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March 01, 2012


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Erm? Does crowd sourcing and open knowledge not strike you as a fundamentally anti-authoritarian left idea?


I've just thought that perhaps we should go much further than simply banning politicians. I'm sure we'd all love more democracy - what we may not want is more politics. Is the one possible without the other?

Luis Enrique

a small point: the two are not mutually exclusive. Everything you say being the case, there are still (usually) gains to be had by replacing an idiot with a non-idiot.


@ Commuterist - certainly anti-authoritian, and certainly held by many on the left. But they are also, surely, consistent with Hayek.

Dave B

This seems like an argument for decentralisation of decision making authority. From Brussels to Whitehall, and from Whitehall to local government.

I'm certainly in favour of that.



That Hayek link takes one to a long passage from 'The Use of Knowledge in Society', which includes this observation,

"Planning in the specific sense in which the term is used in contemporary controversy necessarily means central planning—direction of the whole economic system according to one unified plan. Competition, on the other hand, means decentralized planning by many separate persons.".

This is then linked to his famous exposition of the importance of 'embedded' knowledge ("which by its nature cannot enter into statistics and therefore cannot be conveyed to any central authority in statistical form").

Traditional left critiques of these positions - to express a deep distrust of the competitive market, and to emphasis the power relations which are often hidden behind contractually 'free' market relations - don't real get to the intellectual nub of these two Hayekian propositions.(Even if I still think such critiques remain basically a quite good rule of thumb guide in many situations).

But life is moving on from Hayek's frame of reference, as @Commuterist seems to imply. Crowd sourcing and open knowledge production raise the possibility that *decentralised* planning can indeed take place without competition, indeed in contradistinction to a competitive market.& Hilary Wainwright and others have used the embedded knowledge part of Hayek's argument to justify a far greater level of work place democracy and even worker controlled enterprise.

Account Deleted

The left is vulnerable to managerialism because it starts from the premise that the existing order must be changed. It therefore appeals for help on how change might be effected.

This leads to a bias in favour of those experts who believe change is possible, even easy (Neoliberalism has suffered much the same problem), leading to the toxic brew of manic evangelists, rent-seekers and management parasites.

Organic conservatives like Oakeshott, who favour practice and custom over theory, are ultimately justifying no-change. However, they are also privileging experts, only those whose tacit knowledge is the result of being the incumbent power.

The underlying problem is not a paucity of expertise but the narrowing of choice over which experts to listen to. This is a political decision. Managerialism is what happens when you don't have democratic feedback.

PS: The "wisdom of the crowd" should be treated with caution. See Jaron Lanier on "digital Maoism" - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/books/15book.html

Philip Walker

I seem to recall Uncle Milt having words to say on this one, too: "People have a great misconception in this way, they think way they solve things by electing the right people. Its nice to elect the right people, but that isn’t the way you solve them. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things!"

Those wicked old neoliberals, see, wrecking everything with their blind adherence to authority. ;-)


This is exactly the problem that I am having now with trying to change my career at the age of 53yo! My experiences, my transferrable skills, my past qualifications don't have any currency, because the job agencies are hiring people with these sort of specs:
http://jobseekers.direct.gov.uk/detailjob.aspx?sessionid=d57291d4-31ac-4342-afb0-cbf34818648f&pid=1&j=IKC/38458 -

"Responsibilities: provide application/technical support for Premium service clients (EBS); provide major incident reporting following any Severity 1 outages per SLA; weekly incident reporting; produce monthly service reports reflecting a review of prior month’s tickets/performance vs service levels. Successful candidate will be required to undertake incident management responsibilities/act as primary liaison for aiding EBS per SLA/primary liaison for aiding EBS and their clients through post-incident recovery. Experience of Windows/Unix/Linux environments and proficiency using MS Office suite/multi-tier applications including Java/Weblogic/Oracle; basic SQL knowledge/understanding of Wholesale Financial Services. Educated to degree level or equivalent, candidate must possess strong organisational skills, be results oriented."

Do people from abroad or from the UK really have the time to build SO many qualifications? Who can actually check that this is so?

