Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Marxists

[another post pertaining to a WAAGNFNP discussion.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I first began to have significant contact with people in the actual business world was how many of them were Marxists.

Not that they were hankering for the revolution, mind you, nor expecting the establishment of the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Indeed, they very much wanted to avoid having the "workers of the world unite." But they had bought into the entire theory of exploitation and class warfare. In fact, they thought it their jobs to exploit workers for the good of the company, or more accurately, for the good of themselves.

Once you get this sort of mindset going, you get all sorts of pernicious effects. Replacing high-wage workers with low wage workers or replacing a receptionist with a security badge lock on the door, those become the goal, whether or not it actually adds to profitability. Now I admit, often the accounting makes it look like you've saved money doing these things, but often you've just replaced a fully accounted cost with a hidden cost, such as the reduction in security and convenience that goes with getting rid of the receptionist, or the increased management overhead that happens when you outsource the job to Bangalore.

Investors and market analysts also hold to the Marxist theory. They look at a company, suggest that it has too many workers, and hold the price down until the firm lays off some large fraction of its work force. Often, this actually causes substantial loses to the firm, alibied by saying that the "write-offs" are "short term" and the "restructuring" will lead to long term profitability. Of course these are untestable theories; if the company instead goes into a death spiral because it lost the workers that were needed to continue the organization, the investment analysts instead blame the firm for not having laid off the workers soon enough.

But these action do have a more general effect: that of continuing the ongoing "commodification" of labor. Managers hate to be in the situation of selling commodities, but they love to be in the position of purchasing commodities, especially when the commodity is labor. It’s much easier to manage people who are afraid of losing their jobs, much easier to negotiate when you’ve got the threat of moving the factory to Mexico.

Yet I have seen, time after time, poor management decisions bailed out by the quality of labor expended, where a damn fool plan managed to scrape by because the people tasked with carrying out the plan were smart and flexible and managed to invent work-arounds and clever schemes for bailing the thing out. Of course it was still the managers who took the credit for success, and who blamed underlings when something failed. The phrase "kiss up, kick down" certainly rang the bell, didn't it?

I've also known quite a few good managers in my time. I respect the job enough to have tried to avoid managerial responsibility practically every time it has been offered to me. I don't have the temperment and dedication to be a good manager, and I don't have the stomach to be a bad one. I do know that the most important thing about good management is that it is not bad management, and that the class-war managers I've encountered have been among the very worst.

2 comments:

Oaktown Girl said...

[another post pertaining to a WAAGNFNP discussion.

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