Sunday, August 8, 2010
changing the system of greed and incompetence
First a tribute to Tony Judt, the British writer, historian and professor who has just died at age 62 after a two-year struggle with motor neurone disease. Yesterday’s blog coincidentally contained a link to one of his New York Review of Books essays which he had expanded into his last, short but powerful book – Ill Fares the Land. Today's link gives the background to (and purpose of) that essay and book. Such courage and determination he showed in his last year to try to summarise the messages he felt he had learned for younger generations. What an example he sets! I will return in future blogs to the inspiring man and his works.
Before I learned the news, I had been planning to say more about the Rawnsley and Mortensen books I covered yesterday. Unlike a lot of other (abstract) books I read - both of these books focus on individuals. In the first case - the damage and disappointments politicians bring. In the second case, the tremendous good an individual can do.
Leaders are having a bad time of it at the moment - whether bankers, business or political executives. The message most of us is that they are greedy and incompetent (of course, there are exceptions, such as Richard Semler about whom I have blogged). Why is this so - and what can we do about it? Systems and procedures of democracy and corporate governance were supposed to subject leaders to scrutiny and prevent the Enron, banking and other disasters we have seen in the last decade. Patently they don't work - complacency and group think are alive and well. More than 20 years ago, Alaister Mant wrote a book Leader We Deserve which remains for me one of the best attempts to answer the first of the questions. However, his book focussed on the psychological aspects and there are 2 other levels to be considered - the organisational and societal/systemic. A book such as Clegg’s Power and organisations deals with with these 2 levels
But how does this translate into a reasonable strategy for making politicians and business executives more accountable? We know that regulatory bodies (such as the UK’s Financial Service Agency)end up as useless captives of the interests they are supposed to be controlling; and the UK reacted strongly a few years back when it was realised just how many officials and bodies there were supposed to be auditing performance (Howard Davis). Accountability is probably not the term to use – since it leads down the dreadful path of targets and counterproductive control. Business writers are feeling their way to a different model (William Davis) – but it is governments who set the legislative framework. We therefore face 2 basic questions – how do we get more open and responsive politicians and goverments – to ensure relevant actions are taken? And what should these actions be?
Unlike new Labour, the new British coalition government seems actually to be exploring these questions.