This is a good observation -- that management tends to take as much control as it can get, without any regard to costs and benefits -- but his analysis depends on some cultural assumptions about authority. In some cultures, a person with authority over another person is a different kind of person, a superior one. North Korea is a caricature of this attitude: Kim Jong Il, being at the apex of the power structure, had to be wiser, a better golfer, and a genius at every subject compared to everyone under him. In such a culture you can speak of the workers kicking out management and taking over, because workers and managers are distinct classes of people.
In other cultures, authority inheres not in the person but in the social role they play. A manager is just a guy who has a certain limited authority at work because of his role as manager. He is not assumed to be a better golfer, dancer, or calligrapher. He may be less talented or less virtuous than the people he orders around, and that doesn't threaten his authority as long as the company is happy with his job performance. One expects that people promoted or hired into management show more than typical interest and ability at management, but other than that, if management and workers are systematically different in any way, it is because of different patterns of déformation professionnelle due to their different job concerns.
In the latter kind of culture, the idea of workers kicking out management and taking over makes no sense. If you kick out the guys wearing manager hats, take away their manager hats, and give them to guys who used to wear worker hats, then you're left with the same number of manager hats, and therefore the same number of managers. You haven't kicked out management, you've kicked out the guys who used to be management.
There were a lot of points / quotes in the book with management talking about reducing / commodifying labor, but I'm not sure this book is the best to cite as support for this. I suspect Chomsky is taking Nobel at his word, but the book is noticeably biased toward Marxist thinking in thinking everything is a class struggle whereas the technology actually was superior.
Funny enough the operator-programmer lines are blurring today as CNC code is now generated on essentially a compiler/debugger that simulates the machine. Machine programmers are scarce and now (even sans unions) are actually able to demand high prices in the same way a web developer can in our business.
I think you can see some of the struggles even in programming. I've spoken with managers who are honest about wanting replaceable coders, and won't willingly choose a technology which swings the balance of power away from them. (Which means they'll likely prefer Java over certain other contenders, even if they actually happen to believe this replaceable-cog strategy costs them more time and money, thereby lowering profits.)
(That's why many are attracted to startups; some of these counterproductive constraints are relaxed, due to the sheer difficulty of success.)
I think all things equal, you do want to be able to be worker independent: you'd like to have everything written in, say, Python not a mix of languages each developer happens to like. This doesn't mean that devs are actually plug-n-play, but on a spectrum is does make them more so.
From a pragmatic point of view, I'm sure subjected to blatant commodification, a lot of people will react by quitting or creating systems that are hard for new people to pick-up: i.e. obscure / spaghetti code.
In reality, most engineering jobs are pretty far from commodity - especially if you'd like to keep your team cohesion, tacit knowledge, experience, etc. It generally doesn't pay to do this in creative jobs.
Going a bit further, the concern you raise regarding the plausibility of worker self-management is absolutely a valid one. There are a number of people doing work on the matter. I'm familiar with only a fraction of it, but enough to assure you that the problem is quite nuanced and more involved than you could intuit. There are at least hypotheses about what causes the problems you gesture to and there are proposed solutions. If you're interested, I can point you to Michael Albert's work on the subject.
When you say a solution to the problem I raise, what do you mean? I don't regard it as a problem if the idea of overthrowing management only makes sense in some contexts and not in others.
With regard to your second point, you merely asserted that the plausibility of worker self-management is influenced by cultural variables. Here again I was implying that you ought to refrain from speculation before having studied the matter thoroughly, as I know there are a lot of other factors to consider. It is possible that your intuition is correct, but very unlikely unless it's informed by all the prior work on the subject.
Basically, on both counts I'm advocating humility and avoidance of speculation, which are principles that apply to almost all statements by everybody. I'm not interested in arguing for or against your points because I don't have the knowledge to do so in a reasonable way. My problem is that in your comment you betrayed evidence that neither do you, so I wanted to put a word of caution in there.
Not that this doesn't sometimes happen with famous people, whether over here or over Reddit. The Internet is a small place :).
