Freidman’s folly.

There are occasions when you have to wonder why management, despite management being better trained and having more opportunities for professional development it ever had, has so singularly failed in both the public and private sectors. It, for all its professional training, does not really seem to make much progress in improving productivity or in making organisations perform noticeably more efficiently than they did 30 years ago. It may congratulate itself on having managed to prevent organisations from self-destructing at the speed they appeared to be doing before the new professionalism in management came along, but that, of itself, is hardly a lot to boast about.

Could it be that many of the lessons that have been taught to managers, and indeed eagerly and unquestioningly learnt by managers, are the wrong lessons?  Well, in his column in the Business section of The Observer today, the  formidable Simon Caulkin seems to think that what has happened is that the Milton Friedman’s ideology, which contended that ethics belonged to the individual and  had no place in social theory, and that “humans being imperfect, the problem of social organisation was as much a negative one ‘of preventing bad people from doing harm as of enabling good people to do good’” has been the damaging central plank of management training. He goes on to insist say: 

…..there is no ‘evidence’ for these propositions: they are philosophical, not scientific, positions. But this ‘ideology-based gloomy vision’ has come to dominate economics and other social sciences, especially management, with incalculable consequences.

And the “incalculable” consequences are that: 

By adopting Friedman’s liberalism, with its exclusion of ethics and intention and assumptions of self-interest as the basis of human behaviour, as its starting point, management at a stroke could present itself as a science: a kind of deterministic mechanics emphasizing command and hierarchy to squeeze efficiencies from reluctant workers, and sharp incentives to align managers’ with shareholders’ interests.

In other words management, with the full support of Freedman’s reckless notions, could confidently strike out in the wrong direction, and stick to that direction, because it’s fully convinced that the ideology has been somehow scientifically arrived at. It time to look again at just how rigorous the training the management trainers are getting.

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