General Question

LostInParadise's avatar

When did people first start to delegate authority?

Asked by LostInParadise (17717 points ) October 6th, 2009

I was thinking about how annoying bureaucracies can be and got to wondering at what point in social development there originated the idea of delegating authority to someone else, which is the organizing principle behind bureaucracies.

Hunter-gatherers live in small groups based on extended families and are fairly egalitarian.

What about nomads? Do flocks ever get large enough to require hiring someone to tend them and to hire others to act as supervisors?

I would think that delegating authority came into its own with the start of agriculture when land ownership made it possible for a single family to produce enough to require hiring others to help with management.

How necessary is bureaucratic organization? I read from time to time about businesses organized as coops. I wonder how large a part of the overall economy that such businesses could become.

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17 Answers

DrBill's avatar

It started as soon as there were two people. There have always been leaders and followers (and people who get in the way).

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@whatthefluther If I’m not wrong, you’ve been typing at this question for thirty minutes now. What are you writing! A thesis?

@DrBill Is right. People have been people and why should we do the dirty work when someone else can do it for us?

Uggo, go and bash that snake on the head for me would you? I don’t like to get my hands all gooey.

It all also depends on how much power you can accumulate. The more power you have, the more people you have to show your power off to. We need people to do things for other people. Firstly, that creates jobs. Secondly, that creates efficiency (one person can’t do anything on his own). Although with too much bureaucracy you get that dreaded something called red tape.

whatthefluther's avatar

Authority was probably delegated to someone shortly after they successfully performed functions and responsibilities to which they had been assigned. I believe responsibility without commensurate authority would be extremely frustrating and very disheartening and would probably destroy most people
The underlying principle behind bureaucracies is hierarchical authority, spread through people in an organization by rank (and somewhat insulated from the top leaders who have authority but may not have adequate knowledge of details to make appropriate lower level decisions), and contained within specialized groups or departments, each with a very specific function or area of responsibility and no one crosses the line beyond those responsibilities. That is why, what may seem a simple or mundane problem, can become very frustrating as you get told that an aspect of your problem is not the bureaucrats job and you get passed from department to department, as they seemingly micromanage the simple problem. And there does not seem to be a single individual in the bureaucracy that is responsible for tackling your entire problem and has the proper authority to resolve it in its entirety. A bureaucracy can usually address a complex problem very well provided there is good communication and a spirit of cooperation between the specialized functions. If that is not the case, expect a lot of finger pointing.
See ya….Gary/wtf
@Saturated_Brain….I am old, easily distracted, and seemingly fond of tangents (I’ve been playing at youtube)

laureth's avatar

Around 5000 BC in the Fertile Crescent, people started settling down. Cities came before farming, but soon, the population explosion (from easy-to-get food, plus a need for kids to work the fields) resulted in more people than could just settle their own affairs. This started a cascade of events unfolding, including writing (to keep track of everything), a stratified society (including peasants, craftsmen, nobles, priests, warrior class, king, etc.) to deal with it all. In fact, this suite of things is what defines “civilization.”

Interestingly, is this about the time that the Bible literalists say the world was formed by God. It’s also about the time that Abraham (who was from the area of Ur, one of the first cities in the world) lived. It’s almost as if time before “civilization” is so unimportant as to not even be counted, especially since this is also when writing began in the area. (To be sure, writing and agriculture sprang up at lots of different places, but this is the one that is considered the foundation of Western civilization.)

But yeah, you can find this stuff out on day 1 of any Western Civ class, usually right after the talk about Lascaux paintings and the Venus of Willendorf. Immediately after Ur and the Levant, you move on to Egypt and Greece. And the rest, as they say, is History. ;)

dpworkin's avatar

Infra-human primates, not to mention non-primate mammals have dominance hierarchies. Take a look at the Wyoming Sage Grouse sometime.

These things began to be arranged billions of years before any bipeds fooled around with agriculture in the Fertile Crescent.

LostInParadise's avatar

I thought about dominance hierarchies, but that is not the same as authority hierarchies. The most stratification of decision making occurs in pack animals like wolves where the leader decides when and where to hunt and the rest follow. For wolves to have any more layers of authority, there would have to be a communication system, which they clearly lack. The pack leader does not have to announce its attentions. The pack just has to play follow the leader.

The only animals that I know that can communicate about food gathering are bees, but in this case the decision about where to gather nectar is egalitarian. Whichever bee has found the best source will perform the most vigorous waggle dance and attract the most attention.

mattbrowne's avatar

Adam gave Eve the authority to ask for all the food she’s been craving. Eve gave Adam the authority to determine the best ways to get to all this nutritious and tasty food.

The delegation of authority principle is much older than the human species. Many animals use the principle as well.

LostInParadise's avatar

@laureth , I thought agriculture came before cities. I remember being told that it was the availability of food beyond subsistence that made possible the existence of the non-agricultural professions associated with city life.

Zen's avatar

@Saturated_Brain What was the first nickname ever given? Answer: Eve = Uggo.

;-)

Saturated_Brain's avatar

@Zen Nonono. Uggo was Adam’s nickname. Eve was Eega. More evidence of the female dominance over the poor husband. =P

filmfann's avatar

I’ve decided to let someone else answer this.

Val123's avatar

Since before we were people. There is a hierarchy in all animal groups.

Response moderated
YARNLADY's avatar

Hunter-gatherers would be just as likely to have a chief member as we have leaders today. Even in a single family group you will find one is in charge of the others. This is either by force, the ‘strongest’ is the ruler, and by choice, “You decide, I’m too lazy”.

laureth's avatar

@LostInParadise – Google Catal Huyuk – that’s the first city that we know about. It was built before agriculture, but it looked kind of funny (no streets, houses just built all up on each other, etc.) because people didn’t have that whole “city” thing quite down yet. (Here’s the Wiki article)

RedPowerLady's avatar

@LostInParadise Just popping in to say I appreciate your comment about hunter-gatherers. Very true.

There was authority (clan mothers, chiefs, tribal councils) but even with authority there was equality so perhaps you are thinking of a certain type of authoritative power.

LostInParadise's avatar

@laureth, Thanks for the link. I read somewhere that the start of agriculture was a gradual process. Someone did not just wake up one morning and decide to plant 10 acres. The article indicates some rudimentary agriculture so I am thinking that the development of cities and agriculture may have been a tandem process.

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