A New Wealth of Nations

A New Enquiry Into the Nature and Origins of the Wealth of Nations


The Sustainable Learning Arrangements Needed for a Sustainable Society


John Raven - 1995

Chapter 1 - Section III

Section III

So far, this chapter has highlighted some points which will be made at greater length in Parts I to III of this book. The remainder of the chapter will sketch in something of what will emerge when, in Part IV, we come to consider the way forward.

The new societal arrangements which are required to introduce the radical transformations that are required in the way we run our society turn out to have three components.
It is not without irony that these build centrally on our existing politico-bureaucratic arrangements, the procedures the Trans-National Corporations use to manage world affairs in their own interests, and, most directly, on the procedures the Japanese use to manage the world in their interests.

But, before we review these components, two points may be reiterated.
The first is that public servants play a vital role in creating the wealth of modern society. It is not only in sectors producing commodities, whether in the EU or Japan, that the activities performed by public servants are of vital importance. They also play a vital role in enhancing the quality of life directly through public provision - for example through the design of living and working arrangements or by creating conditions of security both now and into the future. For this reason it is to finding ways of getting public servants to play their key role in releasing energy into innovative activity more or less across the board that we must attend. The role which the public service plays in wealth creation is far too great to be adequately directed and supervised by multi-purpose elected assemblies. It is on public servants themselves - and not governments - that we must focus. We need to change our expectations of them and we need to develop better arrangements to direct and monitor their work.
Most importantly, we need to develop new arrangements to ensure that public servants seek out and act on information in an innovative way both in the long-term common interest and in the interests of sub-groups of the population.

The first requirement for any radical transformation in society is the creation of a pervasive climate of innovation.
This means setting aside time for, attaching importance to, and establishing the network-based working arrangements required for everyone to become involved in what Kanter has termed" parallel organisation activity concerned with innovation". In this way everyone will be able to contribute their diverse, and often unverbalised, insights and distinctive talents to the process of identifying and introducing the almost endless changes that are required. This will lead to numerous contradictory "experiments" based on different definitions of "the most important problem" and routes to its solution.

The development of the arrangements needed to to create this hive of innovation need to be linked to much better arrangements for monitoring the experiments that are initiated in such a way as to learn from their effects, for carrying out the crucially important fundamental research that is required, and for ensuring that action is taken on the basis of results. The necessary research and development organisations themselves need to be run very differently to most of today's universities and policy research units.

The process of innovation needs to be supported by new arrangements which will enable everyone concerned to get credit for having contributed in very different ways to the difficult, demanding, and frustrating activities involved in innovation. The outcome will be a very messy process, almost exactly the opposite of the current preoccupation with authoritarian direction, streamlined ("lean and mean") arrangements for implementing directives, and the almost complete absence of arrangements for learning from the effects of action or taking corrective action when necessary.

Public servants have the key responsibility for creating this pervasive climate of innovation and for introducing the arrangements needed to support it.

The second, overlapping, requirement involves the evolution of much better arrangements for initiating the collection of information in the first place, bringing it together, sifting it for good ideas, initiating action based upon it, monitoring the results of that action, learning from the monitoring process, and re-starting the cycle.
Clearly, this is again primarily a responsibility for public servants.

The third set of necessary developments involves the introduction of new ways of thinking about management, bureaucracy, democracy, and citizenship.
The most important development in our ways of thinking about management involves recognition that it has centrally to do with releasing the energy, creativity, and initiative of others in a hive of innovation. This in turn underlines the importance of developing of new procedures to ensure that politicians and public servants both set about creating such a ferment of innovation and themselves consistently seek out and act on information in an innovative way in the long-term public interest, monitor the effects of those actions, and take corrective action when necessary.
The arrangements required to do this involve the introduction of much better, social-science based, monitoring procedures, and the evolution of much improved ways of exposing the behaviour of public servants to the public gaze (so that they are more likely to act in the long term public interest) and finding ways of giving them credit for engaging in the risky, creative, demanding, and publicly visible activities involved in innovation.

The development of better ways of exposing the behaviour of public servants to the public gaze turns on the evolution of new forms of participative democracy grounded in network-based supervision of the public service. This has major implications for concepts of citizenship.

Although implemented through our existing structures, the result will be a devolved, dynamic, experimentation-learning-and-management system very different indeed from what we have today.
What happens will be determined as in Smith's market mechanism - by a wide range of people who have different priorities, perceptions, and bits of information. It will not be determined by central decree. But the invisible hand of the marketplace will be replaced. It will be replaced by visible monitoring and learning arrangements aimed at understanding systems processes - an understanding which will allow the consideration, assessment, and control of multiple determinants of events and the identification of a wide range of desired and desirable outcomes.

