David Webb on the Managerial State


The basic question of politics is “who does what to whom?” This was put a little more succintly in Russian by Vladimir Lenin as “kto, kogo”, “who? whom?” He was a Marxist with a fondness for class analysis of society, but that does not reduce the force of his view that the fundamental facts behind any society are who the ruling class are and who the ruled.

It is quite false to believe that Britain is capitalist or bourgeois society. This is the most important theoretical point that needs to be grasped. Without an understanding of this, all other comment on British society will be superfluous. James Burnham, the former Trotskyist who became a conservative, and whose writings underpinned the views of the US conservative (now sadly deceased), Sam Francis, believed that bourgeois society had been replaced by “managerialism”. The more vulgar forms of Marxism had posited a linear progression, whereby slavery gave way to feudalism, feudalism to capitalism, and thus ultimately to socialism and communism. What else could there be after capitalism?

We have seen a greater expansion of the managerial state than in Burnham’s times, and are therefore in a position to agree with his thesis that after the bourgeoisie comes the managerial class. Note that I do not assert any linear progression: the managerial class has replaced the bourgeoisie, but it didn’t have to happen this way. However that may be, there are few genuine “bourgeois” running large businesses today. The nineteenth-century style owner-manager, whereby a rich individual owned his cotton factory and everything in it, does not exist today. Most businesses are joint-stock corporations. The owners are actually pension funds and private investors, and the operations of the company itself are controlled by a class of managers.

Now, it would be possible to argue that the greater complexity of big business today, the larger size of the enterprises and their greater number of employees mean that an owner, a single bourgeois, could never hope to manage his company singlehandedly today. Surely he would need chief financial officers, accountants, personnel managers and so forth. From that point of view, economic growth has led to a technocratic future, with the various managerial functions occupying various technocratic roles in business.

I am not one of those libertarians who would like to attack big business and replace it by smaller business units. But there is a certain amount of merit to the view that the greater complexity of business today has led to a proliferation of technocratic roles within businesses, and in particularly large businesses. Without a bureacratisation of the polity, however, such a managerial stratum would never have emerged as the ruling elite of society as a whole.

It was pointed out by Sam Francis that the same types of people–in fact a managerial elite–was running everything, both private- and public-sector, today. The technocratic style of the managerial roles allows managers to move seemlessly between the sectors. There is no reason why a personnel manager of, say, a drinks company, should not move over to the Church of England to perform the same role, and then into the civil service and then back into the private sector. The role–the technocratic function–is the same. Similarly, an accountant with an oil firm can get a job in the Salvation Army, and then the Ministry of Defence, and then maybe a EU institution. Whereas once all these organisations would have employed different types of

people, the managers are an identikit class.

This is partly a function of the education system, which is highly influenced by political priorities. Much of the university syllabus in many subjects is taken up with various forms of promotion of egalitarianism, producing a uniformity of view among the would-be managers. However, this in turn is also a function of the politicisation of culture. The larger state has been created, ostensibly in response to demands for greater government intervention to even up socioeconomic outcomes. However, the university-educated are well-placed to take advantage of such greater government spending, and more likely to speak the politically correct jargon of the managerial class.

Take, for example, multi-culturalism. This political obsession, once confined to “loony left” councils, is now preached in the universities and promoted by all state bodies and all private-sector companies. It seems extraordinary that private companies should take part in political campaigns, but all companies are required to have “equal opportunities” policies–which frequently do not amount to a promotion of “equal opportunities” at all–and have therefore staff members occupied with the administration of and promotion of this agenda. A cursory glance at well-paid job vacancies today shows that many of these are connected with the open promotion of this political agenda, creating a relatively large class of people who are doing the bidding of the political elite as a matter of course in their day-to-day work. It is important to realise that this agenda blurs the distinction between the public and private sectors, creating a class of people who move between both, using this political agenda as a vehicle for their career aims.

