My suggestion that the BBC ban politicians has met with one reply I find revealing - that the BBC should instead have smarter interviewers to call them on their lies and errors.
I say this is revealing because it is an indicator of a widespread belief - that the solution to incompetence - at the BBC or in politics or in management - is to find cleverer people.
This, of course, is an aspect of managerialist ideology - the idea that things can be run well by really smart people. It serves to justify inequalities of both power and wealth; clever people must be in charge, and because ability is scarce we must pay a fortune for it. This ideology sustains itself even in the face of widespread (pdf) incompetence in management (pdf); the solution to incompetence is to hire better people, to pay even more.
This belief is not obviously correct. It could be that the reason why so many “top jobs” are done badly is not that second-raters do them, in which case the problem would be solved by hiring the right people. Instead, it could be that the jobs are so demanding that no amount of brains and ability would suffice. In other words, there is what Thomas Homer-Dixon calls an “ingenuity gap” . Humans just lack the skills to do many complex tasks.
So, for example, no TV or radio presenter can possibly be sufficiently expert on so many different things as to be able to expose politicians’ lies. And no top manager can have the skills and knowledge to run large, complex organizations.
In such cases, the solution is not to hire better people - a possibility also undermined by the fact that it’s difficult to spot talent - but to find ways of avoiding reliance upon frail human intelligence. So in the case of current affairs programmes, the answer is to not have on people who are liable to be wrong or liars - not just politicians but corporate shills and many activists too. 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.
This, though, brings me to a depressing thought. The left is especially vulnerable to this managerialist ideology. It has traditionally had faith (the mot juste) that political problems - and by extension other organizational problems - can be solved by intellect. From Marx’s (misinterpreted?) claim that mankind only sets itself such problems as it can solve to Blair’s “confidence in our ability not just to promise change but to deliver it”, it has thought that brains and effort are enough.
This belief - which is magnified by the optimism bias for which politicians are selected - naturally leads to a deference to those people thought to possess managerial talent. In this sense, the rising inequality and managerialism we saw under New Labour was not an accident, but rather the logical extension of a major strand of leftist thinking.
Traditionally, many of the best challenges to this have come from the “right” - be it Hayek’s warning about the impossibility of aggregating dispersed, fragmentary knowledge or Oakeshott’s belief that politics cannot be an exercise in using mere "reason" to solve problems.
Paradoxically, therefore, if the Left really wants to overthrow inequalities of wealth and power, it must move to the right*.
* OK, maybe “left” and “right” aren’t meaningful. But don’t let this ruin a nice paradox.