Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Evidence-based bullshit generators

Matthew Taylor's potentially catastrophic 'nighttime flatulence' confession comes bundled up in a post that points to a very worthwhile essay - 'On bullshit in cultural policy practice and research' (pdf)
"At the heart of the notion of ‘performance paradox’, thus, is the baffling observation that measures such as the imposition of targets, performance management, evidence-based policy-making, pressures to evaluate the extent to which arts project have the socio-economic impact that policy makers presume they do - or in other words a whole range of measures introduced with the aim to improve transparency and accountability in the public sector - might have resulted, in reality, in more bullshit being produced and injected in public discourses around policies for the cultural sector, and in opaque political messages amounting to little more than doublespeak."
It is widely observed that means-testing and other ways of assessing tax / benefit outcomes simply encourage gaming and dishonesty (this is one of the arguments for the Citizens' Basic Income - an idea that seems good in principle but one that currently lacks an accompanying implementation manual).

Surely the same is true of bureaucracies and politicians? They have to answer for outcomes. If they are micromanaged and subject to extraordinary demands for accountability and transparency, they will simply 'game' the system or circumvent it.

And they will often get caught doing so.

And when this happens, everyone will throw up their hands in despair at how terrible politicians are.

The thing that a lot of transparency campaigners don't seem to have understood is that this is the desired outcome on the libertarian right - where many of these demands for transparency emanate.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's some wonderful examples of the problems with target-culture in the Adam Curtis' The Trap documentary for the BBC.

Relevant snippet here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGPYjUvDCPk

The Plump said...

On the practicality of the Citizens' Basic Income, there is much here, including reports of experiments with it. Some of the instruction manual has been written.

http://www.citizensincome.org/

On 'transparency' and the libertarian right I think that you need to differentiate between two positions.

1. Right libertarians tend to deplore target setting etc., as unwarranted state interference and an expansion of the supervisory powers of the state. BUT (and it is a big but) this is more or less irrelevant as they would see the whole state sector privatised and the 'transparency' provided by markets.

2. Conservatives influenced by right libertarianism are seeking ways in which the public sector is maintained but made subject to 'market controls' through processes of part privatisation, outsourcing, competitive tendering and when that isn't possible through auditing, target setting and all the other horrors as a way of ensuring public accountability. Thus they strengthen the supervisory powers of government under the banner of things like parents' and patients' power.

This is the irony of their position, they see government as representing the interests of the consumer ! (This made it easy for New Labour to buy into the crap as the peoples' target setters.) Hmm... Methinks there may be a few more interests knocking around in the higher echelons of the Tory Party.