- Capitalism, Social Privilege and Managerial Ideologies
Is management a science or an ideology? Do management theories explore the best way to maximize society's welfare by efficiently coordinating inputs to produce the most output? Or are they window dressing concealing the exploitation of labor?
An Argentinean professor, Ernesto Gantman surveys two centuries of American management theory to argue that ideology trumps science. (Though the book purports to be a study of management ideology generally, it is almost exclusively about the United States.) Gantman quickly summarizes a host of management theorists. Beginning with the Utopian Socialists, including Saint-Simon and Robert Owen, he goes through Marx to nineteenth-century Social Darwinists like Sumner, before moving on to twentieth-century theorists, such as Taylor, Mayo, Maslow, Simon, and Drucker. The last chapters review the "new paradigm," including Tom Peters, Drucker (again), and Laumann. Rather than a full report of these management gurus, Gantman uses these summaries to illustrate broader arguments that associate different management ideologies with the evolution of modern capitalism. Because of changes in technology and market conditions, Gantman argues, capitalists need different ideologies to legitimate exploitation: "new developments in capitalism . . . must be accompanied by new issues, themes, or concerns in managerial ideologies" (p. 139).
Gantman identifies three stages in capitalist development and associates each with particular management theories. The high level of social inequality in early "liberal capitalism," Gantman argues, was associated with management ideologies, such as Social Darwinism, that emphasized the superiority of managers and employers. The larger scale of production in twentieth-century "organized capitalism," by contrast, called for bureaucratic ideologies like Taylorism and ideologies like Human Relations that sought to integrate workers into the enterprise as consumers. Finally, the "new paradigm" developed in recent years reflects the new era of "disorganized capitalism." By emphasizing the role of the "knowledge worker" and the importance of specialized knowledge, modern theories present social polarization as a result of the uneven distribution of intelligence and talent. By arguing that the new inequality reflects society's new meritocracy, the new paradigm seeks "to legitimate a new stage of capitalism that shows a [End Page 769] polarized social structure with a progressive increase in inequality" (p. 139). Gantman also observes that this new paradigm conveniently places management consultants and, presumably, their teachers at the very pinnacle of the new order.
With its extensive documentation and citations to the relevant secondary literature, Gantman's book reads like a doctoral dissertation. This is unfortunate because often it is difficult for the reader to uncover the author's ideas. With all the documentation and literature review, there is little in the book beyond simple assertion that advances the author's argument. The tripartite characterization of economic history and business development, for example, is stated without any attempt to link it to particular, measurable aspects of the economy or of business enterprise. Nor does Gantman directly link the particular development of management theories to these changes in economic and enterprise structures. Instead, his argument is based solely on a coincidence in timing between the development of particular management theories and this purported division of business history. Even if we accept this chronology of business development, Gantman needs to establish directly a link between management theories and practice. Otherwise, for all we know, business theory may have developed following its own logic or as a reflection of some other aspect of current or past social development. How did capitalist "need" become management theory? Was there a particular group of managers or enterprises who requested, funded, or used any particular management theory? Did a particular group of capitalists or their managers call for any particular theory?
Nothing in Gantman's study can answer these questions because there is almost no empirical content to his study beyond his review of management writings. This is unfortunate because he could have added to a small but stimulating literature that links management theories and the development of enterprise technology and structure. In addition to Harry Braverman, who Gantman cites, he could have drawn on the...