The New Wealth of Nations

by John Raven

Part IV

The Way Forward

 

Chapter 17 - Section III

The Critique Summarised

Summary of Parts I, II, and III

and an

Introduction to, and Overview of, Part IV

 

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Index



Giving Effect to The New Values

If there is so much agreement about where we need to get to, what stops us introducing the desired changes and what steps do we need to take in order to do so?

We have seen that there are no grounds for the belief that the invisible hand of the market will somehow help us to deal with these problems. We have seen that we cannot rely on our existing public management arrangements to get us there. But we have also seen that there are a whole series of entirely unsuspected systems processes which prevent progress. These range from the Machiavellian activities of our "leaders" and those who stand behind them, through the kind of feedback which leads politicians to engage in certain sorts of activity in order to secure re-election and the determination of behaviour by some rather remarkable myths and mystifying processes, to the kind of process hypothesised by Robb17.15. All of these call for non-obvious kinds of intervention, the effectiveness of each of which will depend on the adequacy of the understanding on which they are based.

There are other difficulties. Even if the nature of the problems we face and the steps needed to deal with them were apparent, we have no clear image of what a sustainable society would look like, no clear understanding of the arrangements that are needed to run any society in such a way as to translate human values into effect, and still less understanding of the steps that are required to transform the kind of society we have into that which would be needed.

Worse, the available evidence suggests that there is much less public support for the kind of activities which the material reviewed in this book shows to be at least relevant than there is for the values that are to be enacted. While the work of the Taylor Nelson Monitor17.16 shows that the inhabitants of Britain, Holland, Norway, and Austria are much more likely than those of other nations to endorse the "new values", that work and the work of the Aspen Institute17.17 also shows that the route which at least the British and the Americans espouse in seeking to translate those values into effect is highly individualistic.
Those who endorse the new values tend to seek personally satisfying, creative, autonomous work in which they can express themselves. They reject bureaucratically organised work. They reject authority (because authority interferes with autonomy). They pursue occupations (including scientific and entrepreneurial careers) for excitement and adventure, for personal satisfaction, or because of the benefits it confers on society. They want to do what is right rather than what will buy advancement in their organisations. They devote themselves to single-issue rather than party politics.
They see the solution to global problems (if indeed they think in terms of a solution at all - for many of them think only of their own behaviour and not a system) in what may be thought of as the typically British way canonised by Adam Smith: as arising out of the cumulation of individually responsible decisions and actions rather than through systematic, organised, action to influence systems processes.

In our own work17.18 we have documented some other problems. While a much higher percentage of the population of the UK than of Japan or the US endorses the New Values, far fewer in the UK are anxious to seek out new information and sift it for good ideas, far fewer are interested in understanding and influencing the workings of social systems, far fewer are interested in thinking about the talents of subordinates and how to place and develop them, far fewer are interested in developing better ways of thinking about things, and far fewer are interested in finding new ways to do things or new things to do.

Given what we have seen about the steps needed to give effect to the New Values, these findings help to explain the plight in which Britain finds itself. They indicate why it has been so difficult for the Third Party in the UK to become a significant force in politics. While many people would indeed like to see the introduction of a very different kind of society, they want it to emerge from a cumulation of personal, value-based action, not from organised action to change society. Few want to do the things it would be necessary to do to work out how to introduce and run a sustainable society. Few even think it is important to support those who would wish to do so.

At this point it is important to say something about interpretations which are often placed on the failure of individuals or society to enact the New Values.

At an individual level, failure to act in accordance with espoused values does not necessarily mean that those concerned do not "really" believe in these values. Actual behaviour is not only determined by values. It is also influenced by outside pressures and other considerations. For example, the personal costs of doing without one's car in a car-based society are often enormous. To translate what one "really" feels about cars into effect would require system-wide change - but the problems facing those who seek to introduce such systems changes in the context we have documented are enormous. Likewise, failure to re-cycle one's aluminium beer cans - despite the importance one attaches to recycling - may be an entirely logical decision: Even the pollution caused by the energy consumed in taking beer cans to collection points, thence to re-cycling plants, and then reprocessing them exceeds the pollution caused by smelting more aluminium. Thus, failure to recycle beer cans does not mean that one would not support necessary developments introduced as part of a system on a communal basis.

These examples illustrate one of the most important dilemmas facing many of those who endorse the New Values: Individualistic action is futile, but what is really needed - the initiation of collective action - is frustrating and difficult and thus is in conflict with other New Values, such as the desire for a less frustrating life style. As Lane and ourselves have shown, initiating effective communal, civic, action is widely recognised as involving the most difficult and thankless of activities - such as thinking about how systems processes work and how to intervene in them, setting up politicians and business managers to get them to act in the public interest, and getting people to work together effectively for the long-term good of society.

It is the paralysis created by precisely this conflict that has allowed the remnants of right-wing economics to flourish: In the kind of conditions described, there is no articulated and viable alternative (or even realistic opposition) to right-wing views. People cannot vote for something they do not know how to do. In practice, those they might have voted for did not even get as far as saying that, precisely because they did not know how to do it, one of their priorities would be to set up the arrangements needed to find out how to do it. They even allowed the issues to be discussed to be hijacked by the Right "because there is no point in arguing with them" and because it would be seen as inappropriate and pointless - not to mention too demanding - to develop and articulate an alternative from which a new agenda for debate could be derived.

We will review in a later chapter the main suggestions which others have made for dealing with the problems highlighted in the section on "Beyond the New Values". These fall into two main groups. One is for a return to some kind of harmony with nature; the other involves calling on governments to enact a myriad of disconnected environmentalist proposals. As far as we are concerned, the former fails to come to terms with the urgency of the situation and the "developments" which have taken place in society. The latter fails to attach sufficient importance to systems analysis and to recognise that governments are more inclined to act in the interests of the powerful than the general public.

