August 31, 2012

Democracy at work

Posted in Society at 09:35 by graham

Most people reading this will be lucky enough to live in a democratic society. You may even consider democracy to be the only ethically legitimate form of government. It is a fair form of government. Nine out of the ten most powerful countries in the world (all except China) have some form of representative democracy, so we can assume it is a very effective way to run a country.

For all the good that we purport to think of democratic systems, most of us spend most of our lives not in a democratic system, but in a power hierarchy. Our businesses and organisations are run as social hierarchies, each person nearer the top of the pyramid having power over those lower down.

When your new manager was hired, did you and your fellow employees get a vote? If you are some way up the pyramid, were you elected there? Most likely, you were appointed by someone who remains above you in the hierarchy.

Most managerial roles combine an administrative function with a supervisory one. Administrative duties do need to be carried out. Motivated employees do not need to be supervised; they naturally supervise themselves.

Our organisations and businesses look like they are modeled on a form of meritocratic feudalism.

Why this difference between the structure of our societies and our organisations? At least one of the two is being run in a less than perfect manner. Should we re-create our national government as a feudal meritocracy? Or should we run our organisations as representative democracies?


  1. graham said,

    January 17, 2013 at 07:34

    @Swetha: Thanks for much for telling me about that. It’s fixed now.

  2. Pandu said,

    January 17, 2013 at 01:54 this URL is not working. Can you please bring it up. I use this everyday for my work.

    Appreciate your Help!


  3. jose said,

    September 3, 2012 at 09:01

    my new boss have sex with the owner is that democracy : )

  4. Bob said,

    September 1, 2012 at 03:40

    Looking at past history, it appears that any type of power hierarchy can work and work well. Given the right people at the top. All have problems and all have advantages, but it all comes down to the leaders.

  5. Rick Dillon said,

    August 31, 2012 at 18:23

    I think you present a false dichotomy. Methodologies for structuring human interaction vary along many axes; one of them is scalability.

    Nuclear families are not run as a democracy, and it would be foolish to do so. Medium sized groups, like companies and even cities are often bound by circumstances or values that make power hierarchies work effectively. But at very large scale, where the population is very diverse (some sizable fraction of humanity as a whole), democracy works best, not because the system inherently produces better policies (it may), but because it is a system for creating buy-in from citizens. It’s more an issue of perception than of reality, and living under a system that drives consensus is perhaps the most important benefit democracy can give us.

    At small scale, the costs of running a democracy would outweigh the benefits (for example, using it in a company, as you suggest). As companies scale up and become publicly owned, you do find that the stockholders use a form of representative democracy to address high-level policy issues, so scalability does seem have an effect on which forms of government are most effective.

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