what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reading Week - part III

The second full category of books in my library are those which I have read but which need to be read and reread for their full value to be extracted. There are a lot in this category – but let me select the two which have so far made it onto my desk -
Political Order and Political Decay; Francis Fukuyama (2014) is the second volume of magnum opus of 1,300 pages and is one of these rare books of which I keep duplicate copies – although it can be freely downloaded in full from the internet.
Its introduction summarises the first volume and the opening chapter set out his framework -  showing the link between economic, social and political development; and how ideas about legitimacy have shaped our understanding of the three basic building blocks of “modern” government – “the state”, “rule of law” and “democratic accountability” (see the figure at p43)
This first chapter spells out how very different social conditions and traditions in the various continents have affected the shape and integrity of government systems (The sequencing of bureaucracy and challenge to political power is of particular interest)

Doughnut economics – 7 ways to think like a 21st century economist by Kate Raworth (2017) is another example of a book benefiting from a reread. She’s an Oxford economist whose book has made quite an impact. Indeed it’s one of a fairly short list of books I recommended last year for people wanting a different approach to economics.
Right from the start her text engages – with an explanation of how she was put off by the subject initially but came back to it almost 2 decades later….And then a rare exploration of the importance not only of “framing” but of diagrams and visuals – and how diagrams were used by Paul Samuelson in 1948 in the first popular economics textbook to plant false perceptions in student minds.  

Chapter one – “Change the Goal” - discusses how the measurement of an economy as know it today (GNP) was invented only in the late 1930s and how it was subsequently used by Roosevelt to measure the impact of the New Deal; and to prepare the US for war. Also how its inventor (Simon Kuznets) came quickly to see the crudities and deficiencies of the measure but remained a prophet in the wilderness. The rest of the chapter reminds us of the things which are left out of this metric – and the recent history of the attempts to bring in more suitable metrics  

The doughnut is her metaphor for the point we humans have reached – with us exposed on its outer rim to the limits of 9 planetary boundaries with climate change; land conversion; biodiversity loss; and nitrogen and phosphorous loading have already reached its limits….
The doughnut’s inner rim is composed of what she calls the “social foundation which includes not only food, water and housing but gender equality and political voice…   

The book devotes a chapter apiece to the seven ways she offers for changing the way we think about economics – but with headings which lack punch and clarity. Her second chapter “Seeing the Big Picture” draws a brilliant parallel between the Economics narrative, on the one hand, and a play/film on the other. Each has its plot, goodies and baddies….There’s a good interview with her here

The early pages of Raworth’s book alerted me to a great book which, some 8 years ago, identified and explored this issue of our being taken over by a new ideology – what the French used to call “La Pensee Unique”, It is Monoculture – how one story is changing everything by FS Michaels and makes a fitting fanfare for the next post which will explore the world of books freely downloadable from the internet

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Reading Week - II

The last post identified three categories in my library – “so far unread”, “done and dusted” and “virtual”. But I now realise that there is an “in-between“type – namely the books I hadn’t finished despite recognizing their significance, Let me give a couple of examples….
The first is The British Regulatory State – high modernism and Hyper-innovation; by Michael Moran (2003) whose first 60 odd pages I clearly read with great interest some years ago - since those pages in the copy I found in my library are scored with strong pencil marks. Perhaps the recipe was too rich since the final two thirds seems unread – but I was deeply impressed when I rediscovered it last week.
All previous books I’ve read about British politics (and I’ve read quite a few!) focus almost exclusively on what has been called “high politics” ie the high and visible institutions of the State. “Low politics” covers the professional associations (eg health and financial), local government and all their inspectorates and is pretty technical – and that is the focus of Moran’s book.
A fair number of studies have been made of this field but it is one which tended to fly under most people’s radar until the publication of a book by Majone in 1994. The new interest reflected the huge privatization programme which started in the UK in the 80s and had reached global proportions by the millennium. Moran was one of the best (if rather low-profile) UK political scientists with a focus much wider than most such academics.

