DECEMBER 1l, 1969
Policy Formation in a Rapidly Changing Society
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable Edward R. Schreyer,
PREMIER OF MANITOBA
CHAIRMAN The President,
H. Ian Macdonald
In preparing for the centennial celebrations next year of the entry of the Province of Manitoba into Confederation, the people of that province adopted the slogan "Going to Beat 70". Today, I have the pleasure of introducing a political leader who did just that, by becoming Premier of his Province in 1969. We congratulate you, Sir, on your outstanding achievement of last summer and couple our congratulations with good wishes for a successful administration and a prosperous Manitoba in the decade of the Seventies.
Mr. Schreyer has had a remarkable academic and political career, rivalled in velocity and rate of vertical ascent only by that of another professor-politician, the Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Both his political loyalty to the New Democratic Party and his political success began at an early age. His attainment of high office actually followed eleven years of parliamentary service, so that "the young chieftain" is, in fact, "an old warrior".
Born in 1935 in Beausejour, Manitoba, Premier Schreyer was educated in the local schools and at the University of Manitoba. His undergraduate and graduate degrees were in Arts and Education, from which he embarked on a teaching career in political science and international relations at the University of Manitoba.
However, his period of double-barrelled public service, or "moonlighting", to use a pre-Apollo XI idiom, began when he was elected to the Manitoba Legislature in 1958. At twenty-two, he became the youngest member in the House--the William Pitt of Manitoba--as the representative of the constituency of Brokenhead. He retained that seat in both the 1959 and 1962 elections.
Although it is a fact too often overlooked both in our educational system and in our public discussions, Canada is a federal, not a unitary, state. Not infrequently, a man described as a genuine federalist is thought, by that term, to be one for whom the federal government alone is responsible for the national interest. For that reason, among others, it is surely of great value to our federation for politicians to serve both in a provincial legislature and in Parliament; it is even more important to move back and forth between the two places. Edward Schreyer has done both. In the 1965 federal election, he entered the House of Commons as the member of Springfield and, in 1968, was re-elected as the member of Parliament for Selkirk.
On June 7, 1969, the New Democratic Party of Manitoba held a leadership convention. Edward Schreyer was elected leader and, in turn, resigned from his Commons seat. There must be few political parallels in Canada for the drama which followed, for he led his party to an election victory a mere two and one-half weeks later and, by mid-July, had become the youngest Premier in Canada.
Youthfulness in high office clearly holds no fears for Mr. Schreyer, although the tasks ahead are formidable. With a majority of one and several Cabinet Ministers sitting in the Legislature for the first time, he faces heavy parliamentary responsibilities in addition to the carriage of two Ministerial portfolios. However, Premier Schreyer is a member of the East St. Paul Curling Club so that, presumably, he is accustomed to manoeuvring on thin ice, to sweeping away obstacles in his path, and undoubtedly, to proceeding with granite-like determination.
Professors are often students of policy, while politicians are practitioners of the art. It is not surprising, then, that the professor-turned-politician should choose the title "Policy Formation in a Rapidly Changing Society" for his address today. Policy must always be responsive to change, but when change is rapid the task is compounded. It becomes a process of the vivisection of sacred cows and the burial of decaying dogmas; above all, it demands a frank assessment of goals and of the means of achieving them.
The story is told of a young economist being sent to a developing country to study certain problems and asking: "Before I begin, would you please tell me what answer to the question the government wishes me to find." If the ultimate concern is the public interest, governments must be objective, whatever their ultimate goals. From all accounts, Premier Schreyer believes in that proposition. We welcome you to the Empire Club of Canada, Sir, and we look forward, with great interest, to hearing your views on "Policy Formation in a Rapidly Changing Society".
In public life, just as in the private mind, the debate over means and ends is a continuing, vexing, subtle--and an utterly important--process. Is there such a thing as a common public good? If so, what is this ultimate good? If not, is there a legitimate proxy for the ultimate good: some tangible end, however tentative, towards which we are all morally bound to strive?
These are difficult questions. They have been debated since time immemorial. And their difficulty has hardly lessened in proportion to the length or the complexity of this debate.
On some suitable occasion in the future, I should like to take up certain of the questions about values that are relevant to our society today. But here, this afternoon, I wish to focus on one part of this debate that, for all its strategic relevance to the policy issues of our times, is too much neglected in the public forum. I refer to the question of means, as distinct from the question of ends.