And you said he was "quoting David Noble." Let's call it a draw and try to stick to more interesting questions.
you merely asserted that the plausibility of worker self-management is influenced by cultural variables
I didn't mean to address the plausibility of self-management so much as the desirability of it. I didn't say it directly, but what I was questioning was the imperative to "get rid of the bosses," which seems to rest on the notion that management, as a class above and condescending to the workers, enjoys an undeserved superior status. Chomsky says they "don't do anything but get in the way," but of course that is rarely the case, which is why we talk about "worker self-management" instead of "workers and no management." If I see management as necessary work, if I do not feel demeaned relative to managers by my status as a non-manager, if I see management simply as a job that I find less attractive than my own, and if I want to exercise power over a very slim subset of management concerns (pay, working conditions, benefits) then where does my motivation to take over management responsibilities come from?
I think there's a very strong motive present in some cultures much more than in others, which is related to giving and receiving orders. For some people, giving and receiving orders means that the person giving orders is higher and better than the person receiving them. For others, giving and receiving orders simply means that the person giving the orders is exercising a certain limited authority inherent in his or her job responsibilities, and neither party is demeaned or elevated by the exchange. If management authority implies superior moral worth, and we deny that one person can be worth more than another, then management hierarchies are immoral and must be abolished. If giving and receiving orders is just a matter of people playing roles that help the business function efficiently, then two people can be utterly equal even though one has the authority to give certain orders to the other, and a hierarchical business structure does not shame or elevate anyone. It is merely effective or ineffective at serving the needs of the people who serve it, so a deep, shallow, or democratic management structure can be chosen according to which one allows the business to run most effectively.
I'm taking it for granted, by the way, that if non-management workers have the power to completely overthrow management, then they also have the power to force management to treat them fairly, and they choose between the two alternatives. If they somehow had the power to do the former but not the latter, then I suppose they would exercise the power they had.
Basically, on both counts I'm advocating humility and avoidance of speculation, which are principles that apply to almost all statements by everybody.
You're right; I know virtually nothing about this, and I am always happy to see someone more knowledgeable than me share what they know. However, if your contribution to the discussion is to point out my ignorance without attempting to remedy it, cite the existence of learned arguments that you don't care to share, and advocate deferring the point to authority instead of discussing it, then I don't think you're in a position to pass judgment on my contribution.
I didn't think I was being flippant or rude and I'm sorry that I've come across that way. If I did have knowledge or an informed opinion about this, I would've shared it. If I could've stated my opinion better, I would've. I shared what I knew. However, you also have a certain responsibility, if you want to be taken seriously, to study at least partially the material you criticize.
That is to say keep managers as a job but remove their real power over workers, put managers in the position of employees instead of employers.
They can wear their managerial hat but it's now much much more difficult for them to take as much control as they can get without any regard to costs and benefits.
It's (theoretically) one of the features of a worker's co-operative.
In the North Korean power structure, superior authorities need to be depended on to improve the "helpless" masses, and a takeover would not be believed to be an improvement because the new leaders would be, at best, equally as strong and wise as the old.
But in more egalitarian societies, the idea of "do it yourself" and "fixing the system" is taken seriously, and the corresponding societal myths reflect this - "The Emperor has no clothes", for example.
Maybe the distinction is between ownership and non-ownership and also having the ability to control corporation. Have a say in the future direction and also being compensated proportionally to the total profit made. I think that's the distinction, not as much talking about middle managers per se.
What workers want is ownership. The idea of kicking the bosses out is a holdover from the days when ownership and management weren't divorced, as they typically are today. Management serves at the pleasure of the owners, and if the workers are really able to "take over the factories," then management serves at their pleasure, which is a much simpler way of making management accountable to employees.
Who suggested that? Nobody. The idea is for workers to manage themselves while being workers, not for some of them to turn into the new managers.
"Boss" and "worker" are social roles. You're not abolishing 'management' you're abolishing 'managers,' which is a subtle but important difference.
Autonomy over your own destiny is important to humans. How many people want to 'do a startup' because it allows them to 'be their own boss'? Same basic need here.
On a similar note, with all the hubbub about how worthwhile college is, it seems that curiosity and self motivation are some powerful deciding factors. Perhaps the current standard of going straight to college after high school is not the right way to go about it.