Yanis Varoufakis’ And the Weak Suffer what they Must? (2016) is the second example.  From the start I recognized that this was an extraordinarily well-written and seminal book - but I can’t remember actually finishing it – although I wrote about it a couple of years ago as if I had. It’s the problem of having books scattered in several places. I know I picked it up again last year in a friend’s house on the coast of the Moray Firth in the North East of Scotland whose taste (the friend’s!) also includes Varoufakis – and good food and wine!!
For me, Varoufakis is one of the finest writers of non-fiction prose – and, earlier this year, I tried to explore what it is about his writing that is so good –

What makes Varoufakis' various books such excellent reading is the sheer originality of his prose –showing a mind at work which is constantly active…...rejecting dead phrases, clich├ęs and jargon… helping us see thlngs in a different light..... using narrative and stories to keep the readers’ interest alive…He's in total command of the english language - rather than, as so usual, it in control of him.....
You don’t expect to find good prose in the “Further Reading” section of an economics textbook, but just see what Varoufakis does with the task…… 

The first two links in this section about Varoufakis give a fairly extensive reading list about the man if you want to read more….

Monday, June 24, 2019

Reason as the servant of Passion

One of the delights of my house in the Carpathian Mountains is the library – with books cascading from shelving which started almost 20 years ago with a magnificent oak bookshelf and now bulge over doors, windows, corners and alcoves – anywhere not already invaded by paintings….
Coming back to the house immediately exposes me to a rich serendipity of texts many of which have lain there for years. Or which demand - and repay - rereading.
This past week has therefore been a bit of a reading week for me and I would like to share some of the gems I’ve come across not only in each of those two categories - but in a third one which is becoming more significant these days – the “virtual” one.   

The Righteous Mind – why good people are divided by politics and religion” by Jonathan Haidt (2012) has lain undisturbed on my shelves since it arrived 4 years ago – but is one of the best psychological treatments of political issues I have read. And that includes Leo Abse’s dissection of leading politicians - “Private Member” (1973) which was bettered only by Alaister Mant’s strangely neglected “Leaders we Deserve”.
Psychologists were, of course, in the van of the reaction (which started a decade or so ago) against the overly rationalistic explanations of events - Thinking Fast and Slow; Daniel Kahneman (2012) is probably the best known of these - although it's too technical and dense for me. He may have won a Nobel prize but I gave up after a few pages - and had the same reaction just now when I pulled it down from another shelf
George Lakoff is a psychologist - and much more readable - who has been exploring this terrain - and that of "framing" (see recommended reading) - for more than two decades eg “Moral Politics – how Liberals and Politics Think” (1996); and The Political Mind – a cognitive scientist’s guide to your brain and its politics (2008).

Haidt’s treatment, however, shines for three reasons – first, it takes us beyond the narrow scope of a specialist and brings in, to illustrate his points, the wisdom of such writers as social philosopher David Hume and sociologist Emile Durkheim. Indeed Hume’s quip about “passion being the servant of reason” serves as the trigger for the text  
The core of the book, secondly, rests on what he identifies as six moral foundations of society viz the care/harm; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation; and liberty/oppression dichotomies. He then uses this classification to suggest that the strength of the political right is their understanding of the importance of this entire range – whereas the left tend to emphasise only half of the range of values…
The final strength of the book is the way it’s structured – with the 5-6 key points of each chapter being clearly laid out and summarized. I’m an impatient reader (there are too many other interesting books waiting) and this made it much easier to skim…

It also uses the occasional diagram (something I always appreciate) one of which classifies people according to the extent to which they express EMPATHY (or “feeling for others” axis one) or SYSTEMISATION (or “classifying things or concepts” - axis two). Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant both figure in the bottom right quadrant (sociable Kant less so than the almost autistic father of utilitarianism). 

