The Control Revolution

Brad DeLong helpfully links to Cosma Shalizi’s 1995 review of (the now late) James Beniger’s great book, The Control Revolution (first published 1986). It’s always worth recommending, though of Shalizi’s four-and-one-half complaints the most valid, in my view, is about Beniger’s long-windedness (and if Shalizi doesn’t like that aspect, he shouldn’t be complaining about Beniger’s failure to discuss the world outside of America, or the arts … think how long the book could have been!) My take on Beniger – and some comparison of his understanding of information and control in the economy with the similar view of Alfred Chandler and the very different one of Friedrich Hayek – can be found on pp. 98-102 of The Global Environment of Business.

Bureaucracy and financial crisis in universities

Richard Evans, writing about the University of California system:

In the decade beginning in 1997, while faculty increased by 24 percent and student enrollment increased 39 percent, senior management grew by 118 percent.

He suggests that this might have contributed more than a little to with the financial crisis in those universities, which has been seen in temporary salary cuts (which earn the nice euphamism “employee furloughs”) and higher student fees. He provides the gruesome graphic seen below. (Note: all from a website run by that Council of UC Faculty Associations – so no dog in the fight, right?)

The cutting edge of red tape

University of California: the cutting edge of red tape

Where I work we do worry a bit about future finances. To preview that future I naturally look to California, where I grew up, since we always liked to think of ourselves as leading the way in everything from psychedelics to electronics. And certainly it has been leading the way of late in the field of problematic public finances, so perhaps this is the shape of things to come.

(A prediction I can make with more confidence is that somebody will write to say that this is not the shape of things to come, but what we have now. About that, I really can’t say.)

Principals as agents: “failing” schools and illusions of remote control

Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, has announced a plan to provide states with money to provide to school districts which undertake certain “rigorous interventions” in schools deemed to be failing. The program is said to be based on that employed when Duncan was “CEO” of the Chicago schools. I don’t know, but I’ll assume that his rigorous interventions in Chicago were a success (Seyward Darby, writing in The New Republic, certainly thinks so) and that’s why they’re being used as a national model. Unfortunately, we can expect this new, federally-funded effort to be far less successful.

There are four models of intervention on Duncan’s menu: Continue reading

Open source Pentagon?

The most visible aspect of the US military is its role as what Tom Lehrer called America’s “number-one instrument of diplomacy“. Whatever your views of it in that capacity, it is best not to overlook the fact that this very large, well-funded and technologically ambitious organization also affects our lives through its procurement and management practices. You know some of the stories: the invention of the Internet; bringing the production of transistors quickly to a commercially viable scale by mandating their widespread adoption; creating the ISO 9000 quality assurance system for use by its contractors – who, since they included many of the world’s largest corporations, passed them on to thousands of other companies upstream on the supply chain; or, if we go back a couple of centuries, roughly fifty years spent making the concept of interchangeable parts – until then, an un-implementable item of French military doctrine – into an industrial reality (for details on this last, see Hounshell’s great book From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932).

So if the Pentagon really is shifting toward an open-source approach to software development, you know where to lay your bets.