Takin’ Care of Business

Months ago in a Facebook comment thread populated by those sorts who glorify trade unionism, I conjured the following scenario: in an office setting, employees show up to work one day and find that some sort of Rapture has whisked away the world’s managers. Focusing on one single company, what are the repercussions? The responses were unanimous: nothing would change, the workers would continue to do their jobs. This illustrates a prejudice common to the left and foundational to Marxism, the notion that managers don’t really do anything.

One of my chief criticisms of public education is that it neglects to teach the workings of the business world in general. This was evident even before the ’60s counterculture took over the education establishment. I’ve long felt that comprehensive instruction on how various industries function should start at least as early as the beginning of junior high school (which my Protestant self unintentionally coincided with bar mitzvah age).

My initial concern was that too many adolescents grow up with insufficient knowledge of the business world to make rational career choices. Career development should not start with a trip to the guidance counselor’s office in 12th grade, or (like me) with a vague notion that computers are the future so a degree in computer programming should be pursued. (Demonstrating that “career” and “careen” have the same root word, I never worked in programming, and wound up in monitoring an ATM network.) There’s another vital ingredient to finding vocational direction that the classroom setting cannot facilitate: learning and discovering one’s individual talents. That rests on personal relationships.

Aside from benefits to career development, better education about the world of commerce also breaks down misconceptions about managers, other professions, and various types of businesses.

10 thoughts on “Takin’ Care of Business”

  1. “The responses were unanimous: nothing would change, the workers would continue to do their jobs.” A quick response would be “Okay, now do students.” There would be protests that students were somehow different, but being challenged to defend that premise might open up some actual thinking.

  2. The responses were unanimous: nothing would change, the workers would continue to do their jobs. This illustrates a prejudice common to the left and foundational to Marxism, the notion that managers don’t really do anything

    Sounds like how Home Depot manages its stores

    Well that’s what happened in all those socialist countries right? Not only did the workers continue their job as before, but in the new utopia every worker had their own monkey butler Until the next day when half the workforce didn’t show up and the other half that did was drunk; don’t even get into how the project to replace the capital equipment was financed. Even a plane that loses its engines glides for a bit before it crashes into the ground.

    Over at the career ministry I volunteer at, we have been discussing branching out into high school and college environments for just the reasons Alan discussed. Not only did these young people not have the practical knowledge for career planning but they were eager to understand nuts and bolts.

    Not sure what sort of programs you could run through the traditional school systems though, might want to look elsewhere, perhaps internships. What you could do is teach a course in economics using Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics” as a text; his book is used by many homeschoolers. A good course in economics teachers the creation of value, the existence of tradeoffs, and that there are no free rides on the societal level. I would even teach a short section on socialism as well. Why? For the same reason you inoculate against small pox. The kids will be exposed to it sooner or later, especially on college campuses, best to equip them now.

    The biggest obstacle to all of this, even bigger than schools, are parents. You could run an economics class like I described through a charter school, but not a public one. Parents these days gear their child’s entire high school experience toward preparation for college from the classes they take, the grades they will accept, to their extracurricular activities. Any course or programs that teaches skills not valued at the college level is suspect.

    My kids are old enough that they missed this. My first exposure to it was in a hotel breakfast bar on a Saturday morning talking to parents of a traveling volleyball team that required them to spend thousands of dollars and their weekends in order (so they believe) their kids will have a leg up when it comes to admissions.

  3. The places that I’ve worked, I would say that business would proceed as normal with two caveats. The first would for the short to medium term, long term planning wouldn’t take place but the phones would be answered and work would go out the door. The second is obviously money, payroll, AR, AP, availability of supplies, power, etc. Since this is the purest hypothetical, believability doesn’t apply.

    I’d argue that this rapture would be an improvement at my last job. We had been a thriving business that was “acquired” by an organization who’s management never bothered to try to understand the business we were actually in. We were making tons of money and our customer list looked very impressive on their web page, so for about five years they were too scared to fool with us much, except for raiding us for talent, for fear of killing the golden goose. Then they went through another cycle, a management shake up/defenestration and I lasted another six months. It’s been two years now and I understand the division is for sale at a big discount with no takers and a lot fewer customers.

    In my experience, there are a lot of places where day to day operations take place in spite of management. The test of a good manager is to build a machine where anyone can turn the crank, at least for a while. Never having worked in a union shop, I’m not willing to vouch for how things would go there.

    On the other hand, I’m a spectator to a situation where management is present but a key employee is suddenly absent. It’s taken about a week for everything to fall apart.

