Unexpectedly Intriguing!
July 9, 2007

Arnold Kling's post entitled "Low Trust Society" got us thinking with his description of how academics view the role of supervisors in business:

The difference is that [Douglass] North sees supervisors and others as adding value. They enable property rights to function, leading to more efficient production. In the Bowles-Jayadev model, supervisors serve the function of expropriating the work of productive labor.

If [Samuel] Bowles and [Arjun] Jayadev are right, then supervision does not increase output. That would imply a profit opportunity for firms that leave workers less supervised, or for workers who become self-employed. It would seem to me that if my boss does nothing but steal my output, then I ought to quit and become my own boss.

It seems to us that there might be an easy way to test which worldview is correct. What we need is for the managers within a business to stop working altogether. In effect, the supervisors need to go on strike for an extended period of time, just like labor unions do!

Meanwhile, all other employees within a business should continue working as they did before but, like labor unions who work under the terms of agreements that include no-strike clauses, only within the work structures and rules defined by their agreements. That way, no one could move into the role of supervisors.

Then it would just be a matter of comparing the business' productive output before and after the managers went on strike. Even better, if we stretch the managers' strike on for years, we could see how the business would fare without supervisors in the face of substantial changes in the markets in which the business participates.

And we could even bring the managers back to see what effect they might have after a long absence - once again comparing before and after!

Come on managers of the world! Unite! Let's see the impact of your role in business! Let's find out just how critical you are - unionize now and strike!

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