Multi-culturalism bring in its wake a slew of jobs in the police force, the prison service, the courts, insurance (because of higher crime), counter-terrorism, border controls and even translation services, all of which are either parasitical on the political agenda of multi-culturalism or justified as an attempt to address the social dislocations caused by having non-integrated ethnic communities in our country. While multi-culturalism is in many ways the most prominent of the elite’s obsessions, and important because the promotion of mass immigration threatens to dispossess the British of their homeland, it is, from the point of view of the elite, but one of many “causes” that justify public spending, well-heeled jobs in the public sector and equivalent jobs in the private sector.

First of all, there are other forms of egalitarianism, including feminism and the “gay rights” agenda. There are organisations public and private (and many of the private ones are funded or partly funded by the state) promoting this agenda, and jobs to be had in both public and private sector in connection with it. Often the egalitarian agenda is wrapped up in one department, with “human resource” staff charged with complying with legislation on racial, sexual and sexual orientation equality, as well as a number of other issues (such as disability) that are spawning public- and private-sector technocratic employment. However, feminism and “gay rights” produce their own spin-offs too. They justify intrusive government intervention in the form of family courts, social workers, employment tribunals–and even adoption agencies are reported in the press as being involved in an attempt to promote the “gay rights” agenda. Solicitors benefit financially from family break-up, and then there is the so-called Child Support Agency bureaucracy, with its own technocratic and financial interest in the breakdown of family values and the promotion of state intervention in the area.

So called environmentalism is another bureaucratic growth area. A large number of public-sector jobs result directly from claims that economic growth is fuelling “global warming”. Jobs in academia and the Metereological Office, both paid for from the public purse, are dependent on political interest in this area, and local councils are employing large phalanxes of “carbon change co-ordinators”. A number of charities, quangos and EU bodies are parasitical on the environmental agenda.

Health and safety has metamorphosised from an area characterised by common sense to one where common sense is not allowed to intervene, as it would threaten public-sector and private-sector jobs. The Health and Safety Executive is a gross example of technocratic employment in this area, but a large number of private-sector jobs are in this area, with fatuous business expenditure on “training” in this area, including trivial and absurd examples, such as “training” in the movement of a chair.

Public health is a growth area too. Despite the financial crisis, £4bn has been announced in spending to influence health prevention behaviour in the areas of obesity and smoking. There is little evidence that bureaucracies trying to influence personal health prevention behaviour work, but the jobs are well-paid, and the ideology behind them provides the sense of self-righteousness that motivates the people working for the state in this area. Jobs in academia also leech from the public purse in this area, invariably revolving around research showing a “link” between various types of behaviour and health outcomes, often of questionable logic. Publicly funded media, such as the BBC, also devote great space to these issues. Dyslexia, dyscalcula, hyperactivity and other obsessions are also essentially parasitic on the public purse and depend on publicly funded media and academic willingness to promote the various panics or concerns that lead to the opening of the public purse-strings. The number of people involved in the “AIDS establishment”, the number of people publicly funded to treat HIV/AIDS or promote a panic over the issue, exceeds the number of people with AIDS in the UK.

It is important to note that these areas of public concern have a large ideological component. Any ruling elite depends, not on physical force, but on cultural hegemony to support its rule. With great media, political and academic resources at their disposal to promote their points of view, invariably requiring government expenditure and bureaucratic positions to address alleged evils and often requiring private-sector participation in the campaigns, the managerial elite is in a position to influence a broader range of the population. People who are not conceivably part of the managerial elite espouse the managerial ideologies. One can cite, for example, schoolteachers who think it is appropriate to lock a primary schoolchild alone in a classroom while police are summoned to deal with a “racist” incident of the most utterly trivial kind or the local council staff who cite the health and safety ideology to justify an inability to remove household waste that cannot be pulled with two fingers alone. In addition to the elite or managerial-level jobs that are involved in promoting bureaucratic intervention of many kinds, there are numerous (millions?) of lower-level hangers-on, people who abuse their positions in schools, hospitals, companies or government offices, and justify their behaviour by reference to one or more of the managerial ideologies.

