Governance of Overlapping Groups

There are very very few works that directly address how to control the slope of the power law curve. Clay Shirky’s essay on inequality for example. Michael Porter’s list of things that keep an industry fragmented is another. Both of those enumerate tools that create niches, barriers and membranes. Each one of those tools deserves it’s own book – or at least a page in a wiki.

Rereading Clay’s essay I notice that one of the techniques he mentions is to reduce the amount of heterogenity in the system; the example he gives is hierarchy – i.e. the millitary. I’m reminded that hierarchy is one of the common solutions to the coordination problem around collective action.

It’s a cultural truism that centralized hierarchtical system often run amuck and become the prime source of abusive of power and severe inequality. The lession embedded in the power law story (i.e. appreciating that homogenous networks spontanously create power-law distributions) is: “Hold on homogenous creates hubs, and those hubs have power, and that power is just as susceptible to abuse as any centralized hierarchtical design.

Rereading Clays essay this week, this week, I’m struck by the way that firms often attempt to temper the problems hierarchy creates by creating multiple overlapping hierarchies; e.g. functional organization/proffesional hierarchies for that overlap project/product-line organization.

As a move in the game of systems design it provides a kind of check and balance. A means of auditing and oversight. Additionally it helps in creating safe niches for key activities. Inside those niches various kinds of skills, resources, public-goods can emerge.

I have model, totally ungrounded by the facts, that as the population grew the three spheres of commercial, civic, and religious activities broke apart. When people talk about the seperation of church and state they are speaking of that historical event – but just as critical was the way that commerce began to become distinct from the creating of public goods that is the work of the civic sphere.

Governance of such tangles of overlapping groups is a facinating mess. The coordination problems run deep; as they must if the groups are to remain distinctive.

A friend and I got to wondering yesterday if there are any examples of systems were tribe A elects the elites of tribe B and visa versa? You can see plenty of cases where a dominate tribe appoints the elites of a subordinate tribe. You can seem plenty of places where one tribe has numerous moves where it can check and balance the moves of other tribes.

It would be a very interesting university where tenure choices in each department were always made by other departments, for example.

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