The problem is deeper in culture than that. All education as a whole should not be about raw numbers or facts, it should be about exposure and lighting a creative or investigative spark. We never had an education system centered around motivating interest in topics rather than route fact memorization (insert the Einstien quote about don't memorize what you can look up vis-a-vis the internet) but I think that has to be the end goal of education for humans in general. You can't be content teaching a topic, taking a test, and calling it quits. It has to be about inspiring people to persue more, and Chomsky really hits on that.
I have the same thing you do with software. I'll spend hundreds of hours on personal projects in a month, but for school assignments I'd do semester long assignments the last day. It is about what you are interested in vs what others force upon you to accomplish in that structured environment, the former is the goal and the latter is the failure in that objective.
Mainly because on some projects in my CS undergrad I would put in those hundred hour sessions. I wrote my own shell, for example, that I spent a combined ~100 hours on over 2 weeks, where most people did it in ~10, and I had autocompletion, history, pipes, and primitive variable / looping implemented. Most other people couldn't even do a proper execvP.
It's always seemed to me that this kind of person should be a good candidate for postgraduate degrees: driven in their own exploration, effort on interesting things, etc. I've never managed to really find out the reality though.
If a capitalist starts a manufacturing business with the goal of making money, and if he then discovers that the business would run much more effectively by letting the skilled workers make the decisions than by hiring a layer of management ... then why wouldn't the capitalist go with the more effective approach?
TL;DR rephrase -- why would a business owner maintain a layer of management if that was truly a less effective way to go?
Is Chomsky (or Noble) claiming there's something like a "conspiracy" amongst the "managerial class" to create fake jobs for managers, merely to maintain class power? (Or, if not, what am I missing from his argument?)
"Making money for me" and "making money for everyone" are not the same thing.
For example, if your business has 1MM in profits, and you own half, then you get 500k. If you ran that as a cooperative, you made 2MM in profits the next year, but you own 10%, you made $200k. Worse for you, better for everyone else and the group overall.
I am starting with the assumption that no one gets an ownership stake for free. You can start a business if you want, and you can either bootstrap it or take investment. Either way, the owners are not handed their ownership ... they "buy" it with what they put in.
Is this Chomsky/Noble point of view arguing that workers should be granted a degree of ownership by virtue of the work they do?
> the owners are not handed their ownership ... they "buy" it with what they put in.
Sure, but then they have it, and that's great. Being rewarded for your work is good. Problem is, they have to do nothing to maintain it. After an initial period of work, they have it forever. Whereas a worker who comes in afterward has no access, and even though they also put in a lot of work, they won't get any ownership. Those people are not being rewarded for the work that they do, which we all agree is bad.
> workers should be granted a degree of ownership by virtue of the work they do?
Basically, yes. People should be in control of themselves, and their situations. Ownership == control.
Please note that I'm painting in _very_, _very_ broad strokes here. There is a ton of space under this tent.
Huh? The traditional corporate model is representative democracy. Shareholders elect a board of directors who then elect upper management, who then appoint lower level positions.
Whereas a worker who comes in afterward has no access, and even though they also put in a lot of work, they won't get any ownership.
This is false for any publicly traded corporation. Any worker can open up an ETrade account and trade their salary for part of the corporation.
As far as I know, most workers choose not to. Why do you feel these workers (myself included) are making the wrong choice?
> Shareholders elect
There's your error. Shareholders elect. Not workers. Maybe "oligarchy" is a better word than dictatorship, but as I said, trying to keep it simple to get the concept across.
Workers do not have a vote. Traditional corporate structures are not a democracy.
> This is false for any publicly traded corporation. Any worker can open up an ETrade account and trade their salary for part of the corporation.
Only if that company is publicly traded. Even then, if it is, acquiring ownership comes through spending capital, not by virtue of having control over yourself and what you do.
> As far as I know, most workers choose not to. Why do you feel these workers (myself included) are making the wrong choice?
Most people do not have the ability to work in a place that's run cooperatively because there aren't enough places that are cooperative. Even GitHub and Valve are socialist in social structure only: Both are private companies, but I'm pretty sure that everyone does not own a portion of the company. I could be wrong on this.
Secondly, post-Cold War, 'socialism' became such a scare term that people would shy away from it even if it were a rationally better choice for them. The notion of 'ideology' is useful here.
I don't even trust democracy in politics all that much, my state (California) is a complete and utter failure as an exercise in democracy.
