The Journal of Economic History


What Do Bosses Really Do?

David S. Landesa1

a1 Professor of Economics at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138.


If employers make so much money, why don't workers hire machines and expertise and make the money instead? This question has generated a large body of writing, including Stephen Marglin's much-cited article “What Do Bosses Do?” Marglin draws on history to argue that the employer, who added nothing to technical efficiency, used specialization of tasks to divide labor and impose himself as boss, thereby creating an artificial, unproductive role. These arrangements were embodied in domestic industry and were reinforced when employers turned to the factory system as a more effective disciplinary mode. This article argues that such a thesis misreads history and is essentially ideological.