When the history of our times comes to be written, historians will record that this was the era of a new renaissance in the social sciences. They will almost surely find that, during the life span of those of us here today, man for the first time confronted some of the classic socio-economic problems of all times, with new tools, of unprecedented effectiveness--and solved them!
Ours is the age of techniques. The new renaissance of the social sciences has brought us the techniques of market research and public opinion polling; of systems analysis and mathematical programming; of benefit-cost measurement, programme budgeting, game theory, and optimum organization design. But at the same time that our newfound techniques have brought us a material abundance that has no parallel in all of recorded history, these techniques have also raised two important challenges: two challenges that we dare not ignore, and that are, in an urgent sense, the key challenges facing our society.
The first of these two challenges is a negative one, for it charges us with a responsibility to abandon certain old ideas and honoured traditions that have outlived their usefulness. The second challenge is a positive one, and it charges us with a responsibility to find sound, new ideas, and effective, new traditions, to cope with the problems of our modern, rapidly changing society and, more importantly to seize the unparalleled opportunities for human development with which it presents us.
Let me deal with the negative challenge first. In an important sense, it is the more difficult of the two, for it entails our grasping and controlling an irresistible force: the force of social change.
Social change, after all, is a fact of life. For the practical politician and academic theorist alike, there can never be a question of creating social change. It exists. It occurs by itself, without asking for the premier's permission.
The question before us is not how to create social change, but how to co-ordinate it towards humane and constructive ends. The power of social change we may take as a given datum. But social power in the raw, so to speak, is not necessarily coherent and articulate and purposeful. Undirected, raw social power can spend itself in chaos and waste. It needs direction. It needs co-ordination. It needs focus and purposeful organization.
In the old days--in the days before our present age of techniques--the blueprints that were advanced for structuring social change were simple enough. Some said that social energy--the raw forces of social change that were abroad in the land--should be channelled according to a blueprint called free enterprise. Others said that a blueprint labelled socialism was the right one to use. Still others advocated a master plan called communism. And there was a blueprint called fascism.
There was a decided moral tone to the advocacy of each of these blueprints for social change. To the free enterprisers, morality was unrestricted competition; to the socialists, morality was a division of the gross national product based on individuals' abilities and needs; to the communists, morality was a division of the gross national product according to the distribution of the so-called labour power that alone was allegedly responsible for producing the G.N.P. in the first place; to the fascists, morality was order.
Now one of the most striking features of our present age the age of techniques, the age of McLuhan's global village, the age of rapid change--is this: the blueprints that everyone knows are necessary for channelling social change towards constructive ends, are no longer advocated out of a particular moral posture. They are advocated, instead, as technically sound and logically coherent programmes for getting the things done that everybody knows must be done. Today rockets take men to the moon and back; we possess electronic computers that compress entire lifetimes of tedious calculation into a few minutes of silent machine-thinking; we have at our disposal the techniques of on-line, real-time management systems, and pert networks, and linear programming, and statistical decision theory. Thus those who persist in seeking solutions to our contemporary social problems solely in terms of the old orthodoxies of capitalism and socialism, and so forth, merely reveal their ignorance of the powerful techniques for policy formation that the contemporary social sciences, in their new renaissance, have put at our disposal. Political philosophy has a valid and important role in public affairs--but in the realm of identifying problem areas and assigning priorities in the context of the type of society we wish to shape.
Even in the policy formation process, technique--ideologically and morally neutral technique--has encroached on ideology. And those who have failed to recognize this development have paid a high price. Let me give you an example.
One of the most powerful tools of the modern economist is a technique called "linear programming". In certain quite realistic circumstances, when you have a limited quantity of resources at your disposal and you wish to apply them in the scientifically most effective possible way, in your pursuit of some set of objectives, linear programming can tell you--in a way that nothing previously could--exactly how you should apply your resources. In recent years, linear programming has proven itself as an extremely powerful and profitable technique in the planning of economic processes as diverse as feed-lot operations on a farm, factory production-scheduling in industry, petroleum refining, educational systems design, regional and national economic development, and even race-track betting.
