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January 28, 2008


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JJ Commoner

I checked out another of Lindseys' posts .. imagine my surprise and delight when I found reference to a book I enjouyed a lot, Witch Doctors, about the scam that is a lot (but not all) of the management consulting field.

Professors Question Value of Business-School Research

Almost two centuries after Shelley claimed that poets were "the unacknowledged legislators of mankind," a highly regarded business book of 1996 offered this update:

"Today that honor belongs to management theorists," wrote the journalist authors of The Witch Doctors. "Wherever one looks, management theorists are laying down the law, reshaping institutions, refashioning the language, and, above all, reorganizing people's lives."

Quite a coup for one of the younger scholarly disciplines, junior by more than a century, for example, to economics.

Arguably, I am one of those theorist-scammers, with my incessant bleating about the impacts of networks and network dynamics changing things (eventually) in massive ways.


Thanks, JJ, that quote has a scary-real quality to it, eerie. Yes, the metaphors that shape the world are now reified in biz school, or economics too. Social Ventures are one such in philanthropy, coming out of Harvard Biz School, actually, the language of it, originally. I am spooked by people who write poetry without ever having read any, and who mistake it for a literal description and implicit prescription. "Witch doctor, heal thyself." I think, maybe, JJ, that you are one of the few who has.


You know it really indicts the entire academic system at least in many of the social sciences. What I see when I read broadly across many disciplines is that most systematic errors can be easily identified when you start examining the theory rigorously. The best thinkers in physics and management theory know that equilibrium is an assumption you make to solve the tractable part of the problem space, and while valid when they apply the real skill and practice of any domain is all about knowing what rules to apply when.

It is as if academic programs in physics were still granting degrees in Newtonian mechanics. It just isn't done because the new paradigm has now completely replaced the old to the post that Quantum Mechanics and Relativity are now Classical theory while String theory and Quantum Gravity duke it out to resolve the problems that are not solvable in the classical systems.

Or maybe it indicts the way we construct our common spaces. Your calls for a more robust public debate and the recovery of Civil Society very much echo what Soros writes about Open Society. It is the best hope for humankind, and yet so few seem to value it. Kudos to both of you for taking a stand on what may be the most critical issues for our day.

JJ Commoner

Or maybe it indicts the way we construct our common spaces.

Maybe ?


A question that keeps coming up for me is about how to construct a space for such purposes. The academy is so structured, but finds itself constrained by WB. The ugliness of Horowitz attacking the entire system for its values. The PBS story about Dover brings this to a head. I want to be able to make definitive and grounded statements about what is known, but the polemics get in the way.

I wonder of Phil can comment about this WRT to the genial reception he received ad Hudson. I'm still not convinced they want a fair debate where points can be made and considered settled unless explicitly contested once or again.


I am mulling over a post on "Does Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal Serve the Public Interest." The jumping off point is a remark there by one audience member that "there is no such thing as the public interest." In an essay included in Amy's book Irving Kristol, way back in the 1980s, had said the same thing in talk to Council on Foundations. That would seem to suggest that Bradley Center affects Public Policy on behalf of private interests. That might be true in many ways (giving at the local level could be part of a plan to reduce taxes and to let others take up the slack. To roll back not only the Great Society, but the New Deal, and even the Trust Busters of Teddy Roosevelt's day. Giving is code, maybe, for "Let the poor and the bleeding hearts take care of the poor, while we walk off with the loot; alms just corrupt the poor.")

Having said all that, the truth is that I do think Bill Schambran and Amy Kass are in face creating a major public good at the Bradley Center. They bring in not only balanced panels, but ones that provoke heated discussions. They actively honor differences. However it has happened and whatever they might say to their funders to justify the effort in partisan terms, the ends actually served go well beyond partisanship. Pablo Eisenberg is a long time advocate of progressive social change. I talked with him over drinks. He had nothing but praise for what Bill is doing to foment real conversation about giving, public policy, the public interest. So, I would conclude:

1. The Public Interest does not exist
2. If it did exist Think Tanks would most likely subvert it
3. Yet, Bradley Center does promote the puiblic interest, as if on purpose.

I hope no one tells Bill that he has to stop serving the public interest. He, I, most of us lead two lives, as workers within a framework, and also as thinkers, citizens, volunteers. The best of it is when our institutions allow us the freedom to serve something larger, as well as serving the institution. Somehow, that seems to be happening at Bradley.

I am certainly grateful to Bill and Amy for the opportunity to speak, and for the general spirit of open conversation that prevailed.

Antoine Möeller

Bill is also (apparently) the first person to say lickspittle on this blog. For this alone, his spittle should be licked.


He may have our generous patron, Candidia Cruikshanks, on his mind, or her name on the tip of his tongue.

Antoine Möeller

Always prepared.


Is that you? I am not sure I would feel safe in the woods with such a guide.

Antoine Möeller

No, not me. I am considerably shorter and creepy looking. My heart is quite beautiful, though. Birds often follow me around.

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