Saturday, March 09, 2013

Strange loops - five years of wondering why our corporate units couldn't cooperate.

Five years ago I tried to figure out why we couldn't share work across our corporate units.

This turned out to be one of those rabbit hole questions. The more I looked, the stranger it got. I knew there was prior work on the question -- but I didn't know the magic words Google needed. Eventually I reinvented enough economic theory to connect my simple question to Coase's 1937 (!) theorem1970s work on 'the theory of the firm', Brad DeLong's 1997 writings on The Corporation as a Command Economy [1], and Akerloff's 'information assymetry'. [2]

Among other things I realized that modern corporations are best thought of as feudal command economies whose strength comes more from their combat capacity and ability to purchase legislators and shape their ecosystems than from goods made or services delivered.

Think of the Soviet Union in 1975.

All of which is, I hope, an interesting review -- but why did I title this 'Strange loop'?

Because I used that term in a 2008 post on how Google search, and especially their (then novel) customized search results, was changing how I thought and wrote. This five year recursive dialog is itself a product of that cognitive extension function.

But that's not the only strange loop aspect.

I started this blog post because today I rediscovered DeLong's 2007 paper [1] as a scanned document. I decided to write about it, so I searched on a key phrase looking for a text version. That search, probably customized to my Gordon-identity [3], returned a post I wrote in 2008. [4]

That's just weird.

 - fn -

[1] Oddly the full text paper is no longer available from Brad's site, but a decent scan is still around.

[2] There are at least two Nobel prizes in Economics in that list, so it's nice to know I was pursuing a fertile topic, albeit decades late.

[3] John Gordon is a pseudonym; Gordon is my middle name.

[4] On the one hand it would be nice if I'd remembered I wrote it. On the other hand I've written well over 10,000 blog posts. 

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1 comment:

Regina Chris said...

You note "Think of the Soviet Union in 1975." One corollary of this is that the large company in its present form, following the precedent of the USSR, could collapse. What are the implications for the benefits such large organizations provide in the US and Canada (high wages, a large share of private R&D, etc.). Perhaps one reason for the current popular mistrust of counterbalances to big corporations (unions, government) is that the structure of corporations is changing and these other players haven't yet found a way to adapt....