Friday, February 24, 2012

Survival of the adaptable

In the past we have blogged about the organizational structure that contributed to the rise of the US whaling industry:

...whale captains were innovators in employee compensation. In the lay system, "every member of the ship's company from captain to cabin boy signed on, not for a wage or piece rate, but for a predetermined percentage of the value of the product returned," Lance E. Davis, Robert E. Gallman, Karin Gleiter write. Savvy captains of the whaling barques, not unlike some creative corporate boards today, were keen to aligning company interests.

The fall of the whaling industry also has lessons for us:

Between the 1860s and the 1880s the wages of average US workers grew by a third, making us three times more expensive than your typical Norwegian seaman. Whales aren't national resources. They're supranational resources. They belong to whomever can hunt them most efficiently. With all the benefits of modern whaling technology and workers at a third the price, Norway and other countries snagged a greater share of the world's whales.

The moral of the story is decidedly Darwinian: its not the strongest who survive, but rather the most adaptable.


1 comment:

  1. The pearl diving ships in the Persian Gulf had equally detailed compensation schemes based on percentages of value. See Shaikhdoms of Eastern Arabia (St. Antony's) (Hardcover) by Peter Lienhardt, Ahmed Al-Shahi.