This magnificent post by Chicken Yogurt quotes Nick Cohen's Pretty Straight Guys:
Young politicians, led by Geoff Hoon, heckled the eminent Hattersley with bellows of "What's wrong with being a good manager?", "What's wrong with managerialism?"
Buff Hoon doesn't deserve a reasoned answer, and it's pretty certain he's not interested in one, but let's cast some pearls before swine.
The greatest of pearls is this superb book. Here's my humble tuppence worth.
1. The pursuit of efficiency - managerialism's main goal - cannot be a value-free exercise. "Efficiency" has many conflicting meanings. Does it mean increasing GDP per head, Pareto-optimality, utilitarianism, maximizing Rawlsian primary goods or maximizing capabilities, in Amartya Sen's sense? How do we choose a meaning of efficiency from this menu? And if we choose utilitarianism (as managerialism often does) what is the moral justification for imposing costs on some - up to and including death, Mr Hoon - so that others can gain?
2. Managerialism never questions illegitimate power hierarchies. Tony Blair has said that "the most important task of modernization is to invest in human capital" - as if the state should act as a human resources department for companies. But if human capital is so important, elementary property rights economics tells us that workers, not capitalists, should control firms. As Oliver Hart put it in Firms, Contracts and Financial Structure:
A party with an important investment or important human capital should have ownership rights.
You don't hear that from New Labour.
3. Managerialism has a hubristic faith in centralized power. Pretty much all of the Queen's speech demonstrates this:
My government will build on its programme of reform and accelerate modernisation of the public services to promote opportunity and fairness...further reform the education system to improve quality and choice in the provision of schooling... improve the quality of health services and hospital hygiene...reform the welfare state, in order to reduce poverty further, offer greater equality...creat[e] safe and secure communities, and foster a culture of respect...tighten the immigration and asylum system in a way that is fair, flexible, and in the economic interests of the country...reduce re-offending by improving the management of offenders...establish a barring and vetting scheme, and other measures to provide better protection for children and vulnerable adults...develop a vibrant, diverse and independent charitable sector...ensure the better management and protection of the natural environment and to provide support for rural communities...modernise the management of common land...help reduce casualties on the roads...promote efficiency, productivity and value for money... encourage greater levels of investment and enterprise.
What this reveals is a total confidence that government can improve
society merely by pulling the right levers. Problems such as unforeseen
consequences and adverse incentives are utterly ignored. In particular,
managerialists have no awareness of the limits of their knowledge and
rationality. They are utterly ignorant of the works of Herbert Simon,
Friedrich Hayek and Daniel Kahneman - to name only Nobel prize-winners.
4. Managerialists know nothing about history. It's no coincidence that the most famous saying of the most famous managerialist - Henry Ford - is: "history is bunk." Blair's crass ignorance of history is of course boundless. And it matters. History teaches us that political projects usually fail. Managerialists, of course, must never recognize this. Management is about "striving" ,"moving forward", "progress."
5. Relatedly, management is prone to fads and fashions. It's a cliche that management education (a perfect oxymoron) is subject to these. So too is political managerialism. Chicken Yogurt gives some good examples. Here's another. Back in 1987 Alan Blinder wrote a book called Soft Hearts, Hard Heads. In many ways, this was an anticipation of New Labour's big theme - that clever policies can overcome the old trade-off between equality and efficiency. However, the policies Blinder advocated were miles away from New Labour's. He called for greater profit-sharing, but dismissed minimum wage laws as "hare-brained" and made no mention of independent central banks, even though he was soon to become a Fed governor himself. This raises the question: doesn't managerialist politics lend itself to support the intellectual fashions of the day, which always seem to have compelling empirical evidence just because they haven't yet been rejected?
6. Managerialism ignores trade-offs. Their rationalism and ignorance of history lead managers to believe that, if only they can think of clever enough policies, they can overcome trade-offs. They can't. To take just a few examples, there are trade-offs between: well-financed public services versus income distribution; stable output versus clear policy rules; equality of opportunity versus equal worth; economic growth versus pollution. And so on.
7. Managerialism is not as hard-headed as it pretends. It just ignores awkward facts. Take the war in Iraq. A truly hard-headed policy would have been to assess the benefits of removing Saddam Hussein against the costs. But Buff Hoon has never truly done this. He's never told us even roughly how many people it was worth killing in order to remove Saddam. This shows that managerialists aren't the careful empricists they claim to be. As George Ainslie wrote in this fine book: "Executives don't function effectively so much by rationally analyzing facts as by finding facts that make good rallying points."
8. Emotivism. Underpinning managerialism is a highly dubious philosophical doctrine - emotivism. This is the notion that moral values are only matters of taste that are beyond rational debate, and that therefore politics should only be about means, which are matters for technocrats. As Blair said in 2001: "In the 1980s, I stopped thinking about politics on the basis of what I had read or learnt, and started to think on the basis of what I felt."
And there it stands. Managerialism is not a neutral, ideology-free way of creating a what is an uncontroversially better world. It is, as Aneurin Bevan said in a different context, a mere "emotional spasm."