I call foul. That's personal, and it's unsubstantiated, which makes it unfair not only to the GP but to the rest of us reading the thread. If you're going to make a comment like this, instead of being mean why don't you share with us some of what you've learned about (in this case) Marx? I for one would be interested to hear it.
As for Marx and democracy, while trolling, your parent does make a point: What I'm talking about in this thread is not very Marxist/Leninist. What they misunderstood is that I was not trying to be Marxist/Leninist. ;)
In Marxism/Leninism, the current situation is referred to as "the dictatorship of the bourgeoise." Revolution would lead to the institution of "the dictatorship of the proletariat." Contrary to its name, the DotP would be a democratically run organization: however, since 'all history is the history of class struggle,' it _would_ have a dictatorship role in the sense of the two classes: whereas today, the bourgeoise call all the shots, in the DotP, the proletariat would.
This is what my sibling comment refers to. However, they misunderstand about half the things that are said in both of those quotes by Engels.
>As, therefore, the state is only a transitional institution which is used in the struggle, in the revolution, to hold down one’s adversaries by force, it is sheer nonsense to talk of a ‘free people’s state’; so long as the proletariat still needs the state, it does not need it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist - Engels
Democracy is a threat to the midwife State and the final state of what Marxism aims to achieve.
Voluntary communist utopias are referred to as anarcho-communism.
Anarcho-libertarianism assumes a free market is involved.
Communism assumes all resources are pooled.
First of all, socialism is bigger than Marx. You are absolutely correct in that Marx/Lennin would not think that business operating as socialist within a capitalist context would lead to revolution or communism. Luckily, I wasn't talking about that.
Secondarily, Marx never actually used the world 'socialism,' he did make a few passing references to 'lower communism' and 'lesser communism.' He _did_ critique the utopian socialists of his day for not being realistic enough.
Marx & Engels criticized utopian socialism that was utopian for simply lacking a vision of bringing itself about. That's what made it utopian. Marx and Engels critiqued utopianism, market socialism, and liberal democracy, not socialism itself. To say that their critiques of dreamy, ungrounded utopianism were somehow a critique of one of the utopian hobby-horses (socialism) is...a severe misunderstanding of Marx.
They themselves saw the revolutionary state that would midwife the ushering in of Communism as being socialist by necessity. The Paris Commune would later serve to change Marx's attitude about the midwife state a bit though.
You're just compounding your misunderstandings and further propagating misinformation about Marx. Please stop. This isn't even about the original conversation for me anymore, I just want you to stop spreading untruths.
What I was trying to communicate is that Marxism involves socialism, but socialism does not involve Marxism.
> Marx & Engels criticized utopian socialism that was utopian for simply lacking a vision of bringing itself about.
This is what I said. "not being realistic enough."
> They themselves saw the revolutionary state that would midwife the ushering in of Communism as being socialist by necessity. The Paris Commune would later serve to change Marx's attitude about the midwife state a bit though.
I agree 100%.
I really think we have a failure to communicate here, not an actual disagreement in understanding, now. Both me misunderstanding you and you misunderstanding me. You can understand why I'm naturally skeptical of anyone invoking Marx in this place. My apologies.
Alright, but what do you trust then?
A dictatorship is much better as long as the dictator happens to share the values and vision as you personally.
Federalized constitutional republics seem to work well. True meritocracy in governance would interest me.
Pfft, you can't generalise that much from just Switzerland.
Would you prefer it if instead workers were paid in equity, and needed to use the public markets if they want to convert equity to cash?
(The difference between this scenario and the current status quo is only $8/trade and a few mouse clicks, so I'd love to hear why you think this distinction matters.)
No, I would not.
> The difference between this scenario and the current status quo is only $8/trade and a few mouse clicks,
No, it is not. Again, not all companies are publicly owned.
> so I'd love to hear why you think this distinction matters.
Cash does not equal control. Equity equals control. Seriously, we're on Hacker News: how much discussion goes into equity splits between founders? Why do you never give your initial employees very much equity? Why do we discuss term sheets so much?
You're being silly, you comment here way too much not to know this.
