De-Managing America


DE-MANAGING AMERICA: THE FINAL REVOLUTION, by Richard Cornuelle, New York: Random House, 1975, 147 pp., $7.95.

Richard Cornuelle is the latest in a long line of modern-day Americans who have tuned out and turned on. Unlike countless young people awash in Consciousness III, however, Cornuelle had actually amounted to something before chucking it all. He rose through corporate and foundation ranks to the awesome position of Executive Vice President of the National Association of Manufacturers, a title which, Cornuelle admits, tended to produce fear and trembling among people introduced to him at cocktail parties.

But Cornuelle, after an intense period of soul searching—or, more accurately, searching for his increasingly elusive soul—finally quit. He gave up the perquisites of his plush office, which included a "girl" to perform chores, a skyscraper suite with a window, and the privilege of supervising the annual printing of "Industry Believes." He let his hair grow, moved out of the Metropolitan Club to groovier quarters, and began to dig life.

This hegira from orthodoxy was accompanied by the recognition that authority is not only bad for you and your family, but also doesn't work. We are in the throes of a new revolution, Cornuelle says. It is a widespread, grassroots rebellion against all sorts of authority. America is becoming unmanageable because people don't want to be managed any more. The Consciousness III attitude that Charles Reich discovered among the campus generation is rapidly pervading our entire society.

Will society collapse from this defiance of authority? No, says Cornuelle, there is hope because millions of people across this land keep on quietly getting their jobs done, building their communities, and creating reasonably satisfactory lives for their families, all by generally ignoring edicts and fiats imposed upon them by all sorts of would-be managers.

Government, business, foundations and the media all come in for some sharp words. The media limit coverage to events of importance, thereby neglecting the millions of small non-events which, taken together, constitute a leaderless revolution in American life. The foundations spend their funds to start up projects which they hope the government will take over in a year or two, or on exercises like "Airmail from God," a project one of Cornuelle's foundations funded some years ago whereby Protestant literature was leaflet-bombed on Catholic provinces of Mexico. (It should be noted, however, that some of the foundation projects that Cornuelle finds meaningful—such as "building self-esteem among female flight attendants" and "a skiing program for blind people," might well be ranked with the salvation-through-litter program he ridicules.)

Despite the obligatory rhetoric, Cornuelle reports from considerable experience, businessmen have "never hesitated for a moment to conspire with government officials to shelter themselves from the harsher half of the free enterprise gospel," i.e., competition. The worst report card of all, not surprisingly, goes to government, particularly the Federal government. Besides meddling unconscionably, and usually disastrously, in social and economic matters, government also obstructs peoples' efforts to deal with their own problems.

Citing with approval recent advances in performance contracting and voucher systems, Cornuelle states that the role of the government should be "to modify the atmosphere of incentives in which people and institutions function." REASON readers may find this an insufficient policy prescription. For it is precisely the determination of governments to "modify incentives" in every area of human activity that has gotten us into this sorry state. It might well be better for government to continue disincentives to threats to life, liberty, and property, and leave their presently over-managed subjects free to grapple with the problems of their lives, among which foolish, expensive and coercive governmental schemes would no longer be included.

De-Managing America, for all its good intentions, is something of a series of Rotary Club addresses-glimpses, snippets, and anecdotes not developed in any depth. Each chapter would doubtless make for an entertaining half hour between the orange sherbet and the 1:15 mandatory adjournment. But as a serious analysis of our overly managed society, the book fails to offer any satisfactory explanation for the genesis of this anti-managerial revolution, and it fails to distinguish between counterproductive, oppressive and stupid management on one hand, and the necessary organization of the productive process on the other.

Cornuelle's theme is one that will win the assent of libertarians, but a convincing explanation of the de-management rebellion it is not, nor is it a persuasive, documented guidebook to redesigning our institutions to make room for a salutary dose of anarchy.

John McClaughry is president of the Institute for Liberty and Community in Concord, VT.