When I got my MBA 20 years ago McGill’s Henry Mintzberg was considered to be one of the top management and strategy thinkers of the time. His books on management were required reading in many MBA programs. He continues to remain one of the top read and quoted management theorists.
He has started his own A.B.C. campaign advising people to vote for anyone but Harper.
I don’t know his politics. I can assume from this campaign that he isn’t much of a fan of the Conservatives but what was strange to me was the National Post’s savage attack on his professional credibility. I’ll let you read the NP attack on Mintzberg but I will comment on the summary conclusion:
Management gurus should stay away from economic declarations. The idea that shareholders pay corporate taxes is a misunderstanding held by even bigger minds than Mr. Mintzberg. Shareholders assess their investments on the basis of long-term after-tax net profits. Shareholders will make that money, in a market economy, come hell or high water.
The idea that Henry Mintzberg, a guy who has done case studies and interviewed more corporate leaders than a 100 economists, wouldn’t have some insight into how CEOs think is just stupid. Economists study data – including corporate survey data – but Mintzberg actually knows how CEOs think. So whether or not someone agrees with Mintzberg’s view on corporate taxation or not his bona fides on how CEOs might react to various tax rates are about as good as you are ever going to see.
And I would also say that trying to frame Mintzberg as some kind of Marxist is also laughable (example – “Prof. Mintzberg is a McGill management guru who slices his ideological toast somewhere between Karl Marx and Adam Smith, with not much Smith remaining on the plate at the end of the slicing.”). He has been doing more to help perfect the capitalist model – the real nuts and bolts of corporate strategy and management – than any economist ever will do. He just happens to believe – from studying hundreds/thousands of actually companies and their managers – that there are good and bad firms and managers out there and that corporations should pay some taxes. I guess these days that makes you a pinko communist.
Look, my political views run right of centre. On the continuum between a full scale Nanny State on one end and full scale Libertarianism on the other I come in a little to the right of the midpoint. I have made no bones about that but I do not worship at the alter of laissez-faire capitalism. I think there needs to be rules of the road and I think that the corporate sector should bear a share of the tax burden. I think this tax level should be set in a competitive context – relatively high taxation could discourage investment but we have to be sane about it too. There are a number of U.S. states that charge zero state corporate income tax and company investment hasn’t been pouring in.
Taxation is one factor in a complex combination of factors that decide investment decisions. His politics aside, I would trust Mintzberg’s view on how CEOs think and react more than any economist.
As for his A.B.C. campaign, as a public figure, I think questioning that is fair game for the media and having him set his political views in the context of his life’s work of studying CEOs and corporate strategy is a very worthwhile exercise. The National Post opted for the easy and frivolous way out.
I think there is a broader point here about the role and place of credibility in our society and our politics. You can disagree with Mintzberg without needing to try and paint him as a charlatan. This is the world we live in today. If someone – with a lifetime of expertise – disagrees with someone else – the latter will jump right to the charlatan card. You see this on the left and the right. I heard an old scientist – nearly 90 years old – who was a pioneer in climate related science questioning some of the methodology behind climate change predictions and he was pilloried – the charlatan card was played yet again.
If we end up degrading all professional credibility in our society we will end up with the Rush Limbaughs of the world setting direction. I remember hearing him wax on about the Bolsheviks one time and it was clear he had never read anything more than the “Soviet Union for Idiots” book and here he was positioning himself as an expert.
We need to get off that train. We need to respect the credibility of experts while realizing that they can, and many times are, wrong. But, on balance, we need to have experts to help us calibrate how we move society forward. Heaven help us if we end up having policy set on the editorial pages of the National Post – or the Toronto Star.