Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tales from the market

Two stories I think are related:

1. Wal Mart to the rescue:

While FEMA fumbled through its initial response, Wal-Mart was delivering thousands of truckloads of needed supplies, providing a life-line for battered communities and their residents. Some local leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi believe residents actually owe their lives to Wal-Mart, not the federal government.
[...]
Wal-Mart and building supply chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s began mobilizing for the storm well in advance. Wal-Mart’s emergency operations center started preparing for Katrina prior to the storm’s landfall in Florida, days before it struck the northern Gulf Coast. Home Depot made similar preparations, pre-positioning supplies in areas threatened by the storm. Contrast that to the ineptitude of state and local officials in Louisiana, who were still debating a proposed evacuation order--two days before the hurricane arrived.

While political leaders fiddled, Wal-Mart had 45 truckloads of water, generators and other needed items waiting at its distribution center in Brookhaven, Mississippi, only two hours from the coast. As soon as the hurricane passed, the trucks were on the road. In many locations, Wal-Mart tractor-trailers were the first “relief convoys” encountered by storm survivors.
2. Soldiers rescue a high tech battle system:
And then, something rather odd and unexpected happened. The 4/9 -- known since the early 1900's as the "Manchus," for their fighting in China -- stripped Land Warrior down, made the gear more functional, and discovered the equipment could actually be pretty useful in combat.

By consolidating parts, a 16-pound ensemble was whittled down to a little more than 10. A the digital gun scope was abandoned -- too cumbersome and too slow for urban fights. And not every soldier in the 4/9 was ordered to lug around Land Warrior. Only team leaders and above were equipped.

The Manchus suggested new features to Land Warrior's software, too.
In both cases, private organisations and individuals behaved more effectively than bureaucracies. If all the hurricane relief after Katrina had been contracted to private businesses like Wal Mart, hate target for the Luddite Left, many lives would have been saved. Here's how their managers cut through problems to provide urgent solutions:
Unable to reach her superiors, assistant store manager Jessica Lewis decided to run a bulldozer through her store, collect essential supplies that weren’t water-damaged. The supplies were then stacked in the parking lot and given away to local residents. Ms. Lewis also broke into the store’s pharmacy locker to supply critical drugs to a local hospital.
There are other cases like that. Can you conceive of a functionary behaving like that?

In the second case, the people who actually use a system became able to provide design ideas and a weapons system representing millions of taxpayer dollars was changed from useless to useful - at no cost. This situation came about by accident, essentially. Nobody thought the bazaar might have something to contribute to the work of the cathedral.

1 comment:

dearieme said...

As Hayek says, the market (to take his example) is a result of human action, not human design. As for Terminal 5......