At this point many readers will be wondering how all this activity is to be paid for.
Later chapters will show both that this is not really the correct way to pose the question, and that, even if posed in this way, there is really no problem. We can hint at the answer here by saying that the correct way to view the problem is to focus on the redeployment of human resources. There is ample scope for this. We have lots of unemployed people. We have a incredibly ineffective public sector. And we have a market process the provision of which (as we shall document) consumes two thirds of the selling price of all goods and articles which pass through it.
"Paying" for the process is, therefore, like the wider problem of which it is a symptom, essentially a management task rather than an economic one.

The use of the words "learning" and "management" in the previous discussion poses problems.
Those which are associated with the use of the word "learning" are most apparent in Milbrath's work. Milbrath, like ourselves, noted that the key development required is the evolution of a" learning society". Unfortunately, use of this term tends to evoke entirely the wrong impression since the word "learning" has been captured and given an inappropriate meaning by educationists

It has become fashionable to say that we live in the "information age". This phrase is used in two distinct ways.

In Britain, it is taken to denote a society in which information can be traded. Used in this way it refers to everything from the publication and sale of books and information on the codes required for genetic engineering, to the whole paraphernalia of conferencing the non-information generated by the climate of "publish or perish" in academe.

But at the heart of the Japanese economic "miracle" lies another interpretation: the use of information.
In Japan, quality circles use information to improve production. Networks of discussion groups and the media participate in debates to decide on the future and how it is to be achieved. A continuous massive worldwide trawl is conducted to find information of potential use in product development - and the information so collected is carefully sifted and acted on in an innovative way in the interests of Japan. The way the international banking system works was carefully studied and the information so obtained used to acquire worldwide assets - and simultaneously to prevent outsiders acquiring assets in Japan (and especially the control of Japanese companies). Careful studies are made of how every political economy on the globe works, and this information is used to invent ways of making them work in the Japanese interest. 1.12

The main aim of this book is to help to operationalise a concept of "the information society" as "a society in which information is collected, sifted, and used in an innovative way in the long-term interests of the planet".

The most fundamental question the book addresses is:

"How does one run a society in which money has ceased to perform the functions which Adam Smith envisaged for it- that is, to weigh and coordinate (through prices) numerous bits of (often feeling-based rather than explicit) information to provide feedback and determine the direction of development?"

The information required is complex and involves the study of systems processes - of the way in which processes which can be analysed and studied separately interact to produce unanticipated- and often self-reinforcing - results. Whether or not one takes on board the full ramifications of the Gaia hypothesis - which sees the Earth as a unified organism evolving as the conditions of its existence change - it is not difficult to conceive of our world as a system of systems. Each of these systems, the ecological, financial, political and so on, has its own set of thresholds and feedback loops, but they also feed into one another, so that change in any one of the systems leads to change in the others. This book will provide many examples of such interconnections, and is intended to address the question of how to collect and give effect to the vast amount of information needed to manage the global supersystem.

Just as one needs to understand the word "learning" more broadly than is encouraged by the way in which it is used in most books and discussions in education, so, if one is not to be misled, one needs to understand the word "management" to refer to a much more subtle process than that most often envisaged when the word is used in the UK and US - though, again, not in Japan. Ironically, effective management in the UK and US embodies everything the word is intended to imply when it is used in this book.

Studies of effective management 1.3 show that it involves actions which release the energies of others into innovative activity which harnesses the goodwill, creativity, and serious-mindedness of those concerned in a collective and concerted effort to find ways forward. It involves taking deliberate steps to create a pervasive climate of innovation in which many people contribute in very different ways to the process.

Management does not involve making decisions for individuals and issuing instructions. It involves managing situations so that people's own problem-solving behaviour leads them forward. There is no way central government can prescribe all the actions needed to create an effective educational system or society.

A Contribution to the Third World

There is one final comment to make in concluding this chapter. This is that, if the book contributes to the evolution of a better way of running our own society, we will have stumbled upon the most important contribution we could possibly make to the Third World and Eastern Europe.
The problems facing these countries are not economic as such. They are management problems: They involve finding ways of harnessing their human resources to manage their own affairs effectively and to control the damage done through their interface with the rest of the world.

We hope to provide the framework needed to do this.

Return to NWN Introduction    
Continue to Chapter 4  Some Observations on Money
Continue to Chapter 17  which is a Summary of Parts I, II, and III, and an Introduction to, and Overview of,
Part IV
Return to Chapter I
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Copyright : John Raven, 1995

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