(oh, and for an answer: I prefer that the workers are paid however the workers want to be paid. For me, personally, cash as well as an equity stake of some kind. As one real-life example, please see http://www.redandblackcafe.com/the-red-black-cafe-is-hiring/ which lays out one possible situation and has been going for the last 12 years. Also, of course, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation which has 14b euro in revenue and employs 84,000 people.)
No, I would prefer it is instead workers had a say in the workings of the company. Equal say divided between them.
But what if some workers are willing to give up "say" in the in return for cash? Should they be prevented from doing so? Should employees be paid in restricted stock, receiving cash only when their company issues dividends?
Note that as an employee of a public company who doesn't buy any shares, I've revealed that I prefer cash to voice. Why do you feel you know better about how I should handle my finances and working arrangements?
I don't say that I know better objectively. I'm merely stating my preference, which might, or might not be better than your preference.
And it could even be better than letting everyone have it his own way (just as it could also be worse). I guess it remains to be proved.
Sometimes, you see, one specific idea is better overall than just letting each person decide. For example, with respect to theft we don't let each person have their preference about it: we deem it illegal, and that's it.
So, this "the individual above everything else" thing. I don't care much for it. And a lot of societies don't, e.g in Europe. Some people, and some societies prefer the "benefit of society above all".
Which might, or might not, coincide with the maximum benefit of a specific individual. That's what politics is about.
I agree with the point that it is "too bad" the worker will work 30 years and never gain ownership.
But ... if the worker doesn't like it, why doesn't he start a business?
And ... is it right for government to forcibly take a piece of ownership away and give it to the worker? Is that the proposed solution?
Gosh, when you look at this discussion, you ask yourself, "Why on earth would anyone sign up to be a perpetual worker?"
BUT -- there's a lot more to a business than just the skilled work. There's marketing, capitalization decisions, strategy, etc. Seems the businesses who are best at that will outcompete the others. I guess that then makes the argument for "professional management" (I promise I did not set out towards that goal ... I stumbled there by "thinking out loud").
Starting a business is not a possibility for many people. This requires initial capital, for example. Most people do not have capital.
> And ... is it right for government to forcibly take a piece of ownership away and give it to the worker? Is that the proposed solution?
Chomsky is an anarchist, so no, he would not suggest that. it's actually the opposite: the ability of the owner to retain ownership is due to contractual agreements that the state upholds under threat of violence. Without the state, corporations (and capitalism) are not possible.
> Gosh, when you look at this discussion, you ask yourself, "Why on earth would anyone sign up to be a perpetual worker?"
:) An observation that Marx made was that because the worker sells their labor-power (ie, capacity to labor), they do not get to retain the advantages of increased productivity: the capitalist does. When we become more productive, we have two choices: work less, or work the same and get even more. The ones with the power make those decisions, and since they're not the ones doing the work, guess which they choose? The movement from the 12 hour day to the 10 hour day to the 80 hour day to the 40 hour week was not due to productivity gains: it was due to socialist and other worker-led movements.
> (I promise I did not set out towards that goal ... I stumbled there by "thinking out loud").
No worries :) I'd say that you're confusing correlation and causation: there are many, many more traditionally structured businesses than socialist ones. There are many success stories on the other side: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mondragon_Corporation
A state is not necessary for enforcing contracts - that could be done by private parties, as in anarcho-capitalism. Also: Cooperatives can exist within a capitalist system, but the converse is not true. So I guess it comes down to whether or not all property as defined by the status quo should be redistributed or reallocated, presumably by force; if that were not the case, there wouldn't really be any disagreement between left-anarchists and anarcho-capitalists, right?
Even Murry Rothbard doesn't think that anarcho-capitalists are anarchists: http://www.lewrockwell.com/rothbard/rothbard167.html
DROs and private property are effectively a state, don't kid yourself.
I do see your point that anarcho-capitalism isn't really anarchism, though. The societies they envision are radically different.
> The Icelandic Commonwealth was anarcho-capitalistic though, wasn't it (anarchy + property rights)? Worked okay for a few hundred years.
I do know that Iceland is discussed in these circles, and I only know that both sides go "yes it is no it isn't." I haven't studied it enough to make my own call. Primarily, as far as I'm concerned, if it takes a state form, it's just as bad, so I haven't spent any time in this area."
So is anarcho-anything.
