The Government of the United States

I have heard many US Americans complain about the Government here and its flaws. I dare you to read this post, if by the end of it, you can draw me an organization chart of the Government I am about to compare the US Government to, I shall owe you a home-cooked South Asian meal.

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Pollan – Naturalist or Rationalist?

Pollan is a naturalist. I thought I would answer the title question right off the bat. As he makes clear in his article, he is no fan of the bureaucracy of United States Department of Agriculture of the policies of the U.S. Government in general. As we learned in class, “natural system analysts emphasize that formalization places heavy and often intolerable burden on those responsible for the design and management of an organization” (Scott, 63). Pollan offers a wonderful example of this in the US farming system. As we remember, “formalization may be viewed as an attempt to make behavior more predictable by standardizing and regulating it” therefore creating more stable expectations (Scott, 37).

Pollan points out that the U.S. Government has done an outstanding job at formalizing and unifying the U.S. farming system. Perhaps part of the problem is that many US consumers have never tasted or experienced locally grown food. It’s hard to understand how poor food quality is or appreciate how high quality locally grown food can be in system of complete formalization that does not encourage trying different types of food.

Pollan seems to suggest regional formalization by methods such as changing U.S.D.A. laws to accommodate smaller regional food growers and slaughterhouses and encourage the development of “agricultural enterprise zones” to allow small farmers to grow and sell without making huge investments. Perhaps an example of what Pollan has in mind is the Farmers Diner in Barre, Vermont. 70 percent of the products offered in the diner are grown at area farms. Much of the dairy products are sold at a slight premium—$1.95 for a 16-ounce glass of milk instead of $1.49 down the street at Friendly’s—but “so far, enough customers have been willing to pay those modest premiums in exchange for the taste and satisfaction of the genuine article.” Tod Murphy, the owner of Farmers Diner, conceptualized a franchise organization of decentralized regional “pods” consisting of four diners and central food-processing plant where area animals and produce from local farms could be processed. In an area of decentralized online networks, perhaps it is about time companies begin to develop as more autonomous organizations that specialize their services to each individual community instead of offering a ubiquitous service across the nation.

Overall I think Pollan made some very insightful suggestions. His suggestion that the government incentive farming as a career, however, makes little sense. There is a reason that the nation’s “best and brightest” are not going into farming—it’s often hard, repetitive, and occasionally physically intensive labor set in mostly rural if not middle-of-nowhere locations with comparatively little social interaction and poor compensation. For those of us who grew up in the suburbs or cities of America, the extent of our farming experience is helping mom plant peas or flowers in the backyard garden. Such little exposure encourages gardening as a hobby, not farming as a career.

The wave of sustainable practices across the food industry is an unstoppable trend. Even the White House cooking staff is on board. The real question is simply how long it will take to implement practices such as those suggested by Pollan.

Sources:

Scott, W. Richard and Gerald F. Davis: Organizations and Organizing – Rational, Natural, and Open System Perspectives. New Jersey, 2007.

Pollan, Michael: Farmer in Chief from New York Times Magazine. New York, October 12th, 2008.

Shorto, Russell: A Short-Order Revolution from New York Times. January 11th, 2004.

Can Soccer be formalized?

In this blog post, I will attempt to highlight formalization ideas proposed by Simon, 1997  and Stinchcombe, 2001 (both pg. 38 O&O)  , and connect them with how a soccer team is organized and run.

Formalization is often viewed as an attempt to render behavior more predictable by standardizing and regulating it. According to Simon, formalization permits “stable expectations to be formed by each memeber of the group as to the behavior of the other members under specific conditions. Such stable expectations are an essential precondition to a rational consideration of the consequences of action in a social group.”

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When Governments Fail…

This past Monday, Iceland’s coalition government collapsed amid public outcry of the government’s failure to effectively bail out their broken financial system.  Simply put, Iceland did not have deep enough pockets like the US did to provide some sort of recovery program for its banks and other financial institutions.  Although those are some of the more specific reasons as to why this organization failed, upon coming across this story, I was curious to see if I could draw parallels to some of the things we’ve discussed in class…hopefully it’s successful.

Now, I find it very unsettling that while a government fails, organizations (more specifically, corporations), prosper.  This is even more concerning in the case of Iceland, which to date, had the oldest functioning legislature in the world, founded in 930 AD.  So why are large corporations, such as Walmart, seemingly easier to run and maintain than small (democratic) governments? While I acknowledge that these two types of organizations are very different from each other, on the highest level, they share characteristics of functioning rational organizations such as formality and goal specificity.

Right, wrong, or indifferent, maybe there is something that Iceland’s government, (which I’m sure considered itself to be a rational organization with high levels of formality and goal specificity) could learn from the way in which Walmart operates as a rational organization.  I’ll preface this with the fact that I have very little knowledge about Iceland’s former coalition government to begin with, so bear with me.

We learn from Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed that the school of thought that most closely aligns with Walmart’s organizational characteristics is (arguably) that of Taylor’s scientific management.  Although Nickel and Dimed points out that Walmart’s implementation of this system is not without its flaws, it is necessary to point out that during the course of its existence, Walmart has learned how to effectively manage 2,100,000 employees.  To place that number into perspective, the population of Iceland is 304,367…Walmart employs almost SEVEN TIMES the total amount of people who live in Iceland.  Although running an organization successfully under a rational organization system goes far beyond sheer size of the workforce or population, this is an interesting fact to point out.  Maybe, just maybe, Iceland’s new government should try to implement aspects of Taylor’s scientific management, such as closer re-evaluation of the effectiveness of certain institutions and their fiscal feasibility.  Maybe this is just naïveté on my part to think that a government as an organization can implement principles that Taylor intended for industrial improvement, but hey, because their former government failed, maybe they could consider alternative approaches to ensure their government does not collapse again.