The technique of linear programming was first developed in the Soviet Union, around 1938. But it was virtually suppressed there, because its internal logic contradicted the central Marxian belief about all economic value being derived just from labour-power. About ten years later, in the period 1948-50, linear programming was re-discovered, independently, in the United States, where it was quickly put to use--exceedingly profitable use--in both the private and the public sectors of the economy. Since that time, linear programming has achieved general recognition as one of the most important developments in the history of the discipline of economics. It goes without saying that today, linear programming is used throughout the world--even in the Soviet Union. And equally does it go without saying that the cost of suppressing linear programming for an entire decade, on ideological grounds--the cost of rigidly sticking to old blueprints long after they had been rendered obsolete--may be calculated in billions!
So, in our rapidly changing society, the blueprints that everyone knows are necessary for channeling social change towards constructive ends are no longer properly advocated out of adherence to a particular ideology. Instead, they are advocated, and judged, on criteria of technical soundness for solving problems that everyone recognizes as problems, and getting things done that everybody knows must be done. In 1848, one agitated for a graduated income tax with the moral fervour of a Moses--or a Robin Hood--in pursuit of social justice. In 1969, many support the graduated income tax as a deliberate technique of inducing a given tempo of economic growth--of shifting income from the hands of those whose marginal propensity to consume is smaller, into the hands of those whose marginal propensity to consume is larger. In the rapidly changing society of the 1970's, high interest rates are not immoral because they benefit the money-lending class; rather, they are undesirable because they inhibit the process of capital formation and thereby retard much needed social investment. One might continue at length in this vein. The merit of a universal, comprehensive system of medical care insurance is not that it issues from the socialist creed, but that it extends the population's life expectancy and improves aggregate--and therefore individual--productivity and enjoyment of life. And so on: I am sure you can supply many further examples from your own experience.
The first challenge that confronts us, then, in this age of techniques--the negative challenge, if you will--is the challenge of recognizing frankly that the old models--I am almost tempted to call them "the old stereotypes"--for public policy formation, the blueprints labelled capitalism and socialism and so forth, are no longer appropriate tools. To persist in seeing the contemporary political process as somehow a clash between the old left and the old right is to persist in outmoded ways. Of course, old habits are often comfortable habits; and the mere fact that they are inappropriate does not guarantee that they will be abandoned. If an aspiring businessman insists on using the simpler single-entry method of keeping his books, and turns his back on the more effectual tools of modern double-entry accountancy, he is welcome to his pleasure; but his business will probably fail. The man who is afflicted with pneumonia, and who chooses to ignore the availability of modern antibiotics, preferring instead to treat himself by the ancient humours system of medicine, can do this if he wishes--the superiority of modern antibiotics over old fashioned bloodletting does not by itself automatically guarantee that everyone will prefer antibiotics to blood-letting. But he will probably die. In the same way, the mere fact that today better ways exist of forming public policy than the old appeal to a socialist blueprint or a capitalist blueprint does not by itself automatically guarantee that these better ways will get used. That guarantee can come from one source only: from informed and conscientious citizens who have the courage and the determination to progress.
The second challenge that confronts us in this age of techniques--the positive challenge--is the task of fashioning, deliberately, the specific procedures and institutions and relationships and techniques of communication that will enable a needful citizenry to impress its wishes upon a conscientious and sensitive government. The tools for doing this are already at hand, products again of the social scientists' new renaissance. Now it is up to us to take these tools, and fashion them to constructive purposes.
The tools I speak of, though new, have already begun to change the structure of the private industrial corporation, and the corporation's ways of relating to its public. There is no doubt that they work. The most dramatic evidence of this is the appearance, during the past fifteen or so years, of the modern industrial conglomerate, an historically unprecedented form of private enterprise organization, one which has been spectacularly successful for its authors, and--here is the important point--one which could not have come into existence until the invention of computers and statistical control techniques and network analysis and shadow prices and many of the other techniques which I have already mentioned. These techniques are philosophically and politically and ideologically neutral, and offer the same benefits to the public sector that they have already delivered to the private sector. And they will inevitably induce a certain amount of restructuring of the institutions by which public policy is formed, exactly in parallel with the restructuring of private corporate decision processes that has already occurred in the industrial conglomerate.
Of course, there are certain problems about restructuring policy-making and decision-taking processes in the public sector which are unique to the public sector; and about introducing new methods and new tools there. One of these problems arises from the institution of job tenure in the civil service, a practice that has no full-blown counterpart in private industry. If you had a practical plan for eliminating poverty in Canada, absolutely and utterly and humanely, within (say) five years; and you got yourself elected, and into a position to implement your plan, how long do you suppose it would take to implement your plan? I suggest that it would take a good deal longer than five years; and that part of the reason for this delay would be the constraints on your ability to make personnel changes within the governmental bureaucracy.
