Decentralization & Hierarchy


Richard Moore

(Bcc: some colleagues)

1/22/2001, Richard N Hutchinson wrote to social-movements:
    > And whether "effective decentralized counter-measures" are
    possible to the end of totally wiping out hierarchy remains
    an open question.

Yes, this is the open question, and it's an important one.

Your intuition and experience tells you that hierarchy is
efficient, and that it may be necessary.

My intuition and experience leads me to suspect that
decentralization is actually more efficient, besides
providing political advantages.  At the same time, I fear
you may be right.

Instead of trying to 'prove' one case or the other, permit
me to suggest that we examine the problem together, and see
what we can learn.

    > ...large complex societies evolve specialized bodies to
    make things work.  (Increasing size leads to increasing

Yes, specialization and differentiation are necessary and
desirable - in any society. And by the way, societies have
had these things for thousands of years (blacksmiths,
millers, tillers, priests), not just in modern complex
societies. And every ecosystem is characterized by
specialization and differentiation, and yet it is not
hierarchical.  I think this point is neutral with respect to
answering our question.  Specialization and differentiation
can play their role in either a hierarchical or a
decentralized context.

    > We egalitarians don't like hierarchy and stratification,
    but most of us also don't like inefficiency at levels that
    prevent social functioning.  This seems to be the trade-off.
If hierarchies are indeed more efficient, then we have a
hard choice to make - between self-rule and efficiency.  But
_is hierarchy more efficient?  And _is decentralization
inefficient?  Is your judgement here more than intuitive? 
What is the evidence?  In "Small is Beautiful", the author
talks about his experience in the British coal industry, and
his observations speak to an inherent _inefficiency in large

Let's take the example of a highway department.  In our
societies today, the goal of highway building is actually a
function of increasing petroleum consumption - an important
part of maintaining economic growth.  Because of this,
highway departments are given all kinds of authority to
override local interests.

One could have the same highway department, with the same
staff, and it could be constrained to follow local
preferences when laying out routes.  I don't see why a
'specialized agency' requires hierarchical decision making.


1/23/2001, Vigdor Schreibman wrote to rkm:
    > You make it look so very natural, Richard, to  secure and
    maintain a non-hierarchical society but our present
    situation was driven by massive pressures of population and
    complexities of technology, molded into deeply embedded
    ideologies and religions unknown to the primitive world of
    egalitarian hunter gatherers.  These historical pressures
    must now be resisted and turned back but this cannot be done
    without recognizing the profound differences in the setting
    for an egalitarian existence and discovering methods which
    might in our situation.
        > Your text does not define the setting accurately nor  
    the essential strategy.  It will not be credible, as a
    consequence, I fear.

Dear Vigdor,

Many thanks for reviewing the Manifesto, and I'm glad you
found so much to agree with.  I'm also glad that I 'made it
look natural'... the purpose of that section was not to
prove anything, but simply to open people's minds to
_considering the feasibility of decentralization.

No I did not define the setting sufficiently, and I hope we
can fix that.  Your help is appreciated.

You make the assumption, above, that hierarchy was 'driven
by massive pressures of population and complexities of
technology'.  I question this assumption.  Let me give an
anecdotal historical example.  I don't recall exactly when
or where this was, but there was a time and a place when
everyone had their own milling wheel, and they'd grind their
own grain.  It was an efficient little device, and did the
job just fine.  Then the lord of the manor built himself a
water-driven mill, went around and smashed everyone's little
wheel, and decreed that all grain must be milled, for a
price, at his mill.

This had nothing to do with efficiency, or with complexity -
it was simply a case of coercively-enforced centralization
and monopolization of the means of production.  The
'efficiency' involved was only the efficiency with which
centralization facilitated exploitation.

Similarly, when Safeway decides to capture a new grocery
market, it comes in and sells things at a loss until the
local competition crumbles.  Perhaps a big grocery chain can
offer a few pennies off per pound, but that little increment
of efficiency is not needed by society - much more benefit
goes to the central operator than to the community by this
kind of centralization.  If you do an overall calculation,
including for example lower wages and smaller staff in large
supermarkets, compared to many small shops, the community
suffers a net economic loss by admitting large operators.

Similary, it is not the complexity of international trade
that brought about the WTO.  The WTO was created in order to
facilitate centralized control, not to serve any legitimate
societal need.

The question we are investigating is of critical importance
to our future.  I invite people to help shed light on the