Every day as I walk along Sherbrooke street towards my regular coffee house, I pass the imposing entrance to what is announced to be the Desautel Faculty of Management. And of the confident-looking stream of young people who enter as I am passing, I always think, “There they go, the self-appointed future masters of the universe.” It goes without saying (at least in my mind), that most of them are from well-heeled families who can afford to send them there, even the many who appear to be some of the thousands who come from foreign countries. And that, by studying business or business management, they are self-selected on a route to becoming among the controllers of our society.
I mention this because I have just read something that is extremely rare: a mind-blowing article on a subject of maximum concern to everybody. It is by a man called Martin Parker, and it is published in The Guardian Weekly, of London, to which I subscribe, under the heading Bulldoze the business school! with the sub-heading : “The world being produced by management graduates is not pleasant. It’s a utopia for the wealthy and powerful.”
I don't know a lot about business schools, but I nevertheless have a visceral distrust of them, because they have always been high among the targets, in those days when occasionally I was invited to speak at universities, when I would introduce my talk by saying, “I am so glad to be back at one of these great institutions that produce the people who are making such a mess of the world.” It usually went over quite well.
Parker’s article says that there are now no fewer than 13,000 business schools scattered across the globe, whose MBA graduates have had, and are having, a malevolent effect on human society. I looked up Montreal to find at least five, including the John Molson school of Business at Concordia University, and the HEC (Hautes Etudes Commerciales) with several thousand students between them. In Canada in total there are no fewer than 83 business colleges, with most big cities having at least five.
This man Martin Parker confesses to have taught in business schools for twenty years, and after running over some of the consequent societal problems that have arisen, he says, “I have come to believe that the best solution to these problems is to shut down business schools altogether.” He says that although this is not a typical view among his teaching colleagues, it is surprising how much of the criticism levelled against them has come from within the institutions themselves. He admits that the business college ethos has absorbed this kind of criticism effortlessly, because the teachers are “too busy oiling the wheels to be worried about where the engine is going.” (He might well say the same of any other of the endless specializations being thrust upon us by science. The difference being that business schools are involved in teaching how the business elite thinks our societies should be managed.)
His primary charge is that the business college teaches only one form of organising, which he calls “market managerialism,” something that, within the business college, has become an ideology. “If we want those in power to become more reasonable,” he writes,” then we must stop teaching students that….the purpose of learning about taxation is to evade taxation, or that creating new desires is the purpose of marketing.” He says that in the university in general, not only in the business schools, there has risen since 1970 a hidden agenda. Researchers have shown how social class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and so on has been taught implicitly in the classroom. (This has long been an argument I have made, especially in relation to schools of journalism: that such schools, for the most part funded by large media organizations, are in effect brainwashing institutions, designed to turn out people who basically think the same about the underlying realities of our societies, and are thus designed to keep control in the hands of the wealthy.) But in the business school, Parker says, both “the explicit and hidden curriculums, sing the same song. The things taught, and the way they are taught generally mean that the virtues of capitalist market managerialism are told and sold as if there were no other ways of seeing the world.
“The message that management research and teaching often provides is that capitalism is inevitable, and that the financial and legal techniques for running capitalism are a form of science. This combination of ideology and technocracy is what has made the business school such an effective, and dangerous institution.”
He runs through various subjects as they are taught, for example, human resource management, which treats humans as if they were a resource to be used by management to achieve a desired result. And he adds that it is here, in this so-called human resource management, that we find the area of study most likely to deal with the problem of organized resistance. “And, in case it needs saying,” he tosses off, “human resource management is not on the side of the trade union.” As if we need to be told that. It is not an accident that the working class --- an expression the elite sedulously avoids using, instead always calling it, as our governing Liberal party does, “the middle class” --- has been detached over recent decades from its only real weapon of defence, the trades union, with its right to strike. (Incidentally, no one thing is more clearly indicative of the cowardly ineptitude of the so-called social democratic parties, such as our NDP, than their willingness to prate on endlessly about their concern for “the middle class” when what they mean, if only they had the courage to say so, is their traditional base of support, “the working class.)
Coming at last to ethics and social responsibility, Parker says they are there, but are used only as window-dressing for the selling of the business school and its works. Within the business school, capitalism is assumed to be the end of history, an economic mode that has trumped all others, and is taught as science, not ideology.”
I feel I have known all this instinctively from my lifelong distaste for businessmen and their methods, but I have never before come across it so brilliantly exposed by someone who knows the subject from within, a man who has written books with titles such as Against Management, Fuck Management, and, the one from which this article appears to have been drawn, Shut Down the Business School: what’s wrong with Management Education (Pluto Press).