But the diagram made me realise that I too fall into that same bottom right quadrant! 
I may be a Leo but of the more retiring sort - as I learned when I took the Belbin test expecting to be confirmed as a Leader but was exposed as a "resource person". 
I was always more of a networker – if one with a strong penchant for books and typologies

Recommended Reading/viewing
The whole issue of "framing" (story-telling) is quite fascinating and is becoming a major issue as we increasingly understand the scale of both government and corporate leaders' manipulation of us all over the past century

Friday, June 21, 2019

“Brevity is the Soul of Wit”

Yes I know, these last 2 posts have been long and complex - but that seems to have become the hallmark of this blog. 
I’m surprised – if not slightly disappointed - that no one has told me to try to keep things shorter and simpler! Particularly when I’ve had the cheek to complain about the verbosity of others.
Long articles are, of course, easier to write than short ones – most people write not to convey meaning to others but to help them clarify their own confused thinking….And I;m no exception. That’s indeed why I have the EM Foster quote on my masthead –

How can I know what I think unless I see what I write

And it is indeed one of the reasons I continue this blog – I’ll be mid-way through writing a sentence and suddenly realise that I did not properly understood the issue I had been all too confident about in my mind. So even the first draft is the result of several rewrites to get the right words to convey the meaning I want to give to an argument….
At that stage, of course, I should reread not just to see if it makes sense – but to see if the material could be shortened. It was Alexander Pope apparently whose 19th century poem went –

Words are like leaves, and where they most abound
Much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found

But I have been reluctant to cut because I know I will use a lot of the material later for one of the dozen or so E-books you can find in the top-right corner of the blog. The blog gives me the raw material which I then work on and recraft for these books. The blog is simply the means to this wider end

But that’s not really an excuse – since I have a Word file with all of this year’s posts which I often use for subsequent editing. And, indeed, I am rarely happy with the initial post I hoist on the blog - and will generally worry away at it and transpose amended text onto the blog for at least the following 24 hours…The last post got this treatment with not only clarifications but an introductory summary and reading list being added – resulting of course in an even longer post!!

That’s why I inserted at the end of the post a heading – “Bottom Line” – which at least tries to offer the reader a brief “takeaway” message…..  When I managed training programmes, I would remind everyone of the classic 3 step advice for effective presentations –
- Tell them what you are about to say
- Tell them
- Tell them what you’ve told them

Except that there’s too much telling there – effective training is more interactive

Bottom Line
Some 2 years ago I started to use tables to make my thoughts more pithy and accessible – you can find one result in my book How did Admin Reform get to be so sexy?
I will now try to make my posts shorter….indeed I’m even considering opening a Twitter account to link to particular posts as part of a wider attempt to increase the blog’s profile. I realise that the Twitter universe is generally an unpleasant one but it is perhaps worth an experiment?

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Anti-corruption Industry has been up a Gumtree

My argument in this post is that the West made a major mistake 20 years ago when it encouraged the belief that ex-communist countries could create sustainable systems within a generation. Hundreds of billions of euros have been spent by EC Structural Funds in the past 12-15 years on capacity-building – with virtually no real institutional capacity to show.
Thousands of experts have been employed on global anti-corruption efforts which, in Romania, may have put hundreds of apparently corrupt officials in prison – but has contaminated public trust in the integrity of its prosecution system…     
The momentum of the global anti-corruption brigade has been lost in the past decade. The last significant reports were in 2012 or so. I suspect one of the reasons is that the public in the various countries was insufficiently engaged. Most experts were talking to themselves - using their own rarified language. Another perhaps is that the expected big-fixes were not forthcoming. The process takes longer than people imagined….And other wicked problems have emerged…

How does one talk about government systems which are systemically not “fit for purpose”?
“Corrupt” has generally the connotation of individual acts of transgressing very clear norms – and most of the huge literature on that subject (which had its heyday in the first decade of the new millennium) does adopt an approach which takes "integrity" as the default system….“Transparency” and “naming and shaming” are in the toolbox which comes with most ant-corruption strategies – which have been profoundly influenced by rationalist and economist assumptions and assume away the influence of any wider social norms.    
But, as Italy so well demonstrates, such strategies simply don’t work when the prevailing value system is one which expects people to pay primary allegiance to their family and friends rather than to norms of fairness enshrined in “rational-legal” bureaucracy.

