Command and control

Linda EvangelistaI loved Tim Hartford’s column in the Weekend Financial Times Think like a supermodel to wrest control of the gig economy. While his provocative headline referenced the challenges facing Uber and TaskRabbit ‘independent contractors’ who have a ways to go until they can face up to their digital masters with the same insouciance as the supermodel who states she would not ‘wake up for less than $10,000 a day’, it was his comments on the nature of the modern corporation that held my attention.

Hartford quotes the British econmist Ronald Coase who wrote back in 1937 about the strange contradiction between the world companies operate in and how they are organized internally:

…while corporations competed within a competitive marketplace, corporations themselves were not markets. They were hierarchies. If you work for a company, you don’t allocate your time to the highest bidder. You do what your boss tells you; she does what her boss tells her.

The rise in the number of freelancers has had no effect on the command-and-control organization of work within the firm.

The challenge for freelancers is that rewards are given based on scarcity and bargaining power. So while Linda Evangelista might not get up for less than ten grand, the average Uber driver does not have anything like the same bargaining power.

Hartford speculates on the possibility innovative online tools that turn the tables:

… it is not too hard to imagine a world in which skilled workers wrest back control using open-source software agents, join electronic guilds or unions and enjoy a serious income alongside unprecedented autonomy.

One aspect of my fantasy about life as a Medieval Speechwriter that I missed was the possibility that those scriveners would have formed a guild to protect their craft.

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