Re: Anarchy and spontaneous order in business and education

Andrea Gallagher (
Wed, 16 Jul 1997 10:30:53 -0700

At 04:45 PM 7/15/97 -0400, YaxWax wrote:
>Most people on this list agree that anarchy has numerous advantages over
>hierarchy, but how far can this go?
>Can we have a spontaneous order in business? Could we destroy the hierarchic
>structure that plagues current business practise and have a looser, more
>anarchic spontaneous order?

There are many people who argue that this is already happening. Tom
Malone, and his MIT Center for Coordination Science (,
think that networked information technology (what we're all usin' here) is
enabling more market-like business structures to replace hierarchical ones.
It's most obvious manifestation is more outsourcing and the rise in
individual consulting, which is what I do. You also see more large
businesses breaking into independant profit&loss units.

>I see this as a possibility, companies could be considered a group of equally
>ranked individuals all serving the same goal. This would be easily
>implemented within creative environments, which will probably dominate in the
>near future due to automation.

Mind you, it might be my management hat talking, but I don't think it will
move in the direction you describe. There may not be bosses and workers,
but there will still be customers and vendors. Think of the independant
consultant model again. When I consult for Company B, the designer or
producer isn't my boss, but they decide what they want me to produce for
them (though likely with advice from me), and if I agree then I am
contractually obligated to produce that. And I want to, because it will
lead to repeat business and a good reputation. On the other hand, if I
have lots of clients and I am not happy with how Comany B worked, then I
can turn them down the next time they have a project.

The idea isn't to eliminate forces and incentives. Right now we have
hierarchical structures that opperate within a market environment. They
say: "we pay you a yearly salary, so you have to do whatever I say or quit
and find another job". (Mind you, here in Silicon Valley, competition for
software professionals is so fierce that the answer to this is often "OK, I
quit".) You could replace the hierarchical structure with a market
structure, where they say "I'll pay you $X for x work, $Y if you do y, and
nothing if you do z, and you get a cut of the profits from A if we finish
it". What you need are systems that allow us to define x, y, and z clearly
enough that disputes can be resolved.

(You also need systems that allow the customer to coordinate the schedules
and products of many different vendors, and to choose between cost and
quality of various potential vendors. That's what Tom talks about.)

>To take this a step further: Could these ideas also be applied to education,
>an anarchic schooling system?

David Friedman has an essay in Machinery of Freedom on a anarcho-capitalist
education system. You should check that out, though it's mostly applied to
college. Personally, I would love to see a world where 18 year olds could
get reasonable jobs without going to annother four years of school.

>I believe this is also possible. Given that pupils have sufficient
>motivation to work, generally they are more likely to work in a looser
>system. Freedom to work at your own pace and to form orders and groups
>spontaneously in order to complete set goals could improve education

You have a bit more faith in this approach than I do. Evaluations of
"Schools without Walls" here in the US have been mixed at best, and hard to
separate from the effect of having higher-quality teachers at the
experimental schools. There are many students who need a fair amount of
structure to acheive, myself included. What I'd rather see is a variety of
types of learning environments, so parents and students could choose the
approach that worked best for them.

What's the hardest problem I see? It's the same one as in the
market-structured company: how do you define the output? Imagine briefly
that schools don't exist to warehouse teenagers and keep them off the
streets in their most violent age period. Instead that diploma is a
certificate that promises that the student has completed the program at a
school with a given reputation, and the transcript describes roughly how
well the student did. This is then used by the student when talking to
potential employers as evidence of their aptitude and knowledge in certain

So, in an anarchic (or market-like) school, what do you have to show the
employers? You need something more consise that the entire portfolio of
work, and you'd like something that helps them rank you in relation to
other applicants. The option our federal government like is to create one
Great Standard Tesk of All Knowledge, but that's likely to dictate how
children are made to learn and doesn't help in specialized fields. I'd
rather start thinking from the employer's perspective, of what they need to
know. Any ideas?