The work of Geert Hofstede, Frans Trompenaars and Ronald Inglehart (of the World Values Survey) has taught us a lot about how informal systems often skew (if not undermine) the behavior of organisations which pay lip service to global norms of equity and fairness…The academic jargon calls this a “particularist value system” which is contrasted with the “universalist” norms which sustain most North European political systems. The influence of the Mafia on the Italian system is only the tip of a much deeper iceberg. Bodies such as Ombudsman, local government and audit grew in their own distinctive ways in western europe but are quickly undermined by the wider social norms when transplanted into "particularist" cultures
The literature on anti-corruption is vast; complex; and further confused by the variety of intellectual disciplines which have embraced it. The countries of the world have been sliced and diced into a variety of categories - and a lot of statistical correlations attempted.  
The field desperately needs some “gatekeepers” to sift this material on behalf of the interested public and to summarise what seem to be the most important messages…..

The two obvious candidates for such a task are journalists – and thinktankers. But a quick trawl of my large folder didn’t reveal any contributions from these two sources….Just as an earlier exercise on the public administration literature revealed only a couple of journalistic endeavours.
I have to ask the obvious question – what is it that deters journalists from performing what one would imagine to be one of their basic democratic functions, holding those with power to account? Posing it in this way suggests two immediate answers…they would risk stirring a hornet’s nest….And readers don’t seem to welcome even complex issues being reduced to a few simple guidelines or steps…They would rather enjoy a good scandal. And the public are so fed up hearing about corruption that it now seems actively to discourage them from political involvement 
And few Think Tanks have any credibility left - the scale of their corporate funding sources has demonstrated that they operate as spokesmen for the status quo and will never take up the issues that matter to people...

What is remarkable is how little of the anticorruption literature has bothered to ask some basic questions such as
- how the transformation from “particularism” to “universalism” actually happened in countries such as Denmark, Germany and the UK? Over what period of time? With what landmarks?
- what preconditions and/or sequencing that seems to suggest?
- what that might mean for a realistic strategy for change in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania?  

Historians, of course, have dealt with the first question but have left social scientists to deal with the other two - most of whom lack the historical perspective….
Francis Fukuyama is one of the few who has been able to straddle that great divide – with, for example, his quite brilliant (and accessible) Political Order and Decay (2014); 

Bottom Line
There was a lot of money for academics and consultants to work on this issue in the first decade of the new millennium - producing a lot of verbiage but a few gems. The problem is that noone wants to hear that change takes a century - nor, equally, the quick-fixes haven't worked. 
It's about time people interested in dragging particularist cultures into the modern world used the archives to produce short, sharp strategies which put the particular country's problem in this wider context
My advice to frustrated citizens who want to develop an agenda and constituency for change is to –
-       - commission someone able to trawl the extensive (English-language) literature on the various subjects of “corruption”, “political culture”, “transitology”, “state-building”, “fragile states”, “managing change” etc etc
-       - get them to summarise the key messages
-       - develop a supportive network
-       - develop a communications strategy

Further Reading
Political Order and Political Decay; Francis Fukuyama (2014). The second volume (which can be downloaded in full!!) of Fukuyama’s magnum opus. Its introduction summarises the first volume – and the opening chapters set out his framework showing the link between economic, social and political development and how ideas about legitimacy have shaped our understanding of the three basic building blocks of “modern” government – “the state”, “rule of law” and “democratic accountability” (see the figure at p43)
This first chapter spells out how very different social conditions and traditions in the various continents have affected the shape and integrity of government systems (The sequencing of bureaucracy and challenge to political power is of particular interest)

State Building, Governance and World Order in the 21st Century; Francis Fukuyama (2004) The link gives a critical review of the book. This article by Fukuyama summarises his argument

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Whatever happened to good governance and anti-corruption?

Romania’s Presidency of the Council of the EU has come – and almost gone…It has not been the disaster many people predicted not least the President of the country, one Klaus Johannis who takes himself very seriously but has great difficulties conveying much sense and has done the country no favours with his all too predictable carping from the sidelines of a so-called socialist government.
The Romanian Presidential system is modelled on the French and found an effective (if rather eccentric) performer in Traian Basescu who managed to ride out some serious challenges to his legitimacy between 2004-2014 and to embed a prosecution system which has, however, become a bit of a Frankenstein. Indeed, its anti-corruption Agency (DNA) was exposed a couple of years ago as being in cahoots with the security system; being politically-motivated in its selection of those to prosecute; and using massive and illegal wiretaps.
Its Head Laura Kovesi was duly removed from office in July 2018 by the Justice Minister (an act duly approved by the Constitutional Court) and is now the subject of criminal charges.
Half-way through Romania’s 6-month term of the Presidency of the Council of the EU, the country therefore found itself in the invidious situation of its ex- Prosecutor Kovesi (who had received the support of the European Parliament for the new post of European Prosecutor) being banned for 60 days from travelling abroad.  

