Our small company, basically an all-Unix (mostly Linux) shop, was recently acquired by a much larger, famous company. The nature of the acquirer makes it politically imperative that we now switch all day-to-day operations as much as possible to Windows. Instead of using OpenOffice and Firefox, we now must use MS Office and IE. Already after only two weeks of usage, it is necessary for me to reinstall MS Office because something has gone wrong with my almost pristine installation. Because of this and a plethora of other minor annoyances, it is apparent to my officemate and me that our day-to-day computing environment has degraded.
It is remarkable, when you think of it, that entirely volunteer efforts in the form of the Linux kernel, the KDE desktop environment, OpenOffice, and Firefox, have managed to beat a multi-billion dollar company at its own game in terms of quality of product--fewer crashes, more features, easier to use. Now I don't want to get into the old Windows vs. Linux argument. Linux isn't right for everybody, and the Windows monopoly ties most users to the single vendor, but for our needs there is a clear superiority. How could this be?
The answer becomes clear when one observes the inner workings of the modern American corporation (and I doubt very much they're any better elsewhere). Managers who can't do are rampant. Because they can't do, they are extremely keen to be seen ordering other folks about—they need visible slaves in other words—because how else can they justify their exorbitant salaries? Competition, as preached in Econ 101, never really emerges because barriers to entry are simply too great to allow someone else to easily build up exactly this level of expertise. There is thus, quite contrary to economic theory, no corrective mechanism. Employees are treated poorly and they have no real recourse except to quit. They don't really want to quit—it's not quite bad enough for that—but they are disgruntled and disheartened. Micromanaged by people who don't know what they are doing but are never held accountable for the failure of the projects, the dejected employees produce the least possible. The projects are never on time and money is lost but it doesn't matter because the quasi-monopoly keeps the money rolling in no matter what. No one dare call the CEO on the carpet because they dare not lose their jobs. The feedback loop is destroyed and the CEO is making decisions using false information. The whole ship is steered in the wrong direction.
Though the above is a description of my little company, it applies equally well to any number of companies I have either worked at or observed. Though any discussion of modern corporations usually degenerates quickly into arguments pro- and anti-socialism—the assumption being that if you criticize anything at all you must desire total government control of every aspect of our lives— the truth is that they do deserve a lot of criticism. A lot of them are unbelievably bad, bad at motivating their employees, bad at serving their customers, bad at delivering on their promises. Managers don't manage for the good of the stockholders; they are almost always concerned solely with lining their own pockets, which they generally manage to do quite well. The vast majority of the employees end up leading lives of quiet desperation. There is absolutely no recourse allowed them in this system other than quitting, only to view the prospect of going somewhere else, probably an even worse place.
Practically everyone in the country has been able to see GM's demise since at least 30 years ago, but like a slow-motion train wreck GM has obstinately refused to change any of its failing policies. Having Hillary Clinton order all the companies about personally with her 5 year plan isn't going to solve the problem. But the libertarian approach of simply turning everyone loose to "negotiate" their proper positions isn't realistic either. It's depressing because it is such a colossal waste of talent and money. Is there no other way?
Michael Oren: An inconvenient truth
49 minutes ago