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January 23, 2014


Simon Cooke

Except of course for the conservative idea that institutions are perfectable if only we get the right people running them!

Deviation From The Mean

But problems can be resolved, albeit with other consequences, as variables are always 'infinite'. For example, mortality rates have improved as humans learn by past mistakes, cumulative build up of knowledge, scientific or practical discoveries about harmful chemicals, substances etc etc.

So, for eample, a rational society may want to reduce salt or saturated fat intake, yet these are among the most popular in the anything goes society.

So, yes, perfection is a goal always out of arms reach but rational choices can be made.

And if left to the 'great leader' and not made 'democratically' then the choices and outcomes become more 'perverted'.

So this subject should encourage us to dismiss the 'great leader' idea.

Luis Enrique

it's inevitable some people are going to get murdered, this doesn't mean we ought to be relaxed about murder

is this scepticism about management? I mean you could believe in the inevitability of failure, but think a good manager has a lower failure rate than a bad one

also even if you believe in the inevitability of failure, making a song and dance about each failure might be the best way to minimize the failure rate

Dave Timoney

I think what you are pointing at is the ideological role of perfectibility in neoliberalism, hence the three examples focus on control, outcomes and data. These are treated as "business processes" in which the human is supposedly central yet strangely absent.

Neil Wilson

You missed the main one.

Large organisations are centrally planned.

Big might be notionally efficient, but it is notoriously inflexible.


I am a bit biased on this - I spent about 20yrs as a lawyer specialising in cases of professional negligence, I'd say about 90% for private sector firms/ individuals. At a guess, at least three thousand lawyers do so. That's a lot of things going pear shaped every year, whether or it was anyone's fault.

Luis is right that we shouldn't be fatalistic - but the problem with firing anyone who ever makes a mistake is you get cover -ups.


"As a Marxist, I'm supposed to be a woolly-brained utopian whilst centrists are hard-headed realists."

No you're not. Marxists lay claim to being the hard-headed realists with their advocacy of violent revolution. Yet Marx was never *less* realistic when he considered it the essential medium of social progress. Have you ever thought about applying your considerable talents to *this* issue? It has disfigured the left and rendered large swathes of it irrelevant since... well, since Marx wrote about it all those years ago.


Everyone has to learn on the job and we hope 'lessons are learned'. But government work seems different, lessons seem never to be learned because sensible business decisions conflict with political or budget imperatives.

So G4S is fun to watch, the nexus of capitalism, a slippery customer, the prison officers and of course the prisoners. Grubby compromises being worked out I suppose. Politics 1, management 1 - a score draw.

As for heart attacks, one would expect/hope for a process of continuous learning/improvement but a 10 year lag seems a bit excessive. Maybe the fact that we spend less than Sweden or Germany or France is a sign of super duper management or more likely a sign of Treasury parsimony. So politics wins over management here.

Now the NHS has form on fiddling statistics and always one way. Expensive consultants have been hired to help 'interpret' the statistics. Our money is used to swindle us, does not seem right somehow. Most likely due to lack of funding and a muddled management structure. So politics wins over management here.

Certainly managers are not all seeing and all knowing and do screw up, but add politics to the mix and the normal learning processes become completely subverted.

Igor Belanov

@ Shuggy

I don't think Marxism bases its 'realism' on advocacy of violent revolution, however much some groups insist on it being the only solution. The 'realism' comes largely from a mixture of vulgar 'scientific' and historical materialism, as that adopted during the Second International, and Marx's own analysis of ideology and the 'fetishism' of commodities.

Plus, Marx considered class struggle, not revolution, to be the motor of historical progress. Whether he was right or not, they are two different things (except in exceptional circumstances).

Socialism In One Bedroom

"So politics wins over management here."

I would say that management wins over politics actually. Places like Sweden and Norway have larger public sectors than Britain (always a business first nation if ever there was one) and have better standard of living outcomes, based on most reports in this area.

On Marx, Marx based his violent revolution idea on the belief that those with all the wealth and power would not hand it over willingly. The OXFAm wealth inequality report would suggest he was correct, and that a tea party will not change matters much!


Don't blame the NHS for fiddling the figures. Schools, Doctors, the Police have all recent form for this. You could blame the staff, but it's gaming is a natural human response to management by targets.

Take away the targets and you take away the need to game the system. Then all you need to so is design your measure to match what matters to your customer and you can improve services and reduce costs at the same time.

I've tried it and it works. Targets always sub optimize your system. Any manager who uses targets is just making their business less efficient.

Igor Belanov

The reason for the widespread use of targets is a political one though. It suits the government to issue targets to various agencies of the state, while at the same time giving them more 'autonomy' to run their own affairs (as in schools, hospitals, etc.) Thus the government avoids the difficult job of managing change and expectations 'on the ground', while passing responsibility on to the organisations when targets are not met. Plus, they maintain overall control, so can ensure that any ridiculous whim or experiment they want has to be carried out at the expense of the local agencies.

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