But President Klaus Johannis, sadly, seems as much a criminal as the leader of the Social Democratic party Liviu Dragnea (barred from holding office due to a prior conviction for “electoral fraud”) who has just been jailed for 3 years – on an Al Capone type charge…. Johannis and his wife gained hundreds of thousands of euros from renting property which, a court judged in 2015, had been gained by them fraudulently. The full details are here

Things are never simple in Romania and the sad reality, as the country approaches the 30th anniversary of its release from communism is that very little has changed for the better and – as I explained in a series of posts last year – most serious people have now given up hope of any possibility of positive change.
I know that pessimism hangs heavily in the air these days throughout Europe ….most societies are suffering from one malaise or another……but it is the countries who broke free 30 years ago who are most at risk these days since few of their institutions are yet working in an equitable manner     
Alina Mungiu-Pippidi is one of the few people who has been trying to raise the profile of this issue - a prolific and high profile Romanian academic/social activist (with a base for the past few years in the Hertie School of Government in Berlin) who has been exploring Romanian political culture and the wider issue of corruption for the past 2 decades. In 2006 she contributed a chapter on “Fatalistic political cultures” to a book on Democracy and Political Culture in East Europe. In this she argued (a) that it was too easy for people (not least the political elite themselves!) to use the writings of Samuel Huntington to write Balkan countries off; and (b) that we really did need to look more closely at what various surveys (such as The World Values Survey) showed before jumping to conclusions….In 2007 she gave us even more insights into the Romanian culture with a fascinating and learned article - Hijacked modernisation - Romanian political culture in the 20th century 

Chasing Moby Dick across every sea and ocean – contextual choices in fighting corruption (NORAD 2011) is not the best of her writing – a bit scrappy to put it mildly - but it asks the right questions. In particular – how many countries have actually managed to shake off a corrupt system and build a credible system of rule of law? And how did they manage that feat? 
That the answer is remarkably few - and that it took many generations - should make us all pause 
A decade ago the issues of “good governance” and “anti-corruption” were all the rage for bodies such as the OECD and the World Bank - and academics. Now they look a bit sheepish if people use the phrases….Silver bullets have turned out to be duds…..But it is time to resurrect that debate...

Further Reading on Romania and institutional inertia

Academic articles/booklets on political culture and Romania
Romania Redivivus ;Alex Clapp (NLR 2017). One of the most incisive diagnoses
A Guide to Change and change management for Rule of Law practitioners (INPROL 2015) a well-written guide which assumes that a "rule of law" system can be crated within a generation!
The Quest for Good Governance – how societies develop control of corruption; Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (2015). One of the most up-to-date analyses which demonstrates the weakness of data-driven analysis. Difficult to see the wood for the trees....But some very sharp insights...
Hijacked modernisation - Romanian political culture in the 20th century; Alina Mungiu-Pippidi (2007) marvellous case-study
Poor Policy-making and how to improve it in states with weak institutions; Sorin Ionitsa (CEU 2006) One of the most acute assessments

In Europe’s Shadow – two cold wars and a thirty-year journey through Romania and beyond; Robert Kaplan (2016) - a fascinating book by a geopoliticist which has an element of the “Common Book” tradition about it with its breadth of reading
A Concise History of Romania; Keith Hitchins (2014) Very readable..
Mapping Romania - notes on an unfinished journey; Ronald Young (2019) just updated with posts from the last couple of years which get more and more fatalistic
Romania and the European Union – how the weak vanquished the strong; Tom Gallagher (2009) great narrative
Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism; Tom Gallagher (2005) powerful critique
Romania – borderland of Europe; Lucian Boia (2001) Very readable and well translated

