A little bit of politics

This blog entry will start by completely ignoring Lyndon B Johnson’s famous maxim – “Did you ever think that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else” – and then might get better after that. 

My education in economic theory took place in the 1980s. Never the most interesting subject it was at least a time when the Keynesian theories we were weaned on had been replaced by Monetarism as the main basis for government economic policy.

Well Keynesianism is certainly back with a vengeance now as vast sums of Government money are injected into the economy to try to keep us from complete ruin. One of the torchbearers for Keynesianism throughout the monetarist era was J K Galbraith who I read and saw on television once or twice and was an attractive figure to me, both for what he said and his general demeanour. He’s back in vogue too and his book on the Great Crash of 1929 has apparently been flying off bookshelves in the US as people try to make sense of what has been going on.

Galbraith also had some insight into how organisations work. He believed that in large organisations, individuals begin to develop interests of their own, with little or nothing to do with the interests of shareholders, customers, the public, the planet or indeed their own organisation. In the private sector they like to see themselves as entrepreneurs and certainly like to reward themselves as such but they are in fact bureaucrats. At this point, all classical economic theory is irrelevant. The private sector has no economic superiority over the public sector.

It certainly has no moral superiority in that while the interests of private sector bureaucrats are on the whole selfish, the interests of those in the public sector are to some degree general or at least the same as those of the less privileged, who need some protection from economic and social realities. There’s nothing much new in any of this. C Northcote Parkinson and Laurence J Peter were writing about it decades ago, wittily and incisively and giving the language Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle while they went about it.

Yesterday David Cameron spoke at an event to launch something called the ‘Network for the Post Bureaucratic Age’. It claims to be an apolitical organisation but having as your keynote speaker the probable next Prime Minister in the middle of an election campaign is likely to derail your impartiality as quickly as Christine Pratt’s phone call to the BBC did hers.

I can see why Cameron is there, a bit of visibility and a chance to link himself to a new slogan and witter on about Government 2.0 and all that horseshit. But the whole idea that we live or are about to live in a Post Bureaucratic Age is as misguided an attempt to convince people that Something Significant is happening as was the Classless Society. Recent events have shown that governments will always protect the interests of large organisations and that, far from bureaucracies having less say in our lives in the future, they will have more.

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3 Responses to “A little bit of politics”


  1. 1 Stephen Foster February 23, 2010 at 10:13 am

    It’s quite difficult to argue against any of this as it seems like the felicitous work of a brainiac getting down with his obsessions.

    However, you do need a space between My and education.

  2. 2 markelt February 23, 2010 at 10:25 am

    There. Happy? 🙂


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