Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Emergency conscription – of senior managers

Posted by Dave Bath on 2009-02-06

I do not know whether this post is genius or lunacy, straight or satire.

I’ll argue that an unusual form of conscription is good for the economy, especially in hard times.

Those conscripted would not be the many and underemployed, but the self-identified "best and brightest" businesspersons, not only to work for government agencies, but for non-profits and businesses that are sound, but short of capital.

Identifying those who should be conscripted

The approach is self-identification of the best and brightest (CEOs, CFOs and very senior managers) who say they believe in the market.  Those with the biggest package (not just pay) relative to the median wage in their company are obvious candidates.

Would these individuals suffer unduly?

No.  Such people will have been page huge salaries for some years, on the basis that such senior positions are rare, and the senior managers may be "between jobs" for some time.  Therefore they have a considerable buffer, especially if they do not continue any lifestyle that is immoderate.

Would the company be hurt?

No.  The best senior managers have a decent succession plan, if only to protect the company against the possibility of death or incapacity of that manager.

How would they be used?

Unlike mass conscription, where it is almost impossible to assign the right people to the right tasks, with a few individuals, having well-described competencies, it should be easy to find a good spot for the relatively few that are conscripted, an agency and position that could use their skills.  It’s not like those people won’t have a CV that touts their competencies and experience in great detail.  The government might also decide to send them to non-profits, or to private sector companies that are sound (or strategic emerging technologies) but are constrained by capital, and the government is getting equity for capital.

What would the salaries be?

Equivalent to public sector wages for those managing similar budgets, but never above that of a government minister.

Why would they accept such a role?

For the same reasons Robert McNamara, CEO of Ford, accepted a cabinet position in the US government in the 1960s, with a huge drop in salary.  He was a patriot.  It is conscription we are talking about, so anyone who refuses when it cannot cause hardship (remember their buffers) should be publically labelled "un-Australian" and dragged in anyway: it is conscription after all.

Why would they work hard?

Because what they did would be thoroughly documented and published.  If they failed to create major improvements where they were assigned, this could be published, and the trajectory of their careers would be justifiably flattened.

If there was a significant improvement, and the data was released to the market after their two or three years’ "national service" was up, the market would probably offer them a much bigger package than they might have got previously.

Are there any other benefits?

For one thing, senior managers might be loathe to demand extravagant packages from their companies if they think they might be conscripted!  Thus, every business in Australia would benefit.

Of course, if used in agencies, then those agencies should (if the individual’s previous salary was realistic) become much more efficient.  Thus, the nation benefits.

What if their best use is in the company they are in now?

Simply assign them to that company, and get the company to pay the government what the government pays the conscripted manager.  That’ll stop board objections!

Political problems?

Well, we aren’t talking about tens of thousands being conscripted, so their individual votes shouldn’t make a difference.  Maybe political donations might go down, but that shouldn’t be affecting policy anyway!  I’d imagine there would be LOTS of votes from ordinary people seeing the captains of commerce putting in an honest days work for an honest day’s pay.

This post was inspired by the suggestion at Thought for the day (2009-02-05) that politicians be given median wages.


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