Would you rather serve a market or a boss?

Here’s an idea to chew on. Hayek argues that you either have to serve a market or a boss, and that the former is preferable.

Man in a complex society can have no choice but between adjusting himself to what to him must seem the blind forces of the social process and obeying the orders of a superior. So long as he knows only the hard discipline of the market, he may well think the direction by some other intelligent human brain preferable; but, when he tries it, he soon discovers that the former still leaves him at least some choice, while the latter leaves him none, and that it is better to have a choice between several unpleasant alternatives than being coerced into one.

From the essay Individualism: True and False in Individualism and Economic Order

5 thoughts on “Would you rather serve a market or a boss?

  1. Depends on the boss and the market. From my experience with customers and bosses, I’d much rather argue with people in the latter position, and of course there are multiple choices in both situations to be argued about. As to “coercion” – a strange choice of words, coming from Hayek; it’s not like bosses threaten their underlings with armed shotguns. Employment is as much a voluntary transaction as any deal with a customer. It’s a nice long-term contract, quite pleasant in terms of the sort of relationships it puts you into, very safe financially. It’s no wonder that it’s the preferred mode of making money for most people.

  2. The whims of the market are far more uncertain than the whims of a company boss. And we humans (like most animals) are risk aversive, for very good reasons. Thus the relative certainty of employment is usually preferable to the uncertainty of entrepreneurship even if the freedom is greater in the latter case.

  3. Trouble is, the market-serving roles are often within (corporate) organizations where there is a boss, and they serve their own purpose, which may or may not reflect the full needs of the market. Employees like engineers serve their customer, and the customer loves them, but their boss has other priorities and issues to pursue, so the customer is not served.

    We have another example in our town … There are a series of money-saving measures which significantly benefit the town as a whole, but are within the purview of a single department head. The department head needs to spend some smaller amount of money to enable the savings, but because the head doesn’t see the savings or get credit for them, is disinclined to spend the monies. These budget silos afflict companies as well, despite their being agents of “free enterprise”. This kind of behavior has nothing to do with markets, but is the nature of organization, a kind of social or economic version of Simpson’s Paradox.

  4. This isn’t true for everyone or I suspect for ever. Professional workers, such as Doctors have patients and peers but here in Europe usually no-one who can tell them how to work and no customers, patients are not customers here.

Comments are closed.