Anyone who has spent time in a large corporation has lived through at least one period of downsizing, the modern way of saying layoffs. Revenues fall short, so management scrambles to bring costs in line with the new reality. It starts with getting rid of symbolic things like pizza Friday and the company picnic. That never works so the next step is a series of layoffs to “right size” the staff. The British have a great term for this. They say people have been made redundant.
One of the things people often notice about these periods of mass redundancy is that the redundant are also superfluous. That woman who was in every meeting and handed out reports once a month is now gone. No one is asking for her reports or struggling to produce her reports in addition to their own. The reports simply stopped being produced and her chair in the meeting is now empty. It does not take long before no one remembers her name or her job description.
Those who have some years under their belt know that corporate bloat is just one of those things that infects every large company. Even after a company goes through one of these periods, it does not take long before it begins to re-bloat. Profits return, the economy looks better and people start thinking outside the box again. The empty cubicles begin to fill up with nice people who maintain spreadsheets that everyone thinks are vital until the next time there is a downsizing.
In the dreaded private sector, bloat is constrained by the need to make a profit, but in the public sector there is no such constraint. Universities are so bloated with administrators it is hard to find the faculty. Ideally, a university has one administrator for every three faculty members. This is a well-known metric. At least it was well-known until the explosion of administrators happened. Now most public universities have close to three administrators for every faculty member.
In government, the number of people who do essential work is too small to measure, so the ratio of managers to workers is impossible to state. Even in government, dividing by zero is not allowed. This has crept into the private sector through the door of government contractors. The reporting required to work on government programs requires an army of those nice people who sit in cubicles producing snappy spreadsheet reports that no one reads.
Even in something like military procurement bloat is an issue. One of the things that is becoming clear with the war in the Ukraine is that the United States has a massively bloated military industrial complex. They just assumed this was true for the Russians, which is why they assumed Russia would run out of munitions by now. It turns out that Russia “right-sized” their military industrial complex a long time ago so now they can produce much more for much less than the West.
When you step back and look at the American economy as a whole, it is clear that bloat is the way to describe it. It is packed with jobs that have no real reason to exist, other than the rules created by managers. Most people do work that has no utility other than it ticks some box somewhere in the system. It may be a big reason for why people are dropping out of the workforce. Sitting in a cubicle all day doing busy work is not worth the paycheck for many people.
This may be a clue as to where managerialism ends. The Soviets followed a similar path that eventually led to collapse. After the revolution and civil war, a new class began to emerge that took control of the system. First it was party members gaining control of important parts of the country. Then the party itself became the primary mechanism for running the system. After the war and the death of Stalin, this new class exploded to take control of the Soviet Union.
It has been forgotten, but there was a tremendous amount of optimism in the USSR after the war into the 1960’s. Experts were building and rebuilding the Soviet economy along scientific lines. Many people, even in the West, thought that maybe the communist would catch or even surpass the West economically. That collapsed with the overthrow of Khrushchev. The experimentation and optimism were replaced with dull technocratic conservatism. The managers were back in charge.
That is the way to think about the last twenty-five years of the USSR. It was a lot like the American car makers in the 1970’s. The lack of competition meant that all the bad habits of the managers went unchecked. Before long, the workers stopped caring because why would anyone care when the bosses do not care? By the end of the Soviet era, the Russian economy was festooned with people who produced reports no one read and attended meetings where nothing was decided.
There are lots of theories for why the Soviet Union collapse, but one reason is simply that it became bogged down in corporate bloat. The system got so gummed up with layers of managers looking for something to do or looking for a reason to not do anything that the system itself began to seize up. By the end, a country with vast fertile farmland was struggling to feed itself. Events like Chernobyl were embarrassing emblems of a system that are reached its logical end.
The Global American Empire may be near that same point. The liberal democratic system of the empire is purpose build for war. It was created in war and has been at war with the world for generations. It should be incredibly good at war. Instead, it is on the verge of another ignominious defeat, this time in the Ukraine. A system so bogged down with empty suits and cubicle jockeys that it cannot do the thing for which it was designed is not a system with a long future ahead of it.
The one thing unique about America that the Soviets lacked is the ability to create massive amounts of money from thin air. This covers a lot of sins, but that may be coming to an end as well. Once it is no longer feasible to print up enough cash to pay the growing managerial class, downsizing is inevitable. Unlike a company, the managers of this system are not going to exit the premises quietly. Downsizing in countries tends to be chaotic and violent.
One final point of comparison between this age and the dynamics in a corporation is the lack of institutional memory. Many have noted that this age bears a striking resemblance to the 1970’s. One reason for that is the people in charge today have no memory of that time, even though most were alive back then. Just like a company never remembers the last downsizing and starts to re-bloat the ranks, the managerial system never seems to learn from past errors.
Again, the war in the Ukraine is a good example. Backing a puppet government in a civil war never turns out well. The defining event of the current political class was the war in Vietnam, yet they appear to have learned nothing from it. Management induced amnesia seems to be a feature of managerialism. Like puppies, everyone lives in the moment, excited about the next thing. No one can see disaster coming, because no one seems to remember what happened yesterday.
The old line about bankruptcy attributed Hemingway probably applies to the dynamics within the managerial system. Everyone was surprised by the collapse of the Soviet Union, even the people inside it. In retrospect it made sense. The system was going bankrupt a little at a time. Even though that should have been obvious, few people predicted it. In all probability, the same fate awaits the West. First it will be the satellite countries and then the empire proper.
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