The View From 1776
Sunday, December 12, 2010
The road to Bell (California), paved originally with good intentions, can lead straight off the financial cliff.
Liberal-progressives, late in the 19th century and early in the 20th, believed that political corruption at all levels could be rooted out by introducing professional management. Thus was born the city manager concept of municipal government. Professionalism, in the burgeoning age of science, was presumed, unlike politics, to represent disinterested public service.
Provenance of liberal-progressivism’s romance with supposedly professional management goes back to the inception of socialism in France. In the first decades of the 1800s, Henri de Saint-Simon and his followers, heavily influenced by civil engineers, proposed that all levels of business and government should be placed under the guidance of trained, professional management. They were confident that efficiency and productivity would increase. More importantly, professional management would facilitate imposition of state planning designed to redistribute wealth and create an egalitarian, socialistic political state.
The story of Bell, California, illustrates the vulnerability of that conception in the hands of professional politicians who cozy up to teachers’ unions and other public employees labor unions. In Bell’s case, it proved no barrier to gross corruption at the highest level of city government.