This article should be mandatory reading to all capitalists or “vulgar libertarians”: Hierarchy or the Market. Some extracts:
Necessarily, therefore, the absentee owners must resort to the expedients of hierarchy and top-down authority to elicit effort from a workforce with no rational interest in maximizing its own productivity. Oliver Williamson’s concept of “satisficing” is relevant here. Workers have an interest in maintaining just enough productivity to keep their jobs and increasing it enough to earn whatever limited administrative rewards are available, but no rational interest in maximizing it per se, because any additional increase in produc-tivity beyond the minimum will likely be appropriated by management.
Hierarchy necessarily results in the divorce of effort from reward, and of productive knowledge from authority. Each rung of authority interferes in the efforts of those who know more about what they’re doing; each rung of authority receives only information filtered from below based on what it wants to hear; and each rung of authority is accountable only to those higher up the chain of command who are even more unaccountable and out of touch with reality. The hierarchy, in short, is a textbook illustration of the zero-sum situation that results from substituting power for market relations.
The obvious solution, the worker cooperative, would—by uniting know-ledge with authority and reward with effort—slice through the overwhelming majority of the hierarchical corporation’s knowledge and agency problems, like a sword through the Gordian knot. The distributed knowledge of those engaged in production would be applied directly to the production process on their own authority, without the intervention of suggestion boxes and “quality improvement committees.” The problem of socially engineering the wages and benefits system so as to “encourage people to work” would disappear; the elimination of privilege and unearned income, and the receipt by labor of its full product, would tie reward directly to effort.
But this solution is ruled out by the system’s structural starting assumptions: concentrated wealth and absentee ownership. So the hierarchical corporation is adopted as a sort of Rube Goldberg expedient, the most rational means available given fundamentally irrational presuppositions.