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The revolutionary english

The Brits have a reputation for respecting tradition which is totally undeserved. The reality is that their government style (at least since the mid 1960s) has been one of the most interventionist – if not revolutionary – putting even Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of “waves of creative destruction” to shame. A few examples -
- In the mid 1970s the system of local government was decimated – the average British local authority covers 150,000 people - more than 10 times the European average
- the system has been subject several times since then to massive upheavals
- about two thirds of British civil servants now work in relatively independent Agencies
- virtually everything that can be privatized or contracted out has been so dealt with, with almost no services returning to the municipalities as has been the trend, for example, in Germany
- the National Health Service has been subjected to a never-ending series of organizational upheavals over the past 40 years
- in the mid 2000s, New Labour totally changed the political structures of English local government, encouraging the concentration of power in the hands of a few Cabinet members or a directly-elected mayor.

I supported some of these changes so it’s not the nature of the change I want to draw attention to – it’s rather their frequency and intensity; and the fact that British governments were able to force change through with so little effective opposition. That simply can’t happen in Europe – where the French, for example, are notorious for their rebellious streak; German Governments bound by constitutional constraints and a Federal structure of power-sharing; and the Italians by inertia.
Not for nothing did a British conservative Minister describe the British system as one of elective dictatorship”. And, in the 1980s, an American political scientist drew attention to this in a book about French and British styles of centralisation subtitled “British dogmatism and French pragmatism

“Illusions of Adequacy”
Because of the powers at their fingertips, British government leaders develop “illusions of grandeur”. All other European leaders know they have to negotiate – whether with other political leaders, with trade unionists or with industrialists – but not the Brits who can simply impose new policies at the snap of their fingers….
Well not quite…..they have learned that many of the “tools” of government no longer seem to work…But they can go through the motions….
.It was significant that it was only as a last resort that Theresa May tried to negotiate with the Labour leadership on Brexit. In any normal country facing such a crisis, that would have been the first not the last resort…

Britain has experienced only 2 coalitions since 1945 – a brief one Labour was forced to try with the Liberals  in the late 70s; and the one David Cameron negotiated with the Lib-Dems in 2010 which lasted the full 5 years.
“Negotiation” is something the English political class doesn’t do. I say “English” because Labour had a different approach in Scotland in 1999 when the new devolved system of Scottish government got underway.. Although the electoral arithmetic didn’t require it, Labour made a critical decision that the people of Scotland needed a clear signal that the new devolved system would be more consensual than the tired Westminster one….And, since then, a distinctive Scottish approach to policy has developed – as you will see in this article.

I would suggest that we need to explore what it is in the English mentality that makes it so difficult to consider coming together for the common good….Somehow the elites prefer the “Big-Bang” approach to change…..and don’t stay around long enough to realise that it just doesn’t work!
A recent book painted a frightening picture of an elite which is totally isolated from a sense of reality - Reckless opportunists – elites at the end of the establishment; Aeron Davis (2018)
After twenty years of interrogating the managers and politicians of the UK, Davis finds their leadership to be ‘solitary, rich, nasty, brutish and short’. Leadership could and should, he feels, be ‘connected, modestly paid, nice, civilised and long’. But it is not. He provides a two-page list of reforms that might help.
Davis began by assuming that there was a functioning Establishment, with a sense of its shared interests, and decided to investigate how it worked. He was confronted by a growing body of evidence that it didn’t work as he expected. The powerful felt obliged only to look after themselves. While many spoke of their larger ethical concerns, they had to achieve immediate ‘results’ that can be ‘measured’. Davis Davis’s account shows that no one runs the country.
There isn’t an ‘Establishment’. Its demise has been evident for at least a decade. The one that Anthony Sampson describes in his famous “The Anatomy of Britain” (1980) did exist. He revisited it, for it was never monolithic, in further studies after. Now Davis’s book has made me change my mind. My view that the downfall of the system began with the triumph of late Thatcherism and the reforms of Blair. First, there was her confinement of the trade unions and Big Bang deregulation of the City and the full-scale privatisations of the 1980s. This was then followed by an expanded public sector that was crucified by New Labour with its demands for the simulated ‘competition’, of targets, outsourcing and internal markets.

