the case for well-run institutions
When I consider management and leadership performance I think of Bastiat's work "That which is seen and That which is not seen"
A thing often not seen in an institution is the evolution of its culture. A hallmark of a successful organization is the culture embodies principles that promote success. An organization with a good culture can enjoy success for a while even when the caliber of leadership and management has declined.
But then the organization starts to fail and this leads to questions and demotions and firings and the organization is in upheaval. The most recent leaders are blamed. And they likely share some blame. But actually the organization began to fail much earlier when it took for granted positive cultural inertia would persist on its own.
Fixing a broken culture is extremely difficult. The effort is guaranteed to hurt feelings and test everyone involved. It is better to preserve a successful culture. However, appreciating what makes a culture successful requires leaders to notice the things that are not seen, but are indications of the organization's health and strength.
One of the ways Wokeness destroys organizations is it causes leaders to rationalize a policy is good and so there is no need to consider negative consequences. The culture begins to slide but since there is no reward for noticing the decline, there is no correction. Only when the rot is evident - only after the iceberg is hit - do officials acknowledge a problem.
To me, aligning authority with responsibility means that your vote should be proportional to your net tax paid to the government. Furthermore you should be able to delegate and undelegate your vote to whom you choose on a per-question or per-topic basis.
"The combination of strong authority and weak accountability is the one that troubles me the most. " Today, strong authority comes both from government and from Big Companies that are Too Big To Fail.
I don't believe any single COO/CA new "top bureaucrat" position would be effective, neither much short term nor long term. I'd more believe two top bureaucrats whose main job is to fire other gov't bureaucrats, with each being partisan majority in House of Reps, and minority in House of Reps. We need more honest criticism and much higher personnel turnover.
The most imbalance now is in the top Deep State bureaucrats. We need ways of getting rid of more of those bureaucrats.
I also now favor Term Limits of 10 years for all such gov't employees - after 10 years you leave. Good performers or bad. The lack of accountability is encouraged by the lack of turnover.
One type of organization that doesn't seem to appear in Arnold's taxonomy is what I call "operating nonprofits." These are nonprofit organizations that sell services and/or products (collectively, "services" for sake of brevity). To survive and thrive, these nonprofits have to provide services that their consumers want to buy, and they need to operate at least to break even (including whatever donations they are able to attract). Although operating nonprofits have no shareholders, they do have boards of directors (which are typically self-perpetuating) and professional staffs to run the operation day-to-day. Operating nonprofits that don't operate reasonably efficiently and that don't sell desirable services start to run losses and eventually fail, unless some benefactor keeps it afloat. Examples of operating nonprofits are nursing homes, hospitals, National Geographic (which earns a lot of revenue from its magazines and TV shows), private K-12 schools (although private schools increasingly appear to have been overrun by their bureaucracies and faculties, like many colleges).
All organizations evolved towards the primary mission being "growth and survival". Without that mission they cease to exist, which is why it is the same mission as life and natural evolution. This mission means more authority and less responsibility especially if that responsibility can result in bankruptcy.
In the private sector we have bankruptcy to keep the institutions focused on their stated missions. What makes capitalism work is the real probability of failure and that is why the DMV and Public Schools can go on expanding their resource use while failing on a grand scale. Their failures always result in more resources, not less.
"The combination of strong authority and weak accountability is the one that troubles me the most. It concerns me that so many people seem to want that combination. And even worse, our society seems to be creating positions for them. Bureaucrats. Non-profit workers. Activists."
Thinking about open source. It’s true that open source for consumers didn’t happen in any meaningful way. But open source is a tremendously important part of how most software is written today. Many of the fundamental building blocks of any piece of software are pulled from open source projects. This has created huge improvements in efficiency and quality because the industry shares investment into the non-differentiated parts of their software products. It serves a function more like a standards organization (perhaps without as much of the politicking, though).
I’m not sure that has anything to do with the authority/accountability problem. But I thought it was wrong to leave the statement as if open source “failed” in any way. It just turned out to succeed in a very different way than what people imagined at its inception.
Authority comes from history. Accountability comes from feedback loops — which are quite long at the societal level. When we condemn every past generation for failing to meet the standards of ultra-modern “morality,” we unmoor our sources of authority from multigenerational feedback loops. We are thus deservedly ruled by idiots, cowards, and con artists.
There is an entire field of study devoted to alignment of authority and accountability - and it is called biology.
There is only one real solution that is long-term effective - nested and interwoven systems at varieties of scales.
What are key mechanisms that might increase accountability?
a) competition (exit & entry)
b) voice (scandal, recall, elections, protest)
My intuition is that competition is the most effective mechanism. There is a puzzle: Many not-for-profit orgs operate in competitive markets, depend heavily on customer revenues, and lack large endowments to shield them from competition, but exhibit weak accountability. Examples might be many empty churches and many private colleges.
Insofar as governments have monopoly jurisdiction, government accountability depends on voice and audit. The quality of voice mechanisms is beset by voter ignorance, fickle attention, innumeracy, emotion, and characteristics biases (for example, do-something bias and social desirability bias). Audit seems prone to capture by bureaucracy and/or by executive interest.
Unions in the auto industry c. 1970 blunted competition and imposed a kind of bureaucracy across the industry.
Gov't regs increase bureaucracy in firms and orgs via HR.
Let's hope that entrepreneurs are a hardy weed!
I appreciate Arnold's COO/CA proposal because it grapples with operationalized accountability. Too often we equate accountability with scrutiny, the latter being necessary but insufficient. Our ongoing information revolution heightens scrutiny but magnifies the difficulty in translating that scrutiny into accountability.
This tension isn't new (how well does popular voting disentangle policy from outcome ... maybe badly but maybe outcomes are the best practical measure ... but election cycles are shorter than outcome cycles ... oh well, it's the worst system except for all the others).
But the current flood of information, hyper-partisanship, and lack of trust seem to amplify the tension.
I wonder if today's power grabs are rationalized (to a greater extent than usual) as defensive rather than offensive, i.e. a response to a breakdown in accountability rather than an attempt to undermine accountability.
I think you are right that we need to be a bit careful about how we think of decentralization. Typically decentralization results in lowering authority and increasing accountability, and the goal is to decentralize until those hit a nice balance we like. The trouble is that they don't always do so, because one changes faster or slower than the other, or perhaps just can't ever balance nicely based on the institutional constraints. Blockchain is probably a good example, where extreme decentralization limits authority but accountability grows so slowly that you are still at just about the same point as "huge faceless bank that doesn't care" type institutions.
The biggest worry is that the curve is horse shoe shaped, where say decentralization lowers authority for a bit, then at some point starts to increase it again, and/or the opposite for accountability. An example around accountability might be taking on debt: for a small business there is a lot of accountability since you can lose the firm entirely, but for a single person just declaring bankruptcy can erase it all.
All that said, it is probably safe to say that the vast majority of US institutions, governmental or private, could stand to decentralize and be a bit smaller. We seem to have a lot of rules in place that limit accountability and encourage authority, both legally and through incentivizing larger organizations than would otherwise be optimal.
Authority without accountability is tyranny. Accountability without authority is slavery.