There is a good chance that the policy views of a freshly-elected government may not entirely coincide with the policy views of the senior civil servants in that government's administration. This is understandable. After all, the civil servants in question may have received their formal educations--and therefore their inventories of professional concepts and attitudes and techniques--many years earlier than some members of the freshly-elected government; and in radically different times, economically and politically and socially. What courses are open to a government, vis-a-vis its senior civil servants, in such circumstances?
One course would be to abolish the convention of civil service tenure--or, if not to abolish it entirely, at least to compromise it here and there, as discretely as circumstances permit. This course, which as we all know has been practised by governments from time to time in the past, is both dangerous and stupid. It is dangerous because of the precedent that it sets; and it is stupid because it threatens precisely the class of dedicated individuals whose professional work has given us the political stability and continuity that we enjoy in this country.
Another course would be the course of persuasion: to explain and educate and finally truly to persuade your senior civil servants about the merits of your programme. With all due respect to the desirability of the educational process, I must pronounce this course rather impractical: politicians, after all, are not protected by the same rules of job tenure that protect civil servants; and the next election may unemploy even the politician who has proved himself an outstanding educator of civil servants, leaving his plans, however desirable, unimplemented.
No, if you want to get your plan for eliminating poverty implemented--if you want to translate into swift, effectual, practical action the new tools and techniques that the social sciences' renaissance continues to place at our disposal you will need to adopt some other course than firing your senior civil servants or intimidating them, or brainwashing them. It may be that the universities' model is a good one to follow, here. As you know, there is a tradition of academic tenure in the universities; and this tradition is, if anything, even more entrenched in the universities than it is in the public service. Yet, on balance, tenure at the universities has proved more of an impetus to change than a bar against change. For one thing, tenured staff need feel no threat to their livelihood from new ideas and new procedures: they can accept both freely, without imperilling their jobs. For another thing, tenured staff enjoy the right of regular sabbatical leave, which makes their keeping abreast of the new developments in their respective professional fields more a routine expectation, and less a frustrating competition with their day-today responsibilities. Cannot a progressive restructing of our institutions in the public sector include, I wonder out loud, the introduction of regular sabbatical leave for our senior civil servants? If such--a convention, by keeping them routinely and systematically in touch with the frontiers of knowledge in their respective professional fields, transmutes our top civil servants into a class of apostles for change, shortening by perhaps one entire generation, the gap between academic research and common public practice--who can deny that all of us stand to benefit?
The exact forms that any necessary restructuring will take in the public sector are not easy to foresee, and that is one reason why the job itself is so challenging. But this re-structuring must occur if we, the public, are to benefit from the new policy tools that lie at our disposal in this age of techniques. The shape of things to come in the public sector may perhaps be the United States Government's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with its structure heavily dominated by a mission-oriented "critical path" methodology; or it may come out of the so-called McNamara Revolution in the U.S. Department of Defense--a revolution that has spilled over, now, into many other federal agencies of the United States Government, and which Robert McNamara himself is now in process of extending to the World Bank. Or the shape of things to come in the public sector may lie elsewhere. The positive aspect of the twin challenges that confront us today is to discern the shape of things to come, and to harness it to our needs from the earliest possible moment.
It was in the ancient Greek city state that the practice of political democracy reached its zenith, and enabled a flowering of human genius such as the world had never seen before. In part at least, this flourishing democratic freedom was enabled by the small size of the Greek city state--a smallness which made universal, individual citizen-participation in the public policy-formation process a practical proposition. Ever since that high point for political democracy, the forces of technology and demography and a thousand other irresistible determinants of human history have reduced the individual's ability to influence the course of governmental action. But may we not hope that in our time, in the electronic age, in the age of techniques, in the age of a new renaissance for the social sciences that we will know again what a pure political democracy is, and what genius man is capable of. The Greek city state has vanished into history, true enough. But it is possible for us to compensate for the small size of the ancient Greek city state with the electronic techniques and perhaps create a truly participatory democracy; where the sordid, immoral toil of Greek slaves is replaced by the efficient, morally neutral toil of the electronic computer. The hope that these things may be is surely not a vain hope, for the fantastic technology on which they depend already exists. I hope that we will have the courage and imagination to reach out and press it into our service.
Mr. Schreyer was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club by Mr. Arthur J. Langley.