Come Back Gosplan, All Is Forgiven

How could we ever have seen fit to assert that the Soviet Union was economically backwards, when in fact it was devoted for decades to something that Western countries have only recently learned to espouse – namely running both productive enterprises and government administration by means of elaborately quantified managerial performance criteria? The United Kingdom, the most zealous convert to the cult of New Public Management, cannot seem to get enough of publicly trumpeted Targets for this, that and the other. One expects at any moment the canonisation of some overworked hospital nurse as the new Stakhanov.

Once upon a time, public officials were supposed to represent the government, enforce laws, do justice, report evils and assist the population with its problems. It would not have occurred to them to call what they did “production”; they were simply doing their duty. The whole assimilation of services, particularly government services, to the concept of “production” is fundamentally wrong-headed; services are performed, not produced. And many involve, not the appearance of something, but the removal for something – such as a cancer in your colon or two feet of water in your basement. Calling the restoration of a prior state of normality by the name of “production” is an invitation to game the system. For example, the moment you decide that the deity of “production” has taken up residence in hospital discharge statistics, and reward the hospital accordingly, you have given it an incentive to discharge its patients when they are still very sick. They can then be re-admitted and the survivors discharged all over again, thus doubling “production” overnight.

Soviet experience showed, of course, that the consequence of target-happiness in the public administration is competition between officials to set the highest targets and then fake the best appearance of their having been attained. Darwinian selection then operated to refine and elaborate the fakery, constantly widening the gap between government and reality. The same result in the West is inevitable.

Posted on April 16, 2009 at 08:53 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, The Age Of Enron-cence

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