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What Do Bosses Really Do?

  • David S. Landes (a1)
  • DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0022050700046799
  • Published online: 01 March 2009
Abstract

If employers make so much money, why don't workers hire machines and expertise and make the money instead? This question has generated a large body of writing, including Stephen Marglin's much-cited article “What Do Bosses Do?” Marglin draws on history to argue that the employer, who added nothing to technical efficiency, used specialization of tasks to divide labor and impose himself as boss, thereby creating an artificial, unproductive role. These arrangements were embodied in domestic industry and were reinforced when employers turned to the factory system as a more effective disciplinary mode. This article argues that such a thesis misreads history and is essentially ideological.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Stephen Marglin , “Knowledge and Power”, in Frank H. Stephen , ed., Firms, Organization and Labour: Approaches to the Economics of Work Organization (London, 1984), pp. 146–64;

Oliver E. Williamson , “The Organization of Work: A Comparative Institutional Assessment”, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 1 (031980), pp. 611;

Vernard Foley , “The Division of Labour in Plato and Smith”, History of Political Economy, 6 (1974), pp. 220–42.

Kenneth L. Sokoloff , “Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Nonmechanical Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency?: Evidence from the U.S. Manufacturing Censuses of 1820 and 1850,” Explorations in Economic History, 21 (1984), p. 352. Not that Smith would have had trouble incorporating factories—that is, true, powered factories—into his division-of-labor paradigm.

Rab Houston and K.D.M. Snell , “Proto-industrialization? Cottage Industry, Social Change and Industrial Revolution”, The Historical Journal, 27, no. 2 (1984), pp. 490–91.

G.F.R. Spenceley , “The Health and Disciplining of Children in the Pillow Lace Industry in the Nineteenth Century”, Textile History, 7 (1976), pp. 166–69.

S.R.H. Jones , “The Country Trade and the Marketing and Distribution of Birmingham Hardware, 1750–1810,” Business History, 26 (031984), pp. 2442.

Robert Millward , “The Early Stages of European Industrialization: Economic Organization under Serfdom”, Explorations in Economic History, 21 (1984), pp. 406–28. An important piece, but marred by heavy jargon. Do economic historians feel that they have to sell their competence to economists? They would do better to communicate their results to historians as well. It might help recruit people into the discipline.

Richard Price , Masters, Union and Men: Work Control in Building and the Rise of Labour, 1830–1914 (Cambridge, 1980), p. 129:

Pat Hudson , “Proto-industrialisation: the Case of the West Riding Wool Textile Industry in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries,” History Workshop, no. 12 (Autumn1981), pp. 3461. One caution: Hudson, like Houston and Snell (see footnote 24, above), makes much (too much?) of rectifying what she sees as an erroneous “proto-industry model,” which is portrayed as linear: rural industry is essentially homogeneous and progresses normally and naturally to the next stage, factory production. Hudson clearly demonstrates that this is not so and (following in Braun's footsteps) that the agrarian context shapes both the forms of rural industry and its development.

Pat Hudson , “From Manor to Mill: the West Riding in Transition,” in Maxine Berg , Pat Hudson , and Michael Sonenscher , eds., Manufacture in Town and Country before the Factory (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 124–44. Hudson notes that similar services were supplied, at least in an earlier period, by mills built and financed by landowners, who linked their operations to the needs of tenant clothiers and saw the combination of land, shop, and access to mill as a package designed to attract renters and enhance the revenue of their estates. The biggest such operator, Lord Dartmouth, owned nineteen mills in 1805 (p. 139). Such were some of the varieties of enterprise in an enterprising society.

Stanley Chapman , “Workers' Housing in the Cotton Factory Colonies, 1770–1850”, Textile History, 7 (1976), p. 118.

S. D. Chapman , “Enterprise and Innovation in the British Hosiery Industry, 1750–1850,” Textile History, 5 (101974), p. 25.

Robert C. Allen , “Collective Invention,” Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 4 (1983), pp. 124. Allen lays stress on information-sharing within the industry: “If a firm constructed a new plant of novel design and that plant proved to have lower costs than other plants, these facts were made available to other firms in the industry and to potential entrants.” And he offers some valuable insights into the material advantages of altruism.

Jacob Schmookler , “The Level of Inventive Activity,” Review of Economics and Statistics, 36 (051954), pp. 183–90,

E.J. Hobsbawm , “Artisan or Labour Aristocrat,” Economic History Review, 2nd ser., 37 (081984), p. 362.

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