Fear Smallness, Not Bigness
JULY 01, 1969 by LEONARD E. READ
It was a pleasing note: "Thanks for your letter. It’s so nice to do business with a person instead of a computer."
The comment dealt less with a new-fangled gadget than with a phase of organizations. When the job gets bigger than the man, there is a deplorable tendency to over delegate and lapse into a pushbutton operation—form letters for all occasions, for example. When a job overflows the limits of one’s personal attention, there’s the "ghosting" of speeches, letters, books, statements of policy, and so on. And ghost is about all that is left of any man who ceases to be personal: an organism without personality!
Long ago I decided that when my part in FEE goes beyond what I can attend to personally, then FEE is too big for me. I shall write my own speeches and books, dictate my own letters—and sign them. Assistance and counsel? Yes, all I can muster!
Nor is anyone ever "too little" to be eligible for personal attention. It is not my business to pass judgment on who is or isn’t important to freedom. No one knows where genius is about to sprout! There comes to mind the story of the man who set forth on a journey to Jerusalem to see the Savior:
Along the way numerous persons asked for assistance but to each he replied, "Sorry, I haven’t time for you; I’m on my way to Jerusalem to see the Savior." In Jerusalem, he learned that one of those by the wayside was the Savior.
The lesson? Treat each person, regardless of race, creed, color, fame, or fortune, as if he were the Lord so as not to pass by the one who may be most important of all. When a man’s job is so big he can’t follow this rule, then it’s bigger than he can handle!
Another test for job-fitness: An individual has moved up the ladder as far as he should go if, on the next higher rung, he could no longer give full personal attention to his assigned role. When a man finds himself behaving as impersonally as a computer, it’s time to rejoin the human race!
The aforementioned note with its person-computer comparison also reveals one of the reasons for the general fear of bigness in business. I do not buy the popular notion that a business is bad because it is big. The size of capital investment, markets, employees, sales, profits tells us nothing about goodness or badness. The lone bandit is a social menace; the biggest corporation in the world —A T & T—is a benefactor. Size simply is a measure of material dimensions but has nothing, as such, to do with social well-being or morality.
Big businesses offer big jobs that require big men; and men of this caliber are a scarce resource. When big men cannot be found, such jobs are serviced by "ghosts," men who are incapable of remaining personal and self-responsible; their roles are bigger than they are.
We observe numerous persons not big enough for the roles assigned to them in small businesses; indeed, some too inadequate to head a family. But the bigger the operation, the greater the probability of more big jobs than big men to fill them. These deficiencies lead careless observers to associate the personal failures with bigness, explaining, in part, their unjustifiable fear of bigness. They overlook the many businesses, formed in response to natural market forces, where most of the big jobs are filled by big men.
There are, however, examples of bigness formed by coercion, an unprincipled force, where the jobs are too big for anyone. We observe this in big or bloated government where there are countless jobs bigger than any man can competently fill.
When government gets so far out of bounds that its costs cannot be met except by inflation and exorbitant taxes, unnatural bigness in businesses results. Mergers and conglomerates take place, not in response to normal market forces but as organizations to take advantage of unprincipled governmental policies. This sort of gigantism tends to create jobs too big for anyone.
The point to keep in mind is that bigness in itself is the wrong criterion for forming our own opinions or framing public policy as to economic enterprises. Public policy should concern itself solely with its own righteousness; it should never serve to encourage unnatural formations of enterprises or to deter enterprises that are natural responses to a free market.
Conceding a sane public policy, then nothing need concern us about the bigness of businesses or jobs except the smallness of ourselves for the roles we try to play. If we are big enough, then we can act like persons rather than computers.