I recently learnt of a capitalist analogue, starting with Ford motor company in the USA.
I found the following account illuminating and loved the (tragic) quotes from Colin Powell about the Vietnam war.
Robert McNamara was the brightest of a group of ten military analysts who worked together in Air Force Statistical Control during World War II and who were hired en masse by Henry Ford II in 1946. They became a strategic planning unit within Ford, initially dubbed the Quiz Kids because of their seemingly endless questions and youth, but eventually renamed the Whiz Kids, thanks in no small part to the efforts of McNamara.
There were ‘four McNamara steps to changing the thinking of any organisation’: state an objective, work out how to get there, apply costings, and systematically monitor progress against the plan. In the 1960s, appointed by J.F. Kennedy as Secretary of Defense after just a week as Chair of Ford, McNamara created another Strategic Planning Unit in the Department of Defense, also called the Whiz Kids, with a similar ethos of formal analysis. McNamara spelled out his approach to defence strategy: ‘We first determine what our foreign policy is to be, formulate a military strategy to carry out that policy, then build the military forces to conduct that strategy.’
Obsessed with the ‘formal and the analytical’ to select and order data, McNamara and his team famously developed a statistical strategy for winning the Vietnam War. ‘In essence, McNamara had taken the management concepts from his experiences at the Ford Motor Company, where he worked in a variety of positions for 15 years, eventually becoming president in 1960, and applied them to his management of the Department of Defense.’
But the gap between the ideal and the reality was stark. Colin Powell describes his experience on the ground in Vietnam in his biography:
Secretary McNamara...made a visit to South Vietnam. Every quantitative measurement, he concluded, after forty-eight hours there, shows that we are winning the war. Measure it and it has meaning. Measure it and it is real. Yet, nothing I had witnessed . . . indicated we were beating the Viet Cong. Beating them? Most of the time we could not even find them.
McNamara’s slide-rule commandos had devised precise indices to measure the immeasurable. This conspiracy of illusion would reach full flower in the years ahead, as we added to the secure-hamlet nonsense, the search-and-sweep nonsense, the body-count nonsense, all of which we knew was nonsense, even as we did it.
McNamara then used the same principles to transform the World Bank’s systems and operations. Sonja Amadae, a historian of rational choice theory, suggests that, ‘over time . . . the objective, cost-benefit strategy of policy formation would become the universal status quo in development economics—a position it still holds today.’ Towards the end of his life, McNamara himself started to acknowledge that, ‘Amid all the objective-setting and evaluating, the careful counting and the cost-benefit analysis, stood ordinary human beings [who] behaved unpredictably.’Ben Ramalingam, Aid on the Edge of Chaos, Oxford University Press, 2013. pp. 45-46.
Aside: I am working on posting a review of the book soon.
Given all this dubious history, why are people trying to manage science by metrics?