As Nobel laureate Paul Krugman pointed out ‘a country is not a business’. So why, he asked, do politicians think it is sensible to ask a successful businessman for advice on running the country? Why, for example, is David Cameron asking Sir Philip Green for his input? His views are clear and predictable, and of no relevance to running a successful economy.
The corporate monster is destroying the world, tearing up its soil to gobble up its precious resources, fouling its air, polluting its water and damaging its climate, while rewarding the few with untold riches, but leaving the masses in poverty. That’s how things work, unless they are prevented. Free-market ideology is having a hard time right now. But maybe not hard enough.
‘The Rise and Fall of Management’ highlights some issues as of particular importance to the current situation. For instance, the universal adoption of agency theory. Agency is a legal relationship where the agent acts on behalf of the principal who is bound by the agent’s actions, and the agent is bound to act, in his or her professional capacity, in the principal’s best interests. So much is not in doubt. Moreover, early examples of this legal relationship related to the commercial world, as in the old overseas trading companies where the ship’s captain acted as the agent of the ship’s owners. That origin too is not questioned.
Keynes recognised that the legislation protecting worker’s rights might lead to powerful trades unions, motivated by political ideals rather than the long term interests of their members, being the cause of wages led inflation damaging economic activity. His mistake was to argue that it was a political problem for governments, rather than a problem for economics. So no action was taken till the advent of the Thatcher government.
Today the boot is on the other foot. Free market fundamentalism is no less political than the unions were 30 years ago. The fervent ideological belief in private industry being good, public bad, regulation bad, and above all, the primacy of shareholder property rights and the purpose of industry being to maximise their value … all that is equally damaging to industry, perhaps even more so, than was unbridled union power.
As recounted in ‘The Rise and Fall of Management’, from the earliest days of industrialisation down to the present day, perhaps one of the most striking step changes to take place has been the adoption of the strategic perspective. It was not till the mid 1960s that long range planning and what became known as strategic management received much overt attention. First in large companies, then among consultants and, finally, in academe, strategy became a dominant perspective, widely acknowledged as the lynch pin of management theory and practice.