How the Power Imbalance of Capitalist Workplaces Makes Crappier Products.
You can't make the best cellphone without collaboration. And Capitalism kills collaboration.
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Pro-Capitalist ideologues often claim that the Capitalist structure creates the best products for consumers. According to this theory, because companies exist in a state of never-ending market competition, they are always improving their products to out-sell competitors. Theoretically, this process yields the best phones, cars, water bottles, and other consumer goods and services for use by the general public.
There are many flaws in free-market theory (dive into the JoeWrote archives if you’d like to learn about them), but this is one of the most glaring examples in which it fails to meet reality. At no point does this theory account for Capitalism’s inherent power imbalance between workers and managers, which inevitably harms the quality potential of the goods and services produced by Capitalist workplaces.
By definition, Capitalist workplaces are hierarchies. At the top of a company is the owner(s), who decides the company’s direction by hiring a CEO and other executives to enact their will. At the bottom of the company are the workers, who must do what they’re told. Between the level of “Chief (Something) Officers” and the lowly workers are the middle managers. These are the people who brush elbows with the workers in the day-to-day operation of the company, overseeing them and contributing to their work as needed. In fast food restaurants, these middle managers would be the shift supervisors, at construction sites they’re the foremen, and in white-collar workplaces, they’re often called “people managers.”
And while middle managers frequently collaborate with the workers to complete tasks, workers and managers are not “coworkers.” Because these middle managers hold structural power over the workers (they can fire them, reassign them, cut their hours, and ultimately have the final say on their decisions) tasks completed by groups of workers and managers are seldom true collaborations.
If you’ve ever done some form of team-based problem-solving (I’m sure everyone has at some point), you know that the best solutions come when a group is able to work collaboratively. Everyone brings their ideas to the table for them to be debated, iterated, and improved. Ultimately, the best approach is adopted, which is usually some combination of the team members’ ideas. This method of problem-solving works whether it’s a Survivor group trying to win a challenge or a team of engineers attempting to build a better version of the iPhone. Wherever collaboration is allowed to thrive, positive results ensue. Alternatively, wherever it is suppressed, the final result is likely to be pitiful.
And yet, the hierarchical nature of Capitalist companies prevents the full power of this problem-solving from taking place. As one member of the group, the middle manager, has firing power over the others, it is only natural that their ideas are less frequently critiqued than others’. This leads to a breakdown in the collaborative nature of problem-solving, and, to the detriment of all, a sub-optimal product being introduced into society.
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