September 20, 2018

Archives for July 5, 2018

The End of the Firm

 

“The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren’t free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smallest details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing — and so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace.”

Bob Black, The Abolition of Work and Other Essays (1985)

Peter Drucker’s famous dictum “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” established math and management as the indisputable co-sovereigns of the modern workplace. As it turns out, Drucker apparently never actually said that[1], but the concept has dominated the workplace since the advent of factories and railroads, telegraphs and electricity. Consider, for example, what it’s like to work at Amazon.

But, while math and management prospered together under the Industrial Revolution’s mechanistic worldview, today’s digitally-driven marketplace demands a freshly-nuanced management style, or in some cases, no management at all. Either idea challenges an even more foundational historical assumption: that commerce is best conducted by a firm that must be managed. Eliminate the firm and you eliminate the need to manage it. Get rid of both, and you have an unimaginably different “description of the modern workplace” than Bob Black wrote about 33 years ago.

Last time, we looked at an article by science writer and artificial intelligence engineer George Zarkadakis called “The Economy Is More A Messy, Fractal Living Thing Than A Machine.” In it, he says this about the firm:

Ever since the invention of the assembly line, corporations have been like medieval cities: building walls around themselves and then trading with other “cities” and consumers. Companies exist because of the need to protect production from volatile market fluctuations, and because it’s generally more efficient to consolidate the costs of getting goods and services to market by putting them together under one roof. So said the British economist Ronald Coase in his paper “The Nature of the Firm” (1937).

“Why do firms exist?” asks Ryan Avent in his book The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-First Century (2016). He provides the same answer as Zarkadakis:

According to a 1937 paper by Nobel Prize-winning economist Ronald Coase, it’s to bring all the necessary people, processes, and information under one roof, instead of contracting it all out. In exchange for the convenience of one-stop shopping, one-size-fits-all, employees trade their independence and the possibility of greater personal market returns for the firm’ management structure and financial capital, which — as long as they conform to the company culture – the way we do things around here — promises to keep them on task and to deliver a paycheck in return.

Today, however, the new “gig economy” is fast making that unimaginable the new normal — and that’s only the beginning, says Zarkadakis:

Now, in an era of Ubers-for-everything, companies are changing into platforms that enable, rather than enact, core business processes. The cost of reaching customers has dropped dramatically thanks to the ubiquity of digital networks, and production is being pushed outside the company wall, on to freelancers and self-employed contractors. Market and price fluctuations have been defanged as machine learning and predictive analytics help companies manage such ructions, and on-demand services for labour, office space and infrastructure allow them to be more responsive to changing conditions. Coase’s theory is nearing its expiry date.

The so-called “gig economy” is only the beginning of a profound economic, social and political transformation. For the moment, these new ways of working are still controlled by old-style businesses models – platforms that essentially sell “trust” via reviews and verification, or by plugging into existing financial and legal systems. Airbnb, eBay and Uber succeed in making money out of other people’s work and assets because they provide guarantees for good seller-buyer behaviour, while connecting to the “old world” of banks, courts and government. But this hybrid model of doing digital business is about to change.

Avent concurs, and describes two key dynamics of the new anti-firm business model, operating culture and rent — how a business gets things done, and whether it owns the kinds of assets it can let others use, for a price:

Current workplace trends are bidding fair to tear down the firm model of operating. If you take employees out from under the firm umbrella — make them mostly freelancers, outsource jobs to countries on the make — then what’s left of value is mostly the company’s way of getting things done and the assets for which it can charge rent, in the economic sense of billing a premium for scarce assets. How assets become scarce becomes an essential policy-making function. These become essential “intangible” or “social” capital, replacing “human” capital.]

We’ll be talking more about social capital, rent, and other changing dynamics of the workplace.


[1] According to the Drucker Institute, he never did. And see this Forbes article for a rousing condemnation of the idea.

