Iron Laws and Moral Mazes

Placeholder for consideration of Moral Mazes, principle agents problems, collective action problems etc.

Zvi‘s Moral mazes summary, and Conclusion/contemporary pertinence again:

What has made these mazes so much more powerful than in the past?

Some factors are real and inevitable. We need more large organizations for our civilization to function, than did prior civilizations, and in many ways they get to better leverage big data. machine learning and the internet, giving them an edge. As we grow safer and wealthier, our demand for the illusion of security rises, and mazes are relatively better positioned to provide that illusion.

There are many other reasons that are less real, and less inevitable. We protect organizations from disruption, especially in times of crisis. We see rent seeking of all kinds as increasingly legitimate. Mazes have gotten sufficiently powerful to cause a vicious cycle, as mazes reward and support other mazes and structure things to favor mazes. Our laws and regulations favor mazes over non-mazes, far beyond what is necessary due to civilizational complexity. Our educational system trains people for the maze, so much so that the people have largely forgotten what mazes are and what the alternative to them might be. We have been so atomized, and their ordinary human needs so delegitimized, that we do not see what we are giving up.

What might we do to change things for the better? Regulatory reform, health care reform, tort reform, ending corporate welfare or even forcibly breaking up large corporations would help. So would educating people on what mazes are and the dangers they pose, especially to their employees. We could work to change consumer behavior, to lower the status and aura of legitimacy of mazes and those who work for them. And we could work to lower demand for the illusion of security.

For a given project, the best defense is to focus on the core elements, and thus do less things and be smaller, while minimizing interaction with other mazes. One should also seek separately to minimize levels of hierarchy, provide skin in the game and soul in the game, and be extremely careful with people. Hire, promote, evaluate and fire them with a keen eye. Anyone making you more like a maze needs to go, no matter how painful that is. You must fight for your institutional culture.

Graeber, David. 2014. “What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?” The Baffler. June 12, 2014. https://thebaffler.com/salvos/whats-the-point-if-we-cant-have-fun.

Hubbard, Douglas W. 2014. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business. 3 edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.

Jackall, Robert. 2009. Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers. Updated edition. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press.

Lorenz, Chris. 2014. “Fixing the Facts: The Rise of New Public Management, the Metrification of ‘Quality’ and the Fall of the Academic Professions.” Moving the Social 52: 5–26. https://doi.org/10.13154/mts.52.2014.5-26.

Taberner, Andrea Mary. 2018. “The Marketisation of the English Higher Education Sector and Its Impact on Academic Staff and the Nature of Their Work.” International Journal of Organizational Analysis 26 (1): 129–52. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJOA-07-2017-1198.