  4. In the 80’s I volunteered for Junior Achievement, an organization dedicated to teaching business skills to high school students. We would set up a company to build and sell a product door to door during the semester. Our role was to guide the students and pick the product. and acquire the initial supplies.
    The students would sell stock to raise funds, pick the company name, elect a President, VP, Treasurer, and head of Mfg, assemble the product and sold it door to door. At the end of the semester the company was shutdown and any profits distributed to the shareholders. The working class kids were very interested and picked things up quickly. The upper middle class kids , not so much.
    It appears to still be around https://jausa.ja.org/about/index

  5. Part of the problem is that high school kids don’t have part time jobs anymore. One of my daughters had a job in a hardware store. My younger son was a fire explorer and ended up a fireman. When I was a teenager I had a job in “Kennedy’s Drugstore.” I was the only Kennedy associated but I did it for several years. That was many years ago. Those kids are in their 40s and 50s now. My fireman son’s three kids all have summer jobs but a lot of the good summer jobs are no longer there.

    When I was in college I had a part time job at Sears as a sort of management trainee. That experience left me with understanding of why Sears is no more. That’s a long story.

  6. Someplace I have the pharmacy diploma issued to my grandfather in 1916. Between then and 1924 when he took over the running of a hardware store that lasted 41 years, he worked not only as a pharmacist but a real estate agent. At that time, he remarked, running the soda fountain was a bigger part of his job than what few drugs were available.

    When I was 15, I started running printing presses for the family business, although we tried to hire various pressmen and women, I was often the only one there other than my father and (younger) brother capable of running jobs. I’m not sure that would even be legal now.

    The proprietor of a farming YouTube channel I watch told how some of his videos had been banned because he happen to reveal that his daughter, operating a tractor and implement perfectly competently and safely, was 12. Someone objected.

    I tried selling things like Christmas cards door to door as a kid without notable success or problems. I don’t think I’d want to send kids out to do the same now, even older high school students.

    The YouTube channel:

  7. MCS: “I’m a spectator to a situation where management is present but a key employee is suddenly absent. It’s taken about a week for everything to fall apart.”

    A lesson I learned at my first serious job: The top manager had an intense travel schedule and would often be gone for weeks on end — business rolled on regardless. But if one of the little ladies who came in at 5 pm to clean the toilets called in sick, a temporary replacement was brought in the very same day. Some people’s work is important; other people’s work is essential.

  8. There is an ignorance about business in general – and it permeates the state legislatures. Never will forget what a lobbiest said here in Sacramento when someone made a remark about the politicians – he said for many, “this was the best job they ever had”!

    In CA look t what this $20 minimum wage is doing – closing some restaurants, not hiring young skill-less people who would otherwise get a job to start building a resume…

  9. My experience is that ‘work to rule’ would take over. Without the ‘interference’ of management, a production line would encounter quite a bit of stoppage as the tasks that either fell through the cracks, or were not staffed properly, or were subjective in their scheduling would/could be used to cause delays. Why? Someone who could pull the trigger and halt the line decided they wanted to ans would. Why not? There’s no invested interest in producing except the minimum to continue to get paid.
    The auto industry is the example where workers under contract asked for and got settlements in the new contracts that were unsustainable. The perks, benefits, retirement and health care made production non-profitable. The management went along and agreed to things beyond reasonable. The most recent round of contracts has started to repeat the history that lead to or leads to bankruptcy.
    My opinion is that organized labor – the organization – has to be disruptive to justify their existence. The leadership gets paid, strike or not. The workers succumb to the ‘we will get THIS MUCH’, and do not do the math to see what they will lose while parading up and down the street with “On Strike” signs vs the time it will take under the new contract to make up for the lost wages. Sometimes they will never gain enough to compensate.
    Unions are encouraged in some industries to reduce the load on HR dealing with each individual employee one on one for pay and benefits. Sign a contract, and they are done. The costs are in efficiency and conflicts that get Federalized and Must Be Recorded, etc.
    In short, I find it difficult to believe that ‘things would go on as before’ until the boss got back. In many cases, things would grind to a halt as some workers took it upon them self to get paid for doing nothing while their work stoppage was ‘managed’.
    There are exceptions. Not one doubt in my mind.

  10. Along with general ignorance regarding the role of management, so too is the general ignorance regarding the role of the entrepreneur: the risk taker who foregoes a steady paycheck for years, along with employment benefits and paid vacations, with no guarantees of a payoff, in order to launch a new venture.

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