Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Size Matters, part 2

by AJ/Skald

Lets look at this business problem (or busy-ness as Sunwalker puts it) with more careful language. Could it be that business, per se, is not the problem.

For example, when I rail against the evils of business, I usually have a fairly large bureaucracy in mind. I think IBM, GE, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Microsoft. Or I think of local monsters such as large construction firms. I rarely think of the small enterprises in my local neighborhood. In fact, I love my local coffee shops. I love my local cafes. I love my local bookstores. And hardware store. And the artists selling their pieces on the sidewalk.

Im not alone. When folks attack Capitalism, usually they (like me) attack corporate capitalism. I've never heard an activist decry the evils of sole proprietorship or the corner mom and pop store. Corporations appear to create the worst evil.

Corporations can grow very large-- and they primarily exist for the purpose of avoiding responsibility. As a legal entity, the prime motive for establishing a corporations seems to be the avoidance of personal responsibility. Shareholders are protected from loss... their personal assets remain safe. Likewise, they gain legal protection. Imagine if every stockholder...however small... was held liable for the actions of the corporations they partly own! Imagine if they had to fit the bill for bankruptcy or legal fees... proportionate to the number of shares they owned. Perhaps folks would think more carefully about their investments. Perhaps ethics and human decency would play a greater role in their investment strategy.

Size is the other component. There are certainly small corporations,... but foulness and general evil seems to grow as the corporation does. Your local coffee shop seems benign and charming. They threaten no one. But Starbucks appears like a monstrous behemoth... deliberately sinking local enterprises through economic might and little else.

Which brings me, again, to the famous rule of 150. Maybe we are hard-wired for certain sized organizations. Below 150, we can retain our humanity.... communication remains natural.... responsibility is direct and personal. Beyond 150, things break down. Responsibility becomes diffused. Bureaucracy and rigidity increase. The organization begins to swallow people. As it hits 300, 500, 1000, and more... these trends accerate. Until we arrive at Wal-Mart, DuPont, GE, McDonald-Douglas, Phillip-Morris, McDonalds--- organizations devoid of heart or soul. Monsters feeding off war, pollution, exploitation, union busting, sweat shops, craving, and insecurity.

Could it be that small is indeed beautiful. As simple as that? Might many of the problems that seem intractable disappear with a re-organization of scale?


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