Furthest Right

Why The Managerial State Can’t Manage

Amerikan business keeps a staff of employees that study Scientific Management. They sharpen their pointy little heads on a whetstone and memorize words from overpriced books. Occasionally, intelligent facts get by the low-pass filters and into the overpriced books being perused by the management themselves.

One very interesting and perspicacious concept is known as Goodhart’s Law:

What Goodhart said 46 years ago in Sydney was this, which he jokingly termed Goodhart’s Law: “Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” In other words, as the British anthropologist Marilyn Strathern later boiled it down: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Goodhart’s Law is a close cousin of Campbell’s law, which was enunciated around the same time by psychologist Donald Campbell, and the Lucas Critique by economist Robert Lucas.

An oft-cited example of Goodhart’s Law in action is the bounty on cobras that the British who ruled India supposedly paid to try to reduce the population of the snakes. Enterprising Indians quickly figured that they could earn money by raising cobras to kill and present for bounties. Likewise when Soviet planners ordered nail factories to increase the number of nails they produced, it’s said that managers reacted by producing millions of tiny, useless nails. When the planners wised up and switched to a weight criterion, the factories started producing giant, heavy, and equally useless nails. It’s hard to pin down the historical truth of these stories, but the point is clear.

Goodhart’s Law can hold true for several reasons. We measure what we can both see and enumerate. This gives easily calculated Measures of Performance (MOPs). These answer simple questions for simple people in simple ways. They lead to means-over-ends thinking and by doing so exclude ends-over-means thinking in the zero-sum game of choices in time.

Managerial systems staffed and lead by midwit box-checkers will gladly substitute a MOP for broad situational awareness. Hit that measure and all else around you can go to hell in a hand-basket. Weak people seeking strong paychecks substitute hitting idiot standards described by MOPs for actually doing the good and the right.

This pattern becomes more pronounced the more modern and more managed a society becomes. When Goodhart wrote in the 1970s, his colleagues who were attempting to manage Great Britain’s money supply probably hit every M2 target they set. Inflation then set in and ruined the hidden objective, the value of the money itself.

Doing anything well goes miles beyond just hitting the number. This requires understanding and caring about why something is even being done to begin with.

The understanding disappears from modern and managerial society. These places have diversity-bastardized themselves out of having any sort of coherent and understandable culture whatsoever. It’s all just managing and hitting the numbers in Cobra Farm Amerika.

The cure for this is basing yourself. Accept, support and enhance people more like yourself. Distance yourself in every dimension possible from The Managerial State.

People who own and handle their own affairs rarely offer or react to the sort of messed up incentives that ever encourage a proliferation of cobra farms. Have a rounded, grounded and aesthetic life. Then it literally stops mattering whether you hit some sociopathic number. Otherwise, you will learn to your own demise why the managerial state can’t manage much of anything.

Tags: , , ,

Share on FacebookShare on RedditTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn