David Cameron’s post-bureaucratic fantasy

British Tory leader and likely future prime minister David Cameron made a speech yesterday in which he talked of the need for “a massive culture change at every level of government to make the state careful, not casual, with public money … a culture of thrift.”. This will be a “post-bureaucratic age”, says Cameron: one based on decentralisation, imagination and determination.

Chris Dillow asks the pertinent question:

“[I]sn’t there a little tension between wanting big and quick controllable cultural change on the one hand, and a ‘post-bureaucratic age’ on the other?”

I would say that yes, there is such a tension, and it applies to both the public and private sectors.

Cameron’s control urge, like that of many other top-table politicians, derives from a lack of trust which indicates an anti-libertarian bias. For all the slick PR designed to deflect attention from the Conservatives’ “Nasty Party” image of old, the Right Honourable David Cameron MP remains at heart an old-school, old-money Tory Toff.

In June of last year, Swedish economist Magnus Hansson described in his doctoral thesis how business productivity can increase in companies facing closure.

The reason Hansson put forward to explain this effect is that when management is distracted from daily operations, the employees of failing firms shoulder a greater responsibility for their work, and efficiency is thus enhanced.

Hansson’s focus was on the private sector, but over the years I’ve read of numerous failing public enterprises turned around by their workers when management executives were preoccupied with protecting their personal interests and stabbing each other in the back. I say we should let them get on with it; it’s probably cheaper in the long run, even with extravagant golden parachutes.

However, while the answer may be to manage less, many nominally libertarian politicians are reluctant to let go of the reins. That certainly goes for the Old Etonians currently waiting in the wings at Westminster, readying themselves for the implosion of New Labour.