Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Bezos vs Burnham - Robber Baron vs Managers

 Well not really; and not just because Burnham isn't a household name. James Burnham authored key insights on "managerialism" and predicted its eventual triumph over capitalism in his 1941 book "The Managerial Revolution," summarized here, but skip ahead 5 minutes (this is a great podcast). George Orwell provided this summary in 1943.

Capitalism is disappearing, but Socialism is not replacing it. What is now arising is a new kind of planned, centralized society which will be neither capitalist nor, in any accepted sense of the word, democratic. The rulers of this new society will be the people who effectively control the means of production: that is, business executives, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, lumped together by Burnham under the name of ‘managers’. These people will eliminate the old capitalist class, crush the working class, and so organize society that all power and economic privilege remain in their own hands. Private property rights will be abolished, but common ownership will not be established. 

What has this got to with Bezos and Amazon? The major corporations are not "owned" but in fact "managed" by managers because ownership is diffuse.  But Bezos' Amazon is actually an old-school robber-baron style capitalist organization contra Burnham. So how did Amazon win against the big  managerial organizations of corporate America?  A colleague of mine said that the key impediment to strategic decision making are politics and indecisiveness, which are hallmarks of managed organizations which have to rely on internal politics to maintain effective control. Even the Walmarts, much less Barnes & Noble, are no match for fast moving corporation under the control of a visionary owner who makes strategic decisions at a speed they cannot match.

Why there aren't there more Amazons? First, I think Amazon will become a managerial corporation. As it does so, it will join the ranks of other corporations in stifling the up and coming competition. To some extent it explains Bezos' politics. He owns the Washington Post, the company paper of federal employees in D.C. He was rabidly anti-Trump, because Trump was a disruptor, even like him, of managerialism, another name for the Deep State. Like those before him, Bezos joins the managerial class because it keeps at bay those competitors might rise to challenge him. Maybe the question isn't how did Bezos win, but why there are so few Bezos? My answer is that the managerial class prevents this through the alliance of business managers and government managers.

The managerial class is currently co-opting the woke revolution as another means of exerting its control over the public, extending its reach further into society. Will there be another Bezos? Not if Bezos has his way.

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