The stance taken in this book is that the key development is to recognise that we already live in a managed economy and that many of the mechanisms we need to manage it more effectively are already in place. The need is to find ways of getting people, especially public servants, to collect, sift, and act on information in an innovative way in the long-term public interest.

The remainder of this book is devoted to spelling out what this involves.

It means creating a pervasive climate of innovation in which everyone attempts to do what they are doing in new ways and sets aside part of the day to work in a network arrangement concerned with innovation. It means giving a high priority to the establishment of policy evaluation and development units and to running them in such a way that they will collect and disseminate more forward-looking information. To have more effective information-based management we need better information on: What is happening in the environment; the quality of life and what contributes to it; the interconnections between seemingly independent processes; the long-term consequences of alternatives; and the effectiveness of the various agencies which are charged with managing society in the public interest.

More importantly, we need a better understanding of systems. We need the kind of information which will help us to ensure that actions taken in one part of the system will not be neutralised by the reactions of other parts of the system. We need means of debating the implications of the information and giving teeth to the decisions that are taken. It is argued that the achievement of these goals has primarily to do with exposing more of the workings of the public service to the public gaze. This in turn involves the evolution of professionally developed tools to assess the workings of organisations on the one hand and the structures required to publicise what is going happening on the other.

To create a ferment of innovation in the public interest we need to develop new expectations of public servants, a structure which will promote innovation and evaluated experimentation, and a new staff appraisal system which will reward them for acting in an innovative way in the long-term public interest instead of in the short-term interest of politicians who need to be re-elected.

Though the central need is for fundamental change in our societal management arrangements, it is necessary to be clear that, in using the word "management", we do not mean to identify ourselves with concepts of management which are widely embraced but which are not, and never were, appropriate to the management of viable enterprises. Management is not about making centralised decisions for individuals and issuing orders and instructions. It is about creating situations in which people's own problem-solving behaviour leads them forward. The way forward lies in a changed understanding of what is meant by the terms "planning" and "management": Both refer to the creation of vision, the release of adventurous activity, and the release of the ability to monitor, observe, and learn. These are no arm-chair prescriptions: The enactment of such concepts is exactly what distinguishes more from less effective management within individual enterprises.

Given the fact that ours is a highly managed economy (and society), we are unavoidably faced with Adam Smith's and Fred Hayek's "wise men" problem. We have seen that their solution does not, and cannot, work. Yet the question remains: How are we to ensure that decisions are wise - i.e. that they do not overlook crucial consequences, implications, and considerations? How are we to ensure that the effectiveness of what we are doing is continuously monitored and that decisions are changed as the effects of actions become clear? How are we to give effect to wise decisions? Or, as Bertrand Russell put it after he had noted that change is inevitable while progress is problematic, how are we to ensure that change means progress? The problem is how to achieve a desirable world, a desirable future, a sustainable future, indeed any future, for Homo Sapiens.


17.1 We can see ways of further reforming money to yield a set of ticket systems which work within very much more delimited areas of the economy, but this is a more radical re-formulation than has been envisaged by any of those who advocate reform of money and market processes.

17.2 Sampson, 1989

17.3 Ekins, 1986

17.4 Bellini, 1980

17.5 Thurow, 1983

17.6 See especially, Lane, 1979, 1986.

17.7 See especially, Lane, 1979, 1986.

17.8 If further evidence on this point is required see Easterlin (1973).

17.9 See especially, Lane, 1979, 1986.

17.10 Robertson, 1985

17.11 Taylor Nelson Monitor, see Large, 1986.

17.12 Yankelovitch et al., 1983a&b

17.13 e.g. see Jowell and Topf, 1988.

17.14 Milbrath, 1989

17.15 Robb, 1989, 1991

17.16 Taylor Nelson Monitor, see Large, 1986.

17.17 Yankelovitch et al., 1983a&b

17.18 Graham and Raven, 1987


Bellini, J. (1980). Rule Britannia: A Progress Report for Domesday 1986. London: Jonathan Cape.

Easterlin, R.A. (1973). Does money buy happiness? Public Interest, 30, Winter, 3-10.

Ekins, P. (Ed.). (1986). The Living Economy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Graham, M.A. and Raven, J. (1987). International Shifts in the Workplace - are we becoming An "old West" in the Next Century? Provo: BYU Dept. Organizational Behaviour.

Jowell, R. and Topf, R. (1988). British Attitude Survey. London: SCPR.

Lane, R.E. (1979). The Dialectics of Freedom in a Market Society. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champign, Department of Political Science.

Lane, R.E. (1986). Market justice, political justice. American Political Science Review, 80, 383-402.

Large, P. (1986). Article summarising work conducted by the Taylor Nelson Monitor. In The Guardian, 7 February 1986.

Milbrath, L.W. (1989). Envisioning a Sustainable Society. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Robb, F.F. (1989). Cybernetics and Suprahuman Autopoietic Systems. Systems Practice, 21, 47-74.

Robb, F.F. (1991). Accounting - a virtual autopoietic system? Systems Practice, 4, 215-235.

Robertson, J. (1985). Future Work: Jobs, Self-Employment and Leisure After the Industrial Age. Aldershot: Gower/Maurice Temple Smith.

Sampson, A. (1989). The Midas Touch: Money, People and Power from West to East. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Thurow, L.C. (1983). Dangerous Currents: The State of Economics. New York: Random House.

Yankelovitch, D. and Immerwahr, J. (1983). Putting the Work Ethic to Work. New York: Public Agenda Foundation.

Yankelovitch, D., Zetterberg, H., Strumpel, B., Shanks, M. et al. (1983). Work and Human Values. New York: Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies.


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