Machiavelli, Mercenaries and the Ethics of Outsourcing

Richard M Kamm


Outsourcing, as a mode of information technology structure, is commonly justified as a means of reducing administration and encouraging specialization. This in turn is held to contribute to a move in organizations from mechanistic bureaucracy to organic network by substituting a market for a hierarchical form of corporate governance. Its ethical foundations, as with other approaches to IT structures, can therefore be examined through political philosophy.

The ideas through which the implications of outsourcing are examined in this paper are those of Niccol’ Machiavelli. He was much exercised by an earlier form of market relationship in the provision of an essential service: the reliance of city states in the 16th Century on mercenaries for the defence of their borders. Machiavelli’s perspective was that, whatever the advantages of economy and flexibility that mercenaries were thought to provide, their employment was socially corrosive. Freelance service provision tended to generate an ethic of contractualism, in which rights and responsibilities are confined to clauses in written agreements at the expense of a sense of trust. Participation in the life of a community is restricted by the specialisation to which the use of mercenaries contributed.

The management of IT through a contractual relationship can similarly be seen as promoting an individualist and market-oriented ethic. In this respect it tends to undermine moves towards an organic form of organisation, even though it is associated with a reduction in formal bureaucracy.