Economists find too many problems and too few answers


Analysts must offer practical advice and encourage citizens to make quality their personal responsibility, writes Subir Chowdhury

Global economists with an interest in the development of nations are fond of telling us what’s going wrong. Many are equally keen to tell us what is going right. This is fine as far as it goes: analysis of quality is important in any nation, and economists are generally skilled at it. What they are less effective at is creating strategies to make the bad things good.

Poorly executed programmes, ill-conceived products and badly managed organizations all create waste. This wastage plays a key part in slowing the recovery of the US, delaying the emergence of the Indian subcontinent and East Asia, and hindering the stability of the troubled Eurozone. There is both a business cost and a human cost to failure and waste.

There are significant differences between running a company and a whole nation. When businesses fail to embrace quality, customers complain and sales drop. If there are no changes, poor quality will lead to even more lost sales and the business may ultimately fail. However, companies can reorganize, reinvent, reinvest, and recover.

Governments have few such luxuries. What happens when quality fails in government? The effects are invasive and long-lasting. When government leaders fail to deliver quality, economies falter, institutions fail, and people’s futures are compromised or ruined altogether. The country can rebuild – many major economies have done so before – but no one can make up for personal suffering.

Think of the long recession we have just had to endure. Do you want to experience another one? I would rather not.

Policymakers around the world are basing their strategies on the advice of economists. Yet too few of these economists offer much more than a snapshot. There is a wealth of diagnosis and a dearth of prescription. Without turning their hands to coming up with solutions, economists are leaving political leaders with inadequate tools for the job.

During my career, I have witnessed wastefulness in organizations, born of bad policy. I now encounter the same malaise in national governments. Economists who would rather describe a situation than offer advice on how to improve it are part of the problem. A fresh approach – where economists couple their analysis with clear strategies for growth – would make them part of the solution.

Where might they start? I have a suggestion. In order for quality to become the norm rather than the exception in national governance, we might try to instil, in citizens, the need to make awareness of quality their personal business. This would comprise each and every member of the public making quality their individual responsibility.

This might mean taking radical steps. People recoil in shock when I say that bringing quality into organizations often starts with abolishing the quality department. The danger of having a single department devoted to quality is that members of an organization think it is someone else’s job.

Quality should be something that runs through every strand of an organization, and every person within it. Economists might start by taking that point and promoting it; perhaps, then, governments will begin to listen.

– Subir Chowdhury is chairman and chief executive at ASI Consulting Group, Michigan, and a member of the Thinkers50 league of global thought leaders

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