I’ve already done some groundless pontificating today, so I’m going to extend the licence that I’ve granted myself. With a bit of luck, Chris Dillow will read this post and offer an evidence-based version of it?
Kerron’s quite happy with his ‘divi’ from the Co-Op. I’m not so sure that he should be.
The more I look at the way we try to make the world a better place, the more I’m inclined to the view (one that I understand that lots of economists and sociologists have taken as ‘given’ for a long time) that few organisations can really serve the public interest as their prime function.
Whether you’re an adherent of ‘public choice theory’ or its variation, the ‘bureau shaping model*’, it’s hard to escape the view that every employee has the following priorities:
1. Keep their own job
2. Make it easier, nicer and better-paid
3. Get promoted
4. Keep the organisation going in the current shape
5. Improve the size of the organisation
6. Improve the standing of the organisation
7. Serve the purpose that the organisation is actually supposed to
8. Serve the purpose that the organisation says that it serves
The difference between numbers seven and eight, I think, illustrates the whole ‘corporate social responsibility’ idea. Lots of organisations market themselves as the providers of ‘solutions’ when – if they were honest – they are the providers of dividends to their shareholders. Being seen to get to number eight is only one of many means of achieving number seven. In those cases, number eight is rarely very ambitious, and more observed in the breach than anything else.
The ‘budget-maximising’ notion is a misanthropic viewpoint, I know. And I know that there are lots of individuals that can claim to be motivated in a different way. And that some of them are right to make that claim. Every reader of this blog, for example.
But, when you think about it, politics should really be about finding ways of motivating everyone to pull together in the public interest - to really get to number eight (above) - and to do so in the most practicable way. We should be reforming all organisations so that they can get higher up the scale, while demanding more ambition in those stated aims. As long as the stated aims include a reasonable definition of freedom and prosperity for all, who could argue with this?
And where does the ‘divi’ fit in to this? Well, from what I’ve seen of the retail Co-ops, the employees appear to be under remarkably little pressure to get beyond number four in that list that I’ve drawn up (above). For such a large outfit, the Co-op retail arm seem to yield very little real value to anyone apart from their own senior managers as far as I can see. My enquiries lead me to believe that the pay and conditions of most shopworkers there are not noticeably better than those offered by other retailers.
Different organisations are, I would argue, more likely to be motivated to hit the jackpot. Personally, I think that worker co-ops – particularly ones that provide services to their customers – services that take the form of consumer co-ops – are the kind of organisations that are likely to hit number eight most consistently. But I have very little data to back that up.
Lots of government departments seem rarely to get beyond number five. A lot of charities appear to be drifting from number eight (the ideal) to number seven (the managerialist’s ideal) with a lot of their employees drifting into the civil servant mindset (with number five as the ceiling) as government seeks to move more of it’s responsibilities onto that sector.
But I return to my central point. The Divi is little more than a stunt. If you go into my local retail Co-op and ask any employee (including the manager) what a divi is, what a co-op is, how you join, or any of the relevant questions, you will be met with slightly puzzled looks.
Yep. Hand everything over to the workers I say. And then citizens can be the people who sit on the committees that demand a better deal from the workers.
Now, where did I hide those guns...?
*I can’t find an decent links to explain ‘bureau shaping’ but I suspect that this book would be very useful