 

Kevin Rhodes writes about individual growth and cultural change, drawing on insights from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, psychology, and personal experience, including his own unique journey to wellness — dealing with primary progressive MS through an aggressive regime of exercise, diet, and mental conditioning. Check out his latest LinkedIn Pulse article: “Rolling the Rock: Lessons From Sisyphus on Work, Working Out, and Life.”

Colorado Court of Appeals: Child Care Center Not Eligible for Property Tax Exemptions

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Children’s Hospital Colorado v. Property Tax Administrator on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Child Care Center—Property Tax—Exemption—Sliding Scale—Charitable Purpose.

Children’s Hospital Colorado (the Hospital) owns and operates a child care facility (the Center) on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical School (CU Anschutz) campus. The Center provides child care to constituents of the Hospital and CU Anschutz as an employee benefit. The Center has a written tuition assistance policy that gives all families with an income below 150% of the federal poverty level a flat 10% discount. It also provides a flat 5% discount for siblings of enrolled children, regardless of the family’s income. The Hospital filed an application for exemption from property tax for the Center, which the Division of Property Tax considered under the charitable purposes exemption, C.R.S. § 39-3-108(1)(a), and an exemption for qualified child care centers, C.R.S. § 39-3-110. The Property Tax Administrator denied the application, and the Board of Assessment Appeals (BAA) upheld the order.

On appeal, the Hospital argued that the BAA exceeded its authority in interpreting C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) to conclude that the Center’s tuition discount policy did not qualify the Center for an exemption under that section. It argued that the BAA misinterpreted the rule regarding the definition of “charges on the basis of ability to pay.” C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) requires that the Center charge for its services based on the recipient’s ability to pay. Here, the family tuition reduction policy was based solely on whether a family’s income falls above or below the federal poverty line; it was not a scale that provides a range of tuition options, and it did not account for more than one factor in determining a family’s ability to pay. Similarly, the sibling discount is provided regardless of income or another factor indicating ability to pay. The BAA properly interpreted C.R.S. § 39-3-110(1)(e) to conclude that the Center’s tuition discount policy did not qualify as offering services “on the basis of ability to pay.”

The Hospital also contended that the BAA erred by finding that the Center is not operated for strictly charitable purposes. Here, the Center was operating for a business purpose—providing an employee benefit and recruitment tool—and not for a charitable purpose. Additionally, the Center did not benefit an indefinite number of persons and did not lessen the burdens of government. Therefore, it was not operated strictly for charitable purposes, as required by C.R.S. § 39-3-108(1).

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Sex Offender Registration Act Requires Registry for Individuals with More than One Conviction for Unlawful Sexual Behavior

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. McCulley on Thursday, June 28, 2018.

Sexual Assault—Deferred Judgment—Plea Agreement—Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act—Petition for Removal from Registry.

Defendant pleaded guilty to one count of second degree sexual assault and one count of third degree sexual assault and entered into a plea agreement. Among other things, the plea agreement provided that the trial court would dismiss the felony charge once defendant complied with his deferred judgment. A condition of the deferred judgment was that defendant register as a sex offender pursuant to the Colorado Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA). Defendant completed his deferred judgment and the felony charge was dismissed. Years later, defendant filed a petition to discontinue the requirement that he register as a sex offender. The trial court denied the motion.

On appeal, defendant argued that the trial court erred by construing the term “conviction” under SORA to include a successfully completed deferred judgment. SORA’s plain language provides that the term “conviction” as used in C.R.S. § 16-22-113(3)(c) includes a successfully completed deferred judgment.

The order was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: Unpublished Opinions, 7/3/2018

On Tuesday, July 3, 2018, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued two published opinions and four unpublished opinions.

Gunn v. Gordon

United States v. Crawford

N.E.L. v. Douglas County

United States v. Kemp

Case summaries are not provided for unpublished opinions. However, some published opinions are summarized and provided by Legal Connection.