Wednesday, April 19, 2023

#109 / Consultants: I Am Glad Someone Has Noticed


Not so long ago, I mentioned the observation, by political theorist Hannah Arendt, that there is a tendency for members of the public - that means all of us - to get "frightened" by the divisions and disagreements that are so evident, and inevitable, in any genuine politics. The solution often sought, says Arendt - and NOT a good idea, the way she sees it - is to think we can escape the rough waters of political choice by delegating key decisions to "experts." 

In fact, the giant bureaucracies that now typify government at all levels (even the local level) have not calmed public concerns about how politics works. In fact, members of the public are now increasingly alienated from their own government, since our government, at all levels, seems to have little to do with that ideal of "self-government" that we profess to believe is the whole reason for the existence of government at all. Check out the Declaration of Independence if you are uncertain about this fundamental understanding of what American government is supposed to be all about. 
Despite our historic commitment to "self-government," our government is is more and more seen as a kind of "deep state," and the idea that we might have any sympathy, or affection, or even any tolerance, for those in charge of the government - I am talking about "politicians," our elected officials - is very much put in question by almost everyone, and again, at all levels of our government. 

Arendt's observations about how Americans have wanted to flee from genuine "self-government," in order to assuage our fears that division and dissolution will tear us apart, as the inevitable result of the "plurality" that is an undeniable aspect of our life together, has led to the creation of the large, governmental bureaucracies that are such a prominent part of our government today. 

But, as it turns out, even those government bureaucracies want to be insulated from the necessity of making difficult political choices in an environment of major disagreements in the public. Hence, "consultants!"
I live in Santa Cruz, California, which was, fifty years ago, a place where genuine "self-government" established itself, and fundamentally transformed the community. I am speaking from personal experience. During the last twenty years or so, both city government and county government - and, most importantly, the public - have left the days of "self-government" behind. Elected officials - specifically, members of the City Council and the Board of Supervisors - routinely defer to what the hired city and county staff persons tell them they ought to do. 

But... the expert staff members who have been delegated basic responsibilities by our elected officials have themselves attempted to escape responsibility for making decisions about what government ought to do. They hire "experts." For almost everything!

This is what The Big Con, a recent book by Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington, tells us, and if you don't want to read the entire book, you can get a good idea of the argument by reading a book review by Barton Swaim, published in The Wall Street Journal - the paper's paywall permitting that, of course. 

I have to say, having read the review, I am glad someone has noticed!

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1 comment:

  1. Right on, as usual Gary! I've been thinking and writing about this very subject of greater concern.

    Local government has been professionalized and bureaucratized to the point that the public is excluded from participation, not physically but culturally. When the public cannot understand and is mislead by the government, corporate bureaucracy, democracy flies out the window.


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