Philip Whiteley's Blog

March 8, 2010

Why do we write ourselves out of the script?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:26 pm

In economics and management there is an almost pathological aversion to admitting that the actors are sentient beings called people. The human is called a ‘resource’, the technology a ‘solution’, while the economy becomes a mythical being in its own right. It’s as though reference to messy human beings, with our preferences, idiosyncrasies, hopes, fears, families and memories, renders a description or business plan somehow too untidy or unscientific for serious consideration. Accountants solidify this pretence by referring to people as ‘intangible’ assets – unlike the assets that are owned by the business and can be valued on the balance sheet. We don’t, it seems, even exist – at least at the level of business planning.

IT firms sell ‘solutions’ on the basis that you can automate services, though in practice the unhappy customer service staff discover that it’s always those damned things called people who end up designing and operating the kit – and who complain when it goes wrong.

Economists are the worst culprits of all, forever devising calculations for discerning the ‘behaviour’ of markets, house prices, commodity values and so on. So while people’s behaviour is denied, it is permissible to indulge in advanced calculus to determine the ‘behaviour’ of little lumps of coal or securitised assets.

So, why the misanthropic inversion? It’s probably a 300-year-old error, rooted in the ‘Enlightenment’ and the misapplication of measurement methods used in physical sciences to the social sciences. That’s big. Can someone with more learning than me take on this momentous task?


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