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That’s no way to run a country… May 6, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Jane Ruffino in the SBP this weekend skewered the idea that is sometimes put about that states should emulate digital start-ups. She notes that Silicon Republic had a piece asking whether Ireland should run itself like one and ‘what if we treated citizens as customers’.

Her response?

‘imagine the kind of dystopian world that would be’.

And she notes that ‘every time I think about a way to write this dystopia, reality gets in the way. From the outside start-ups look like they’re efficient, exciting, productive and able to move the glacier of The Old Ways by chipping away in short, iterative cycles funded by iceberg-sized piles of venture capital. Except that, first one of this is remote true. Second from the inside start-hips look a lot like the way Ireland is already being run’.

How so?

There is facing their growth. Nobody has money in the bank. There is dropping essential work onto the shoulders of unpaid interns and underpaid staff. Nobody is solving big problems, just the things they think they can solve before they run out of time or money. The CEO impends most of his time giving conference talks about the secrets of success. Everyone is wondering aloud where the women are, but nobody is willing to talk about structural inequality. In the wider landscape, almost nobody has a real vision, except the ones who are building worlds where people who aren’t economically prod five will have to constantly prove their value or be spat out due to a bad ‘culture fit’….

And if anything she gets more pointed:

The argument that somehow crowd funding and crowdsourcing should replace taxes and democracy is not some amusingly unnecessary reinvention of the existing system, it’s a wilful embracing of a culture that sees regulation as an enemy, that defines human value along economic lines, and that doesn’t have a healthy fear of the kind of ‘tyranny of the majority’ that caused things like the anti-equality Citizenship Referendum to be passed in 20115.

And how’s this for spot on?

The thing that makes startups a big joke is not that their offices look like day care centres or that everyone boating about agile is secretly flailing, it’s the deliberate conflation of ‘disruption’ with ‘gleefully and indiscriminately dismantling the entire social contract’.

She concludes:

Suggesting that everyone adopts entrepreneurial thinking or that we apply agile methods to projects that need long-term taxpayer funded commitment – like healthcare, transport, communications infrastructure and education – is the way we find ourselves chanting ‘hyper loop!hyperloop!’ and wondering why our bus service has been cancelled.
The neoliberal thing that underpins much of the tech industry is exactly why our hospitals are sick, our roads are impassable and our vin dances cater to the interests of investors.

Have to agree. It’s not that start-ups, innovation, enterprise in certain contexts, are bad in and of themselves. That energy is something leftists have to engage with and harness productively in future societies, but it is something that as a broader model as Ruffino so forensically puts it is completely bankrupt.

My own experience of working in public and private sectors (the former on contract throughout) has been one where efficiency in the latter is much talked about, but much more rarely seen. Where supposed determined decision making is often held hostage by ownership structures (i.e. the family who control an outfit want x y or z whatever the commercial logic or not of same or where boards of directors make bizarre or venal decisions to their own benefit). Or where there are weird hiring anomalies – timeservers or just those well able to play on the vanities of superiors remain in situ. There are many other examples, but in short this is a typical human institution. Even the best run, and one of the best I encountered was (ironically) an off shoot of the Murdoch empire, are still riven by petty jealousies and personality issues to the extent that often success seems in spite of, rather than because. And it never lasts.

So expecting – for all their virtues, start-ups to provide a template is entirely pointless. A product, service or app that hundreds of thousands purchase is not directly comparable to ongoing health-care (actually looking at the update histories of some apps one couldn’t think really of a worse model). They’re simply not the same as, nor fit for purpose as replacements of, state or semi-state structures. Good to hear such a cogent critique of same.


1. Gewerkschaftler - May 6, 2016

It goes to show just how lazy and out of touch the absorption of business clichés is among the TINA commentariat.

Of course citizens aren’t customers and basic public services are utterly different from this week’s latest fashion/scam on the Web.

The whole startup business is vastly overblown – the structure of contemporary capitalism is such that (outside newish areas like some IT and possibly Biotech) oligopolies discourage innovation from outside their ranks and do precious little of it themselves.

Sarah Wagenknecht (die Linke joint leader) in her new book “Wealth without Greed – how we can save ourselves from capitalism” is good on this and how a transformative politics transitioning towards post-capitalism could enable the genuine innovation we need to tackle problems like climate change.


gendjinn - May 6, 2016

Only the form changes. The function and results remain constant.


2. Jim Monaghan - May 6, 2016

Perhaps we could adopt this approach.

Perhaps every constituency should adopt this approach. the byelection would ensure every pothole filled and a new regional hospital, cancer services, an airport.etc.


Gewerkschaftler - May 6, 2016

It would certainly concentrate their minds!

So all that stuff about sacrifice of kings in The White Goddess might not have been so fanciful, after all?


gendjinn - May 6, 2016

Wasn’t there a Tom Baker Dr Who premised on the leader being executed upon losing a vote?


3. gendjinn - May 6, 2016

Ever notice that the folks espousing that the country should be run as a business, are also the group that thinks the family budgeting process is the way to handle the deficit?

Dogs that need regular walks. Vapid stories, banally, tritely reiterating the same tired old fallacies whose ultimate constant message is “the poors don’t deserve money, they should be giving it to their betters. and you know they’re the betters because they have the money.”


4. Jim Monaghan - May 6, 2016

I am sure a lot of FG backbenchers are wondering if they would have got a better personal deal as independents. Eg the guy in Roscommon who stayed loyal


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