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Economies of Scale and Diminishing Marginal Return

  1. Jun 27, 2010 #1
    Much recent economic efficiencies have come from economies of scale and specialization of labour.


    but at what point is there diminishing marginal return. The more people we have the more tasks can be broken down into smaller and smaller units. Engineering goes from becoming a craft to an intellectual production job by automating it though work processes. This drains the creativity out of engineering until it becomes a soulless cog in the corporate machine. But the corporate machine is an artifact of the past. The more complex the work process become and the interfaces between disciplines there are, the more disconnected the people at the top become with what people do on the ground floor.

    When corporations become too large, the job of the person at the top becomes less and less about making specific business and design decisions and becomes more about managing the culture which fosters the success of the company. A corporation becomes a cultural entity who's success is dependent upon not only the fundamentals of it's business but also on how well the corporate culture adapts to the technical and market realities. When this culture fails to promote good decisions the corporation fails and some times with drastic consequences that extend well beyond the company itself.

    Corporate cultures are directed from the top down but at each level, from management to the ground floor their is further direction and a unique response. These responses aren't always positive. All companies have a cultural momentum and trying to change company culture to quickly can foster negative attitudes which will hinder the success of the company. Hence, to some extent corporations are inflexible and slow to adapt.

    Cultural change often comes though fads. Fads are ideas which quickly propagate. Successful fads often provide people with what they think are easy answers and they are believable because they have sufficient commonality with the ideology of the social groups though which the fads propagate. Corporations embrace the fads as the new paradigms of success. Well a fad may embody some collective wisdom, it can also embody collective myths. Fads hider flexibility because they are bound to much common ideology. Additional because fads often oversimplify complex problems when taken to the absurd can have drastic results where people forgo common sense choices in the name of strictly following corporate policies and ideology.

    Therefore while larger and larger corporations can better tackle larger enterprises by greater specialization and division of labour as their size increases they become harder and harder to mange, more ridged and slower to adapt. Large inflexible entities are the opposite of what we want in an adaptive innovative economy. Not only do these corporations hinder flexibility though their size but they create large barriers to entry for enterprises which are capital intensive.

    There will become a point where this top down style of corporate government will become too unwieldy to handle the scale of future enterprises. Corporation size is not the only bottleneck to future productivity. Our educational model is severely outdated as well. We still heavily promote the institutions of university which are based on giving a broad educational foundation. This approach may help to provide innovation but it does not make people immediately useful in the highly specialized corporate world and this education comes to both students and governments at a great cost.

    Additionally, greater specialization and division of labour requires people living at more and more densely populated urban environments. As people cram tighter and tighter into these areas the cost of living continues to increase and consequently the value of the specialized labour must also increase in proportion to avoid diminishing return. These increased costs are the cost of transportation, housing food and entertainment.

    In conclusion, in order to counter the the diminishing marginal return of economies of scale it is necessary to rethink many of our economic systems. The systems we must rethink include corporate government, education, housing and transportation.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 28, 2010 #2
    The problem isn't that marginal returns are going to diminish at some level of production. It is that the complexity of specialization and division becomes itself an increasing proportion of the drain on energy and other resources. Additionally, because increasing economies of scale makes it possible to produce greater quantities of more commodities, the complexity of everyday life and consumption increases, which propels the profit industry by always producing more scarcity - but the big picture is that enormous amounts of natural resources and energy are being used and individuals and systems are becoming increasingly interdependent on processes beyond their control.

    The social problems of anomie and alienation that result from increasing complexity and increasing separation between nodes in supply chains should be a greater concern than Malthusian catastrophe. The economy destroys itself by engaging in a war of profit competition where any number of industries/businesses has sufficient control over certain nodes in various supply chains or everyday consumption to squeeze everyone else's budgets by demanding an ever-increasing share of GDP. Natural resource shortages are not strangling anyone but rather people are strangling each other in competition for the dream of controlling scarcity that no longer exists.

    The scarcity that does exist is nothing more than a product of people trying to buy their freedom to get out of a rat race whose goal is to keep people working as long as possible in order to control them and create a collective culture of work that ensures an ample supply of services for people who no longer can imagine service-independence because they have come to take service-utilization as nothing less than a need and a lifestyle of constant consumption.

    The old prediction that automation and industrial efficiency would result in the need to create arbitrary tasks to keep people busy has come true. Only instead of it being obviously useless tasks like one crew digging holes while another comes behind them to fill the holes in, it is instead a culture of short-lived fads and constant consumption of elaborate goods and services that waste labor and resources and keep people working on the next thing. The ability to let go of rationality and perform tasks independently of evaluation of their relative necessity or efficiency becomes a source of sanity. Only the solace found in conforming to various cultures of irrationality results in a docility of mind that makes people ripe for exploitation, which results in widespread cultures of abuse and corruption - most of which go unchallenged because they succeed by garnering widespread support on the basis of nothing more than fear to question what is popular.
  4. Jun 29, 2010 #3
    What are you saying..........that people don't need to wait in a line for the new i-phone or x-box? :eek: (not that I actually own either)
  5. Jul 1, 2010 #4
    I'm not even talking about that superficial level of popularity. I mean more going along with every form of culture generally without evaluating the rationality of it in a general way. It's like when you're wasting loads of time and often gas going around to get different documents and fill in various forms as pre-requisites for some overly elaborate bureaucratic procedure, and you don't even think twice. Worse yet, people probably celebrate the amount of hoop-jumping required as a means to stimulate economic growth. Creating arbitrary work so more people can have more arbitrary jobs doing it to make more arbitrary income to consume arbitrary faddish material fixes, which in turn has the purpose of further stimulating more economic growth. And then, if this wasn't insane enough, people have to fight with and squeeze each other in a competition for who can get more and force others to take less. It's Sadomasochism in the non-sexual sense.
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