Biologists tell us that life is not the result of the carbon-based matter of which we are composed but of the organization of that matter. For example, none of the atoms or molecules or neurons in our brains are conscious, but the ways they are connected and organized results in consciousness as an emergent property.
Biological systems and economic systems have many shared characteristics, and the influence of organization on system outcomes is one of them.
The organization of firms in our system of economic production may be becoming dysfunctional. Instead of a network of highly productive entrepreneurial innovators driving betterment and economic growth, some sectors of the economy are witnessing new forms of more concentrated organization in which dominant large corporations command outsize shares of transactions, revenues and profits.
Why is this a problem? We can identify at least two consequences of this trend. One is the emergence of what Ludwig von Mises called in Human Action “a salaried managerial oligarchy”. Such an organization is the opposite of what drives innovation and growth. What Mises calls “the marvelous achievements of corporate business” are determined by the entrepreneur who decides “without any managerial interference” where to employ capital and how much capital to employ. These are “the essential decisions which are instrumental in the conduct of business. They always fall upon the entrepreneur”.
The second, related, consequence is the build-up of bureaucracy in large corporations. These bureaucratic structures are counter-productive – i.e. their purpose is not to increase productivity but to constrain it. Much of the bureaucracy results from a response to or is a requirement of government intervention. A lot of the bureaucratic activity falls under the heading of compliance, i.e. confirming the corporate subordination to government regulation and interventions. The rest of the “woke” HR internal policy making is similarly driven by government requirements for demonstrated alignment with so-called social justice policies.
A more entrepreneurial organization of the economy around smaller, innovation-focused firms could result in less waste of resources and people by eliminating or reducing the total incidence of bureaucracy. We could also expect less lobbying for government favors (another form of wasted resources and effort), and less corporatism (the tendency for government and corporations to converge in counter-productive activities such as surveillance and anti-competitive lawmaking).
On the positive side, we could also expect that more entrepreneurial organization will produce a shift back to consumer sovereignty, the positive feedback process whereby consumer perception of value determines what goods and services are produced. Government and their corporate allies would rather believe that they know better what consumers should value, and would like to enforce their superior knowledge by limiting consumer choice. Healthcare and health insurance are a good example: an unholy alliance of big corporations and big government leaves consumers with an artificially narrow set of choices at artificially high prices. The energy sector is analogous to healthcare; the recent Texas blackouts provided an example of regulated corporations in alliance with their government controllers reducing the available options to the degree that the constrained power supply was unable to meet demand at a critical time. Entrepreneurs exist to ensure that supply meets demand, and the government-corporate failure in Texas was a particularly egregious example of how this feedback loop can break down.
The economy is a network of trust relationships. We can’t create complex, durable networks of cooperation unless the contracts between the customers and firms who are cooperating are fair and inclusive and engender trust. People are beginning to suspect that the contracts with big business corporations are unfair. Facebook, Google, and others take individuals’ personal data and re-sell it in different forms without compensating the individual who generated it in the first place. Amazon offers a platform to third-party sellers then uses the learning obtained to under-price them or undermine them through the use of corporate economic power. Energy providers conspire with government to limit user choices and drive up prices.
In an entrepreneurially organized economy, we’d base exchange on fairer contracts that are more innovative, more dynamic, and more inclusive in terms of sharing the gains of growth, and we’d create positive networks or positive feedbacks, where fairness and inclusiveness lead to more cooperation in the system. We’d put simpler – less corporately bureaucratic – pieces together to generate responsively dynamic behavior in economic systems. The crony capitalism of big government-entangled corporations has damaged the idea of fair economic contracts and thus has actually harmed the positive consumer feedback loop. This reduces trust, thereby reducing capitalism’s capacity to innovate and reducing capitalism’s capacity to create progress. Instead, it has created a system that rewards rent-seeking and value extraction rather than value creation.