A Hopeful Tale

Wretchard writes that all powers may be collapsing, ‘a failure not of this or that hegemony but of hegemony itself.’


james said...

Good point. When a system gets complex, so does communication, until it exceeds the scale humans can comprehend. You can try to encapsulate/federalize (object oriented government?) but that's anathema to the centralizers. And even then you can't control the side effects.

David Foster said...

When communications was limited by technology and geography, some degree of decentralization was inherent...send a fleet from England to go intercept the Spanish in the South Seas, you're going to have to give the admiral in charge a lot of authority. When communications allows instant communications, there is a strong temptation to control everything from the (supposedly-wiser) center. It requires conscious decision and self-discipline to create decentralization.

The problems with central control can sometimes be seen in business inventory-control systems, as in the case of a chain store in South Florida that had snow blowers on sale...evidently, a 'push' inventory system had decided what was needed, without any consultation with local management. The current vogue for 'big data' and AI is likely to make this phenomenon worse.

Mike Guenther said...

Vis a vis your second paragraph.

A major corporation my former employer does work for, does that. Store managers have no autonomy whatsoever.

One instance was when a regional manager was inspecting progress on the remodel project and the store manager was arguing that his way was better.

The regional asked the store manager what his name was, then walked outside and looked at the marque above the door.

He walked back in and asked the manager his name again. Then he said...This is a ___ store, not a Sal's ___ store. Do it my way or find another job.

They did the same things in stores they had in Montana as they did for stores in South Florida.

Anonymous said...

Mike G. Lowe's did that when the started up in my corner of the world. And wondered why plants for Texas (Galveston/Houston/San Antonio) died of the cold before they could be sold. At least in this case, the Big Chain learned that the local manager might have a point.


Dad29 said...

It is interesting for Wretchard to speak of the collapse of hegemony without a whisper about the reaction from 'leaders' when things appear to be escaping their control, no?

That will not be a peaceful, calm, exit.

Grim said...

Yugoslavia is an option.

Grim said...

But then again, so is Albania.

David Foster said...

When you couple systems together into a larger system, you do usually get benefits. But you also tend to make the resulting larger system more fragile. See my post Coupling:


Christopher B said...

If you read some discussions of the causes of the First World War, it becomes pretty evident that a significant part of the problem is failures of diplomatic communication, both intentional and unintentional.

The Chieftain (Nicolas Moran) has suggested that a significant part of the failure of the French in 1940 was their failure to use radio, and even telephonic, communication and excessive reliance on written orders in a fluid situation.

David Foster said...

Christopher B..."he Chieftain (Nicolas Moran) has suggested that a significant part of the failure of the French in 1940 was their failure to use radio, and even telephonic, communication and excessive reliance on written orders in a fluid situation." Yes, I think that is correct. Also, there was a mental rigidity at the top of the command structure.

Andre Beaufre was in 1940 a young captain on the French staff. When he was first promoted to a staff position…

"I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial."

This description is frighteningly parallel to the way that all too many organizations operate in America today.

Interestingly, during the 1940 campaign, Matisse asked his friend Picasso: “But what about our generals, what are they doing?”

Picasso’s response was “Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!”…ie, men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.

Completely parallel with captain (later, after the war, a general) Beaufre's observation.

Dad29 said...

What is discussed here is the loss of the Principle of Subsidiarity, I think. That principle works regardless of its environment, whether commercial, ecclesial, or governmental.

Once the power of decision-making is reserved entirely to the highest level of governance, the structure will fail. (That's not a factor in very small organizations, of course.)

Abandoning the 9th and 10th Amendments has consequences.

David Foster said...

Yes...Subsidiarity is key. The behavior of an organization of any size is, I believe, very closely tied to the internal structure of that organization and the degree to which it implements the principle of Subsidiarity.

Too much modern thinking about organizational management consists of feel-good and pseudo-social-science mush...check out LinkedIn for examples...rather than hard thinking about the realities of organization design.