Sunday, March 15, 2009

Big And Small Business - The Muscular Widget-Sellers

Imagine, if you will, a group of widget-makers and widget merchants in a particular country. Let's say that some of these widget-makers are actually large firms that employ over a thousand people, whereas some of them are very small outfits run by a husband and wife and a couple of children. Let's also say that most people in the widget business in your country believe that it is imperative to grow as large as possible, and to capture as much market share as possible. Those who believe thus might also believe that it is acceptable to use any means available to achieve growth and to wipe out competition.

Now let's say that the making of widgets requires great physical strength for the purpose of assembling heavy parts that are hard to handle. Let's also say that some of the biggest names in the widget business are outsourcing their production to countries whose labor costs are extremely low, in order to boost production per dollar spent and to increase company profits. The only problem is that the workers in these countries are not very strong, since they only get a dollar a day and often go hungry. Thus some widgets sold in your country begin to fail prematurely, causing widget users to stub their toes and smash their thumbs.

Now stubbed toes and smashed thumbs hurt (and make their sufferers mad), so these victims start complaining to the government. But the biggest names in the widget business have bought off most of the legislators and officials in the government, so when public pressure forces these officials to do something about the problem of widgets that break, they naturally don't attack the source of the problem. Instead, they draft a law which states that "in view of the danger to citizens from breaking widgets (and more importantly, in view of the danger to the widget business from the perception of danger posed by defective widgets), our Government will now require all businesses engaged in widget-making to demonstrate that the personnel in their firms have the necessary physical strength to make widgets. We do therefore establish a Widget Physical Fitness Administrator with full authority to test each widget firm's physical fitness."

The Administrator then issues a decree that each firm collectively or each sole proprietor must do a thousand push-ups every time they ship a certain number of widgets (say, a thousand push-ups for every hundred widgets). Moreover, each batch of a thousand push-ups must be completed within five minutes. For the personnel of Circle D Widgets and General Widgets, this is easy, since there are at least five hundred project managers, deputy vice presidents, marketing directors, project engineers, and lawyers at each firm. As soon as the Administrator visits their firm, they all drop down and knock out one push-up each. But the proprietors of Little Widget On A Hill have a much harder time, since this firm is comprised of a middle-aged hobbyist (who goes to the gym religiously every day), her couch-potato husband (who handles the paperwork), a couple of grade-school grandkids (whom the hobbyist takes along when she goes to the gym), and a ten-year-old calico cat. How long do you think Little Widget On A Hill will be able to stay in business?

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