Or I'm I just a victim of your "Trolling hard on HN" bullet-point?
I don't have a ton of interest in repeating left-anarchist/anarcho-capitalist arguments with you though. It's clear you have the left-anarchist bullet points down.
I chalk up my anarchist period to indiscretions of youth. Nowadays I am more concerned about choice and innovation in government than in abolishing government.
It sounds like you are talking about the labor theory of value in Marxian economics. I'm no expert, so I'm probably oversimplifying, but I think the labor theory of value would consider exploitation to begin the instant a property owner accrued more value from rent payments than the labor it took to build the hous being rented.
The analysis of this problem is what leads to the labor theory of value, so there is a relationship, though.
I would agree with your comment, except with one modification: any rent is exploitation, because it's an extraction of surplus value.
But under capitalism, no, my initial thought would be that that is not exploitation, since there's no surplus value.
That's definitely true.
But, his business incentives are aligned with whatever is most effective. If he wins the business competition, he makes a lot of money.
So at the macro scale, business owners would be inclined to do whatever works best ... as opposed to hiring a management layer they don't really need (and incurring costs) to adopt a less effective approach.
Fixed that for you. Many, many things make lots of money but are not effective: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_American_streetcar_scanda...
But I don't think there's a huge gap between "what is most effective" and "what is most effective at making him money."
Well ... OK ... I can think of examples when that gap is huge, so scratch that.
The point is ... in the example of choosing between (a) hiring managers even though it costs more and is less effective, or (b) not hiring managers, saving that money, and being more productive too -- why would the capitalist choose to maintain a management layer?
And, in practice, you see an approximation. Promoting developers to become developer-managers, developer-managers to become product-managers, etc., is (aside from structural needs) a way of recognizing that people have shown that they do have significant aligned interests and an increase in salary and rank is the quid pro quo.
However, that appears to support the premise that having a management structure actually is more effective.
Imagine how hard it would be to run a company if 200 people had to agree on every little decision. Ever been on any kind of committee? If everything had to go through committee, very few businesses could prosper.
So having a management layer lets the owner select, over time, those people that he wants to share in the decision making. And that seems like a solid benefit of maintaining a management layer.
Whereas Chomsky/Noble seemed to be saying (if I understood them correctly) that the management layer was actually a detriment, but that business owners chose it to maintain class separation.
Having aligned interests makes this tractable. When someone raises this concern they typically posit participants who don't have aligned interests.
Secondly, we aren't very good at seeing our day-to-day experience that suggests this is doable. We don't credit our participation in consensus-based groups, nor do we recognize instances of compromising or actions that are not self-interested.
Humans are pattern recognition machines. Many successful companies have tons of managers: why try out this weird alternate strategy I have no experience with when so many companies work hierarchically? Starting a startup has so much risk involved, and risk needs managed. New management strategies are incredibly risky.
I don't think the cooperative model being possible even enters into most people's minds.
Things are changing though, at least in the tech sector.
That is the fundamental struggle -- to control the masses. Get them brainwashed, scared, addicted, distracted. One way is to carefully control the information they receive that was very easy up until the Internet showed up. Now it has become a lot harder. China just built up a firewall, here it is a bit more difficult. So it still all has to rely on sophisticated spin and propaganda models.
Take Chomsky for example, most people might not even know who he is. They wouldn't have seen (or at least anything positive about) him on TV or mass media. Chances are they read something about him on the Internet or heard from their friends. Sure there were local activist groups, underground zines, but the cost of spreading information that way was pretty high, now the cost is much lower.
As propaganda and media control was becoming more sophisticated it seemed like nothing could stop it, until the Internet exploded. For example, I haven't went searching for news to any of the popular American news outlets in years. It is funny (or scary) that I trust some silly site like reddit.com to deliver better news than CNN, Fox or other such thing.
What a sad, paranoid, naive old man.
How you get that from this interview is beyond me; it seems to me full of joy and love from start to finish – joy of learning, love of freedom and play.
I saw your comment before I finished the article and was going to mention that about the only thing I bet Chomsky was very sad about was the death of his wife, by all accounts the love of his life. And then he brought it up at the very end.
Chomsky has his issues like anyone, but it has always been plain to me that there is something very beautiful at the core of the man.