorts of checks and balances are necessary for big businesses and are typically provided by outside accounting, oversight, and audit services.

So what good can a big organization do? If it's well-designed and successful, it can alter the odds in favor of or against things happening. A government can push probabilities around — for example, so that crime is less profitable (and less frequent) ... or so that international aggression is less likely ... or so that more people spend more of their time learning and working productively. Similarly, a big company can channel resources toward long-term R&D, to raise the chances that useful new goods and services will be developed.

The process won't be pretty, much less efficient. Bureaucracies work slowly and redundantly. And perfection is impossible; one can't expect to eliminate violent human behavior, for instance, only to limit it. But with a bit of probability pushing, things can improve, generation by generation, until the result is rather amazing progress.

The grand old man of Austrian-school economic theory, Ludwig von Mises, once wrote a book titled Bureaucracy. I scanned it, hastily, about 25 years ago. It wrestled with some of the questions surrounding large slow-moving social organizations and why they work (or don't work) the way they do. Maybe I'm almost ready to read that book now ....

(see also TheVeto (26 Dec 1999), OnePerScore (6 Feb 2000), ForYourOwnGood (21 Feb 2000), ...)

TopicOrganizations - TopicSociety - 2002-09-17

(correlates: SigilOfPower, BovineMind, MyJob, ...)