“Post-bureaucratic society”. Please, no.

Posted by Richard D North under 'Power To The People!' / Dare to be dull / Death of ideology / Presentation or policy? / The Archipelago State / The wisdom of crowds on 18 September 2008

David Cameron has said that he would like to see a return to proper government, with a Prime Minister working with his Cabinet and Whitehall. But he has also been toying with the idea of the “post bureaucratic society”. Sounds nice, let’s hope he doesn’t mean it.

David Cameron was making one of his toga-moment speeches, and no harm in that. He is keen – as all politicians are – to say that government is over-centralised and should be devolved, decentralised and generally returned to civil society, local authorities and The People.

The problem that local authorities attract few voters and spend mostly national money rather scuppers some of that. But the concern here is that the anti-Whitehall bias. DC was talking as though we could have some internet-driven “Wisdom of the Crowd” and that it would be fairer and more efficient than anything civil servants could give us. Here’s a flavour of what he said:

The bureaucratic age

I have described the 20th century as the ‘bureaucratic age’. With huge advances in communications and travel, it became possible to concentrate power in the central state. Wise men in Whitehall had a monopoly of both information and capability…….

At the same time, our national culture emphasised conformity and knowing your place. There was a sense that top-down control was not only practical and efficient, but that it was also fair and moral.

So even after the denationalisation of the economy, the apparatus of civic and social organisation remains firmly under central control. Schools, hospitals, police forces, town councils… all are remotely controlled by central government.

The post-bureaucratic age

I believe that it’s time to abandon that model once and for all. It is not fair and moral, just as it is not practical and efficient, for the state to control society….. Society no longer emphasises conformity and knowing your place…

Democratic control

Why? Two reasons. First, because local democratic control works, well – locally: it allows communities to tailor customised solutions to local problems, rather than having to fit into a national template.

And second – perhaps paradoxically – local control works nationally too. Diversity strengthens the country as a whole. From diversity and competition and picking up tips from each other and making mistakes and learning from them….

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