What do banks, oil companies, public schools, and universities have in common?
On the one hand:
1. They have important and complicated work to do.
2. The country is better off if that work is done well than if it is done badly.
3. The people inside them generally know more about how to do that work than outsiders know.
4. One thing that gets the work done well is the professional self-esteem of the people who do it, and their enforcement on one another of standards of good performance.
5. Holding those people, and the institutions they work for, up to public abuse and scorn probably doesn’t help the work get done.
On the other hand:
1. Those people and institutions have interests distinct from the interests of the consumers and the broader society.
2. Unless subjected to external (market or regulatory) pressure, the institutions will be governed primarily for the comfort of their managers rather than for optimal performance. The conditions of optimal performance are not identical to the conditions that make the people inside the institutions happiest.
3. Some claimed professional knowledge is ideology, in the strict Marxian sense: a set of ideas developed (not, usually, self-consciously) to enhance and defend a set of interests.
4. Some claimed professional knowledge is false, and knowledgeable but disinterested outsiders can see how those institutions could get their work done better.
So we should expect that:
1. It will be necessary on an ongoing basis to subject the functioning of those institutions to external scrutiny and pressure for reform;
2. Scrutiny and pressure for reform will be resisted, using the usual arguments of futility, perversity, and jeopardy;
3. Some but not all of those defensive arguments will be correct;
4. “Reform” proposals driven primarily by hatred of the institutions and their employees will be least likely to lead to actual improvement and most likely to damage the institutions and degrade their performance.