Friday, April 8, 2011

Turning Point: NY Post's John Podhoretz on "Management Fetishism"

John Podhortez of the NY Post is a conservative writer who doesn't keep his counsel or suffer fools lightly. Therefore, of all of the ink spilled over the sudden "separation from service" of Cathleen P. Black as Chancellor and her replacement by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, Mr. Podhoretz's article in today's NY Post seems to address most cogently the rise and fall of the Mayor's decision making process in this matter, which appears more uregent and to the point than that of the former Chancellor herself. Sadly, a squandered opportunity no doubt for Ms. Black, as the first woman to hold that post in NYC.

But the article seems to not only address the meaning of this folly in NYC, as much as a reassessment of the entire culture change that has evolved as an ideology of privatization, where public funds are funneled to the private sector, and that equates government as manageable in the same way as businesses. A few examples from his article:

"After three months of hell, Mayor Bloomberg finally put Cathie Black out of her misery as schools chancellor -- a fiendishly difficult and complicated job that he was foolish to have offered her and that she was foolish to have accepted.

The questions that arise from this fiasco are: Why did he offer it in the first place -- and why did she accept when she was so obviously unqualified?

The answer: managerial fetishism. ..

This is the idea that a good manager should be able to manage anything, from a lemonade stand to a publishing business to a $17 billion educational system. After all, or so the thinking goes, a good manager uses good management principles that apply to any and every task involving people, goods and services.

Good management is, of course, key to any successful business -- indeed, any successful enterprise. But there is a problem with the notion that you can be a brilliant manager when you know nothing about the task you are managing. That's what it means to make a fetish out of management. The problem is that it's a ridiculous notion.

Perhaps Bloomberg was right to think Black was a brilliant private-sector manager.... Where he was disastrously wrong was in believing that someone skilled at selling ad bundles to Madison Avenue for a national newspaper and consumer magazines could bring those skills to bear on raising third-grade reading scores in South Jamaica.

It's no wonder he'd get that wrong. After all, Bloomberg counted on managerial fetishism to win his elections for New York City mayor....
Businesses have to keep their books in balance, have to live within their means, have to provide good service to customers -- so shouldn't government? Shouldn't the school system?

In hiring Black, Bloomberg was indulging in the conceit, especially popular in times of dysfunction, that government can and should be run "like a business."

It sounds wonderful, and that's why people fall for it. But it's nonsense. Government can't be run like a business. Government is by definition a collective. It's run not to earn a profit or produce goods people want but rather to provide services with money it appropriates for the purpose.

The questions that government must address are: What services will it provide? How will it provide them? And at whose expense are they to be provided?

These are practical questions, yes, but they're also moral ones, because government has the power to take people's money, to order their children to attend failing schools and to imprison them if they fail to heed the government's mandate.

The people who run governments aren't merely supposed to be managers. They're supposed to be leaders who guide the body politic -- while at the very same time serving as the employees of the same body politic they're supposed to lead. It's a rather complicated role.... "

Mr. Podhoretz's full article here

Although the above author would likely not agree, but this same "managerial fetishism" seems the same conceit -- of power, ego and plutocracy-- that makes corporations and wealthy individuals complain about taxation but be more than happy to contribute money to a charter or other school which allows them to come in and throw their managerial and executive weight around, since it's their dime, and manage the school leadership (i.e., professional educators). A sense of nobless oblige that translates into "Only Business Management Knows Best." Well, given this battle between a flagging public sector and an hallucinatory corporate sector that can run the economy into the ground one minute and then seek to deny unemployment and other benefits to  those in need as a result of the privcate sector's own mad actions, what else can one say but -- G-d bless American business, but tax them and tax them hard.

With all of this still unfolding in NYC, coupled with the disasters of weak government regulation that played a role in the Japanese nuclear crisis, and the uncertainty resulting from the Tea Party/GOP/Democratic standoff in Washington,DC , whether this is a watershed moment is too soon to tell. But, clearly, the feeling is out there that a new corner may have been turned in New York City government.

--Deep in the Heart of Brooklyn

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Current Reading

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