In the meantime, once made redundant, redundancy seems to be workfare or nothing, even though people still yearn to use their skills, knowledge ... and continue to learn new ones. Without access to the opportunity to adapt old knowledge to new skills or new knowledge to contemporary skills, how can people build that 'cleverness'?

The inequality is also the idea of the disposable professional making way for the global 'evangelist' expert - knowledge now being described with religious connotations! [a neoliberal kind enlightment?]


This is not a left-right argument.

The modern right believes in outstanding managers just as much as the modern left does. All this talk about small government doesn't apply to the military or science, just to welfare.

No-one believes that putting idiots in charge is a good idea.

And there are left-libertarians (Chomsky) just like there are right-libertarians (Hayek).

John h

Please stop quoting Oakeshott. He is a terrible philosopher and charlatan.


Right-libertarian is an oxymoron. I think you mean propertarian.


With out wishing to appear anti intellectual like rick santorum, is not part of the problem the tendency for managers and elected figures to be obsessed with very abstract theories which they think can solve every problem? As if you can reduce complex issues to simple mechanistic push button solutions. Like Blair trotting out the idea of marching yobs to the cash point? They set up systems like intrusive border controls which cannot work and so keep having to suspend the control while pretending they have not done so? Pandering to xenophobia and wasting time and money. Tabloid simplicity mixed with pseudo profundities.

Philip Pilkington

No paradox. There is a strand of left-wing thinking that would adhere to the view you attribute to Hayek et al. Continental philosophy and all that.


One interesting story that came out after E.P. Thompson died was from Perry Anderson. Some comment Anderson had made on Oakeshott came up in conversation between Thompson and a mutual friend, who told Thompson that the Anderson was working on Oakeshott for a book chapter. Thompson said, "Tell him to sharpen his tone - Oakeshott was a scoundrel."

What's the dispute over the Marx quote? The line reads:

"Daher stellt sich die Menschheit immer nur Aufgaben, die sie lösen kann"

which seems pretty straightforward.


It's not a question of trying to find smarter interviewers, as such, just better briefed ones. I loath managerialism as much as the next poster here, but it's not the issue this time. That many questions may ultimately boil down to values still doesn't detract from the need to have politicians pulled up when they are trying to get distortions, misrepresentations, half-truths and playing fast and loose with the facts past the public. Better briefed and resourced select committees would help, too. Part of the power of someone like Krugman in the US, for example, is how quick he is to jump on untenable claims from US politicians; he wouldn't be nearly as compelling if it was just a sense that he had his heart in the right place.
Any argument where Hayek ends up as the answer is likely to be a reducto ab adbsurdum. Hayek as a right libertarian? hmm. He and his mates were keen enough on the awfully libertarian govt of Gen Pinochet, amongst others.


And in the case of management, the solution is to break up conglomerates or seek the wisdom of crowds by using market-based management or worker democracy.

Except that crowds are pretty stupid, too. Everything comes down to the flow of information. I have more information about my dinner preferences than I could ever possibly convey to a central bread-planning czar, so the market works better as a means of getting me fed. It works by breaking down a complex problem (feeding a country) into a large number of simple problems (what would I like to eat, I can sell bread for x, so should I bake more, and so on).

It's not obvious to me how you can get this market advantage when the decision is, say, "should we invade Iraq?". Sure, you can obtain the opinion of a large number of ignorant idiots, but I don't see why they're any more likely to get the "right" answer than the small number of ignorant idiots who would otherwise decide.

Tim Almond

I don't buy the time thing. Most broadcasters appear on screen for a few hours each day, and if you're going to have people debating things like higher rates of taxes, shouldn't you have done at least the basic reading on what the Laffer Curve is (Dimbleby plainly hadn't on QT last night)? Parkinson used to read the biographies and backgrounds of his guests before they appeared on his show.

The problem with current affairs debates is that they are not aimed at illuminating the subject for the viewer/listener. They are aimed at providing knockabout entertainment. The writer Graham Linehan wrote about his experience on Today, describing how he was brought on to represent one side of an artificial, binary argument rather than to have a real debate about the subject.

