A better person than me (and everybody else) once said that "culture is what you don’t notice.” The same is true for what is much the same thing, ideology. I was reminded of this by Hopi's proposal that the Independent open a chain of coffee shops on the grounds that Indy readers love their coffee shops.
Now, this is a modest proposal, a doo-dad that slipped into his head. But why, of all the possible ideas one can have, did this particular one slip into Hopi's head, and then onto the page? I suspect it's because of his social democratic ideology.
To see my point, consider what's wrong with the idea. Quite simply, it's that newspapers don't know how to run coffee shops. The Indy won't run coffee shops for ther same reason that Starbucks won't start producing tablets and smartphones even though their customers love them - they don't know how to do so.
But why can't they simply buy in such expertise? They could, but they have no more ability to identify and monitor such expertise than anyone else. For this reason, it is very rare for companies to diversify successfully out of declining industries. They are trapped by their vintage of organizational capital, by their culture.
This poses the question. Why did these objections not occur to Hopi, or to the editor in his head? This is where Hopi's social democratic ideology enters. It stopped him, or his internal editor, from recognizing these objections, in three ways:
1. Social democrats are (too?) optimistic about the limits of knowledge. Just as they think that governments can know enough to regulate industries or to run an effective macroeconomic policy, so they fail to see that managers' knowledge is bounded. Social democrats don't appreciate the force of Hayek's knowledge problem.
2.The managerialist's faith in the portability of management skills. Just as New Labour thought private sector bosses had expertise that could be transfered to the NHS or welfare state, so Hopi thinks the management talent which makes the Indy so well-run is transferable to coffee shops. This is a dubious assumption, challenged by John Pick and Robert Protherough:
The notion that [19th century bosses] had in common a single talent which can be recognised as "managerial skill", capable of ready transference between their different callings, is pure fantasy. That Dr Barnado could equally well have run a chain of newsagents, or that Thomas Cook could just as readily have run a chocolate factory, is manifestly absurd.
Yet the modern world believes as fervently in the transferability of management as it believes that management skills are separate and identifiable realities. (Managing Britannia, p13)
3. The failure to see the importance of path-dependency and organizational culture. For we Marxists, the state is as much iron fist as helping hand, a force which tends inevitably to serve the interests of capital. Social democrats, by contrast, think this history and organizational culture can be changed if only decent people like themselves were in charge.
In these ways, Hopi's ideology prevented him seeing the flaws in his proposal. Ideology reveals itself in the little things, the things that aren't said as well as are said.
Now, you might object to all this that I'm seeing what I want to see here. Maybe. But if my own blog isn’t the place to display the confirmation bias, I don’t know what is.