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We are all bourgeois now

Recent news indicates that managers now outnumber manual workers across French industry. Over 21 per cent of the working population are classified as managers, as opposed to 19 per cent who are manual workers. The same trend is apparent in Britain.

Much of this shift in work is because of mechanisation and automation. Factories, mines and farms employ far fewer people but use more robots and machines now, often delivering vastly greater output. And economies like Britain’s have moved away from heavy industry towards services.

But the advance of the administrative state is remorseless in all spheres. During 40 years working in and owning companies across many sectors, I have seen a never ending rise of bureaucracy despite the benefits of computerisation. So often it feels as if the actual operations of the business – making and selling goods for customers – are servants of the head office (and the state). Divisions such as HR, IT, finance, legal, training, marketing and so forth have proliferated, while core activities like production, engineering and research and development have too often withered.

What makes it so amusing is that this comes from Luke Johnson. Sure, it’s true and all that. But he’d have saved himself however many tens of million it is if he’d just employed the one competent – or perhaps honest – finance bod before Patisserie Valerie went down the tubes.

19 thoughts on “We are all bourgeois now”

  1. Isn’t it strange how Schumpeter and Parkinson writing in the 1940s and 50s have predicted the economy of 70+ years later ?

  2. What depresses me, Tim, is that every time we have an opportunity to make this country a better, freer, richer place, our own “elites”* make sure it doesn’t happen.

    * (if being an Indian midget nabob and his homoflexible Remain pals with ugly Chinese wives makes you an “elite”, we deserve cleansing atomic fire from Russia, plz)

  3. I have seen it suggested that Oz’d solve its housing crisis if it only imported carpenters, brickies etc instead of uni students.

  4. “So often it feels as if the actual operations of the business – making and selling goods for customers – are servants of the head office (and the state). Divisions such as HR, IT, finance, legal, training, marketing and so forth have proliferated, while core activities like production, engineering and research and development have too often withered.”

    How much of this is because a lot of products are now very mature with a market full of excellent manufacturing from top to bottom, and all that’s left to distinguish Apple, Audi or Chanel is all the fluffy marketing and brand image (a Moto, Kia or Boots sunglasses do the job just as well)?

  5. “But he’d have saved himself however many tens of million it is if he’d just employed the one competent – or perhaps honest – finance bod before Patisserie Valerie went down the tubes.”

    There’s the rub, finding the honest finance guy is the issue…….

  6. When I was first appointed a manager an old acquaintance objected on the grounds that I had no experience of managing people. I replied (i) There’s a first time for everything, and anyway (ii) I had captained sports teams and edited a magazine, and anyway anyway (iii) I was probably bigger than everyone I’d be set over.

  7. Two ENTIRELY unrelated facts:

    1.Elon Musk buys a $4billion business with 8,000 employees and immediately decides to manage it with only 1,500.
    2. He is the World’s second-richest man.

  8. Also…how much of all this extra admin cost is simply because business has got regulatory compliance obligations up the wahoo?

  9. Dearieme – were you a nice Scottish boss, or one of the evil, red-faced, permanently scowling ones who always looks like he’d be happier pointing a blunderbuss at Davy Balfour?

  10. “I’ve noticed with a few companies, that if they can’t afford to give you a pay rise, they’ll make you a manager instead”

    Change the words “give you a pay rise” to “sack you”, and your experience mirrors mine.

    One of those many annoyances that led to me giving up on being an employee.

  11. The annoyance being that the only way to gain promotion was to be useless at your job. If you were good at it, you were stuck in it.

  12. I have long held that any possible productivity gain that might have accrued from the use of IT has instead been entirely swallowed up in additional paperwork and record-keeping.

  13. @Peter MacFarlane

    There’s also been a coincidental (maybe, maybe related) rise in H&S.
    Some H&S is ok, but in most large companies, it’s completely insane.
    Need risk assessments to do anything at all. Permits to work for even simple tasks eg. Soldering in case you’re an idiot and start a fire. Lifting plans… Etc etc
    Half the jobs we do, we end up spending more time doing H&S BS than we do actually doing the job.

  14. “I have long held that any possible productivity gain that might have accrued from the use of IT has instead been entirely swallowed up in additional paperwork and record-keeping.”

    The trouble with digital data storage is that unless you constantly update and back up such data (and update the formats to new ones) it can be lost or destroyed very easily (I’ve just spent a wet afternoon extracting old files from several old hard drives from computers long since defunct). Whereas a filing cabinet of paper files can sit in a room for 50 years and still be there when you need them, assuming the building hasn’t burnt down in the meantime. My mother has the farm records going back to the early 70s, all on paper. Any digital records from that long ago would be either unreadable or require hardware only found in museums.

  15. “But the advance of the administrative state is remorseless in all spheres.”

    This same trend is apparent in universities.

  16. Boganboy: “I have seen it suggested that Oz’d solve its housing crisis if it only imported carpenters, brickies etc instead of uni students.”

    The Guilds Trade Associations won’t allow it.
    And to be fair, since I’ve been in that situation when trying to move to Oz way back when, no proficient techie/manual labourer would agree with being bumped back to “Apprentice” for 4 years, just to be “qualified” to work in Oz.
    Especially when actually looking at what “Qualified Work” in Oz looks like compared to how things are done in actually developed nations.

  17. @Ironman

    Three more entirely unrelated facts:
    1. Elon Musk was the world’s richest man
    2. Then he bought Twitter (for $44 billion)
    3. Now he’s the world’s second richest man

  18. @ Peter MacFarlane
    Not quite – the additional paperwork rarely exceeds the *possible* gain, just the actual one.

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