I'm not sure why we've ended up with that. Perhaps there's a bigger audience for it than a broadcaster constructing an intelligent debate show, or it could just be that TV and radio are ultimately entertainment formats and so the DNA of the organisations is entertainment-based.


I've only just started following recently but I really enjoy your blog.

You say that politicians should be banned from BBC appearances, and I assume that you're not joking, not completely at least. In a previous post you call for them to be replaced with 'experts' who don't just repeat the same old rhetoric.

I would say a few things about this -

1. On the criticism of the idea of the interviewers being experts themselves - I think it's not too much too ask for interviewers to have some depth of knowledge in the field appropriate to the interviewee. Perhaps we need more and a broader range of interviewers, rather some of the 'generic' types we currently see. This wider range would perhaps also counteract the 'neutrality' notion, when it doesn't really exist - the underlying assumptions of discussion are usually unchallenged repetition of existing narratives/paradigms/whatever-you-wanna-call-them, or demonstrations of even more overt biases somewhat hidden by the 'impartiality' label. Basically if the interviewees are to be more balanced and knowledgable ('experts' as you describe them) then I don't see it's unfair to ask that the interviewers themselves are too.....and I would say the prospects are more likely for them to be able to do that at the BBC (nb. I know there are other pressure that exist at the BBC in place of some direct commercial ones elsewhere).

2. On the notin of experts - You say ban politicians because of their bias and because they are not equipped with the capacity to provide meaningful, or even truthful explanations. I'd love to hear why you think this is more likely to be the case from 'experts' - are they not susceptible to the same problems? What kind of bothers me in your argument, despite the fact you seem to really believe in ideas like real democracy, and criticise managerialism admirably, is that the justification for the employment of managers, or for example technocrats, would be very similar.

For example -

"There's no possible way that the people of Greece can be allowed to vote on this financial arrangement, and it is too important for politicians - experts are needed to do that. They can be trusted and aren't biased". Talk about the Left's problems with elitism!!!

Politicians have faults and weaknesses, but they are the same faults and weaknesses that any human has. And for all we might be critical and unhappy with our democracy as it stands, at least they have a semblance of a democratic support, a mandate (an obligation in fact) to appear in public - which is not the case with many so-called experts.

Because of this I think your argument is inconsistant.


Surely one of the problems managers have is the modern work culture expects them (in fact most of us) to be multi-taskers, dealing with several problems at the same time. It's no wonder then that so much work is done in a half-baked way, with obvious mistakes made because the manager hasn't simply hasn't had the time to consider the problem properly or concentrate on the task for any length of time.

So Tim Almond above is half-right. Journalists and broadcasters like Parkinson used to have the time to do the research but now, when they have so many competing projects on the go, or not enough producers, or whatever, they just wing it. This nicely segues into the very British cult of the amateur, but that's probably one for another time.

In short, we perhaps don't need smarter people, but we do need more smart people to solve problems in a slightly more considered way.

Dean Jones

I agreed with the first five-and-a-half paragraphs of this, but then things started to go somewhat awry. Firstly, advocating "worker democracy" as the solution to poor management - who proved that democracy was the most effective way of running an organisation?

Secondly (and I'm no fan of Blair) but the exhortation for "confidence in our ability not just to promise change but to deliver it" in no way implies that organisational problems can be solved by intellect alone. Well-trained drones might be able to deliver change as well as any intellectual.

And thenceforth, the logical thread of the article unravels.


@Chris Dillow,

Completely agree that the left favours collectivist planning from an ideological perspective. Hayek stressed the importance of the market as an epistemological device along with von Mises who noted the logical impossibility of repicating market pricing by centralised planner.

If we stay with this thought, surely we should support policies that work towards the Hayek/Von Mises principles rather than those that obstruct or delibaretely hinder market information?

In this vein why don't we just nationalise real estate agencies? All they do is obstruct information between buyer and seller that can now be shared online or view one high st outlet. I've put a short blog post on it, linked below...


...would be very interested in your thoughts.

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