One of the earliest books to draw attention to the hyperinnovation of the English state in the last 50 years was The British Regulatory State – high modernism and Hyper-innovation; by Michael Moran (2003). 
It is a complex - but brilliant - book since it adopts a rare “political economy” approach – looking at institutional changes as part of a wider and deeper change in economic and social structures. 
All previous books I’ve read about British politics (and I’ve read quite a few) focus almost exclusively on what has been called “high politics” ie the high and visible institutions of state. “Low politics” (the field of the professional associations (medical and financial), local government and all their inspectorates) is pretty technical and, although the subject of study, has flown under most people’s radar.

Since the privatization of the 80s and 90s, however, its significance has grown immensely – but this has received proper treatment in Europe only since the publication of a book by Majone in 1994

I appear to have read the first third of Moran's book with great interest since my copy (from almost a decade ago) is scored with strong pencil marks – but I seem to have lost interest a third of the way through. I am now going back to read it more carefully. 
As I explained earlier this year, it should be read in conjunction with a book which appeared in 2007 – The Rise of the Unelected Democracy and the new separation of powers (which, typically, I also left about one third into the reading)  

Moran was one of the best UK political scientists – whose focus was much wider than most such academics. In 2005 he also wrote a textbook which, although aimed at undergraduates, is ideal reading (even at 500 pages) for a foreign audience Politics and Governance in the UK - given the breadth of his reading and the originality of his thought.

Monday, June 3, 2019

blowing up departmental silos

It was some 50 years ago when people first started to promise the “end of bureaucracy” but centralized control has been too seductive a notion for those with power to be willing to surrender it easily.
We have talked a lot since then about people getting lost in “departmental silos” but real reform of public services (and indeed of commercial organisations) is notoriously difficult.
The early efforts made in the UK in the 1970s introduced management techniques to government but Thatcher grew impatient with that and opted instead for the outright transfer of bodies and services to the private sector and, as a second-best, the contracting-out of services – with the subsequent explosion of audit and management controls…

And New Labour’s “modernization of government” programme from 1999 turned out to be a modern version of target-driven Stalinism.
The Coalition government of 2010-15 seemed to offer greater flexibility – with a new emphasis on the role of the third sector and even of worker-cooperatives. But that soon dies the death…

So it’s understandable that people should be cynical when they encounter talk of reform…..but I’ve just finished reading a rather different sort of book……Radical Help – how we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state” which has come out of someone taking the trouble to immerse herself for several years in the “Dead-end” worlds in which too many British citizens live these days – locked in an apparently never-ending cycle of despair and hopelessness.

We have all heard of these “Neighbours from hell” cases and it was with such families that Hilary Cottam then had the courage to work with – unable to accept a model which allows hundreds of thousands of pounds to be spent on them, taking up the time of dozens of welfare specialists. One example she quotes was actually visited by no less than 73 different officials from a variety of agencies!!
Slowly and patiently she built small teams to work with such families, selected by a small panel including the mother herself who then became part of “the solution” – a total inversion of the traditional model. The same, flexible approach was used for other “wicked problems” – the transition to adolescence; the search for good work; good health; and ageing well….

At one stage, the Prime Minister himself visited the project and was so impressed that he instructed the Cabinet Office to use the same approach on a wider basis. This was part of the “Big Society” idea which was reflected in ideas about “the enabling society” which The Carnegie Trust for one still seems to keep alive.
But government officials simply can’t understand that the mechanistic “scaling up” of such delicate work requires skills and methods not easily found in "toolkits" - and their efforts quickly failed

Seven years ago, it appears, Cottam was part of a small team which produced a pamphlet on the same theme - The Relational State – how recognising the importance of human relationships could revolutionise the role of the state (IPPR 2012).
Like me, she is attracted to the recent work of Frederic Laloux and also like me, she quotes favourably the liberationist work in the 1970s of Ivan Illich and Paolo Freire

But, so far, I know of only one government which has abolished Departments of State and really tried to get officials working flexibly on issues seen by citizens as problematic – and that is the Scottish government. That experience is briefly outlined in the pamphlet “Northern Exposure” you will find in the reading list attached.

A Resource
The Enabling State; sir john elvidge (2012)
Public Services Reform – but not as we know it; by Hilary Wainwright (Unison and TNI 2009)