However, even this would not be enough to explain the dominance of the technocratic point of view in society. Why do so many business leaders spout these ideologies? It seems clear that a crisis of elite belief in the nation-state and British culture has led to a search for a new, more sustainable ideology in a globalised world. Democracy appears less meaningful once the national culture has been debunked and the population, once united by a common culture, reduced to a meaningless collection of people with little connection between themselves by means of multi-culturalism and immigration. The various managerial ideologies provide a way of looking at the world that is a replacement for Christianity, patriotism and the nation-state. The business class has therefore been ideologically captured by the new managerial elite, at least to the extent that they are prepared to mouth the managerial rhetoric. It makes no difference that many business leaders will not privately be sincere about anti-racism, egalitarianism, helping Third World development, environmentalism and all the rest; their sincerity need be no greater than their previous support a century ago for Britain’s traditional Christian culture.

As a consequence, the business and state-sector sections of the elite are able to unite behind an agenda in a way that few businesses can speak out against things like climate change levies and carbon taxes. The business leaders themselves are not personally majority owners of their companies, although they may own some shares. They are not the family-firm bourgeois of previous centuries, but in fact people who have risen up the managerial ranks, spouting the various managerial ideologies on their way up.

In addition to the various “causes”, huge government expenditure in health, education, housing and social security provides massive technocratic job opportunities, as well as giving political power to public-sector unions. Firstly, the large state is supported by many businesses, who are able to privatise profits and nationalise costs. One can cite big business support for cheap labour immigration, which involves huge costs for the taxpayer in the form of crime, the promotion of multi-culturalism and social anomie. Many businesses are directly dependent on state spending, as with solicitors (dependent on crime and family break-up), accountants (dependent on a state that levies high taxes), companies working in the health area, and any private-sector body or company getting any kind of grant from the local or British governments, or the EU. High fees charged by nursing homes or residential homes for the elderly, which frequently exceed the cost of staying in five-star hotels, depend directly on the government’s intervention in the area of “social protection”, and the willingness of the taxpayer to pay exorbitant fees. Lower down the food chain, landlords are able to charge absurd rents in poor areas owing to the housing benefit, adding a further layer of individuals who support the state technocracy and the levying of high taxes to support it.

The charities were once voluntary organisations, but are now mainly semi-quangoised and receive a good deal of their money from the state. The state funds them firstly by not levying tax on them; this is equivalent to a direct grant. But in addition to that, most of the large charities receive explicit state funding, and have halted much of their non-political work. Charities like Barnardo’s and the NSPCC have closed down most of their children’s homes and are spending most of their money on campaigns against Borstals for young offenders and campaigns in support of social workers and other forms of state intervention in the family. They do not campaign for policies to promote the traditional family, although this would achieve nearly all of their stated aims, as such a campaign would offend the political elite. The proliferation of quangos is another area where political campaigns are used to leech off the public purse. Quangos promoting health or environmentalism or egalitarianism abound, and the recent “cuts” by the Cameron government have shown that the Conservative Party will only close down the smallest quangos with the smallest budgets, rather than touch the employment opportunities of the technocratic elite.

Despite the fact, therefore, that we are told we operate a free market, it is clear that the state is spending nearly half of GDP (the figures are distorted by tax credits and the tax-exempt status of charities; were the beneficiaries of those schemes deemed first to have paid all their taxes and then received a grant, it would be seen the state is larger than official figures show), and that much of the private sector is also dependent on public policy, state spending or the managerial ideologies in various ways. And the private-sector part of the economy is not run by owner-managers, but by people who have worked their way up in the managerial elite. Consequently, it is not surprising that all the political parties are remarkably unanimous in their support for managerial ideologies, and that the UK is signed up to membership of a number of international bureaucracies that provide job opportunities for technocrats and aim to lay down public policy on an international basis. Our laws are mainly issued by a technocracy based in Brussels over which we have no proper control.

It is clear therefore that we are not in the same circumstance as nineteenth-century Britain, where the state spent 7% of GDP, most companies were controlled by the families or entrepreneurs that founded them, and there was little in the way of public-sector employment, whether domestic or international, and no pressure on private-sector companies to promote political agendas. If the laisser faire free market is at one end of the spectrum, where more than 90% of economic activity is private and not subject to much in the way of taxation or regulation, then communism lies at the other end of the spectrum, where more than 90% of economic activity is directed by the state. We clearly lie in the middle, with a “mixed” economy, but the nature of the mix is the primacy of public expenditure, and the united nature of the senior echelons of the elite who move between the public and private bodies with ease, speaking their politically correct jargon fluently, and noting that they mix with people of the same type as themselves, whether in the private sector or the public sector or in multilateral institutions, such as the EU.

It would be as wrong to characterise the UK as capitalist–”bourgeois”–as it would be to characterise it as “communist”. This is why the ruling class is not essentially based on the relatively small number of private-sector enterpreneurs as if this were still the nineteenth century, but on the managerial elite of people who support massive state intervention and speak a language of government control. It is important to note that the economy as a whole is run in the interests of these people. The “cuts” going ahead now have in the main been directly away from the managerial elite. Few quangos are affected. The core civil service is hardly touched. And wasteful state expenditure in the arena of managerial ideologies remains untouched. While propaganda by the BBC and others alleges that the point of the large state is to help the vulnerable, it seems clear that the real scroungers are the managerial elite themselves. They are not all working in the public sector, but it is reasonable to believe that a collapse of public-sector spending and an end to state intervention would lead to a reduction in job opportunities in the private sector too for such people. After all, race and diversity personnel are only needed because the state requires it.

It is interesting to see the argument that the government has to pay the market rate for its senior managers. Of course the market for senior managers is greatly distorted by the availability of so many positions in the public sector for such people. Just think, if Whitehall no longer paid salaries over £40K, how many of the highly paid state officials could find highly paid jobs in the private sector? Some could, but not all, as there is not the demand for so many of them in the private sector. For this reason, it is not private-sector salaries that are dragging up public-sector ones, but the other way round. Without so many high-salary public-sector posts available, it is likely that private-sector salaries for senior managers would be lower than they are now. In other words, the “egalitarians” have managed to create a socioeconomic setup that works to their financial advantage, and in fact fosters social inequality. If social inequality has risen over the decades, it is because of the size of the state sector, which is committed to providing salaries equal to those in the private sector, but which has effectively doubled the market for highly qualified personnel (or for utterly non-qualified personnel who speak managerial ideologies fluently), and thus driven up salaries throughout the upper echelons of the public and private sector.

It seems clear that in terms of “who? whom?”, our society is run for the benefit of the managerial elite. State spending is justified on the basis of helping the vulnerable, but the greatest beneficiaries are state employees themselves, as well as highly paid individuals throughout the economy who benefit from the general effect state spending has of promoting wage inequality. I am not arguing that we should intervene to prevent wage inequality: I am arguing that our intervention to prevent inequality is what underpins wage inequality, and that we should stop such intervention.

The “who? whom?” approach is important because it helps us identify who British society is run for. By contrast, we are constantly told we live in a democracy. But democracy is not a form of society in itself. If slave-owners were the beneficiaries or ruling class of slave societies, as the lords were in feudalism, and the bourgeoisie in capitalism, are we to believe that the ruling class of “democratic societies” are the broad mass of the people themselves? That the unemployed lout collecting his dole cheque is in fact part of the ruling stratum of society? Clearly, democracy is not, and cannot be, a form of organisation of society. There may be an electoral mechanism, but there are still class faultlines in society, and those who are in the driving seat socially are usually able to manipulate public opinion and democracy to their ends. Democracy is therefore just another form of oligarchy.

I am not denying that there must be a ruling elite, and so therefore democracy in its true sense is impossible. But we have becomes serfs to the managerial elite where we could be free people. A great deal of freedoms were allowed us under the former bourgeois elite, and British culture gave a structure of belonging to all those in society. Under the managerialists, we have lost our liberties and our social identity and end up supporting a vast superstructure of state hangers-on with our taxes. We would be better off without them.

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One response to “David Webb on the Managerial State

  1. Thank you, SG, for posting this. I have read through it again, and, as I, a conservative, value good language, I would like to apologise for typographical errors and grammatical mistakes above. But I would rather focus debate on the content…