by clicking the arrows at the side of the page, or by using the toolbar.
by clicking anywhere on the page.
by dragging the page around when zoomed in.
by clicking anywhere on the page when zoomed in.
web sites or send emails by clicking on hyperlinks.
Email this page to a friend
Search this issue
Index - jump to page or section
Archive - view past issues
News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin December 2010
36 DECEMBER 2010 In Macdonald's model of professionalism attaining its goal of social closure, trust mediates between the professions and their desired social and economic stature. It is central to the attainment of the professions' goals (Macdonald, 1995). An article from Oxford Saïd Business School makes the point that, initially, trust merely needs to be perceived, not proven (Oxford Saïd Business School, 2000). Professional services help an organisation to improve itself in ways that may not manifest for years. Professional services are largely taken upon trust. Different from tangible goods that may be examined and found to function or be flawed, professional services usually promise intangibles like improved morale, performance, security, functionality and efficiency. Some of those services may be measured, but usually only with the passage of time. When the professional services provider is hired, it is on the basis of trust that has been built up by its portfolio of clients and its track record. When professionals prove themselves unworthy of trust, public approval of the profession goes down, and the prestige and presumably -- over time -- the profits of the profession go down with it. There is some evidence that public trust of professionals is eroding. A 2008 US Harris Poll of prestige in the professions found that doctors have declined in prestige by 15 percentage points since 1977. Lawyers have declined in public esteem by 12 percentage points over the same period. Accountants and bankers rank lower than 'entertainers' (who, for all the celebrity-obsession that they attract, enjoy little real prestige). What is more, business executives rank slightly lower than union leaders in the United States (Harris Poll, 2008). When it comes to confidence in the leaders of institutions, the heads of medical, religious and educational institutions impress between 30 and 40% of people as being worthy of a great deal of confidence, but only around 10% of people can be said to have great confidence in legal, political and business leaders, and in leaders of the press (larger percentages of people are 'somewhat' confident in these leaders). Only 4% of people have a great deal of confidence in the leaders of Wall Street (Harris Poll, 2009). Approval of accountants in British society has declined from 61% approval in 1999 to 58% approval in 2004. Lawyers went down from 58% approval in 1999 to 54% approval in 2004 (Spada Limited, 2008). The professions do well to generate trust, because society's perception of them bears significantly upon the degree of success that they enjoy. What is more, where trust is high, transaction costs are low. If people trust each other, a handshake can close a deal and there may be little need for lawyers and accountants to spend months on assessment and documentation. Adam Smith noted that there was not only an invisible hand in the market place; there was also an invisible handshake -- the handshake of trust. Lack of trust generates the need for independent observers and analysts to be called in to protect one another's interests -- and costs, accordingly, escalate. Trust is fundamental in society, and the way in which professionals practise their calling leads to greater or lesser trust. Anything that damages trust in the professions -- arising from the behaviour either of individuals or of groups -- needs to be met with disciplinary proceedings and, where necessary, with suspension or loss of licensure. These are appropriate ways for the professions to preserve public confidence. This discussion leads naturally to the issue of regulation. Where self-regulation of the professions occurs it may be an anomaly, serving the interests of the profession's monopoly more than the public interest. Perhaps more of a balance or creative tension between self-regulation and external regulation is needed. Governments, however, may all too often be inclined to regulate and intervene to a degree that may be in the public interest but is detrimental to the profession, which needs sufficient independence to grow and sustain itself. Governments sometimes venture into regulating professions in ignorance of the consequences. Historical experience tells us that too much governmental interference -- resulting in the imposition of too many operational restrictions -- can hamstring an enterprise. Recall the old joke about the inefficiency of over-controlling governments such as the former USSR and its five-year plans: "What would happen if the Soviets took over the Sahara Desert? At first, nothing. Then, little by little, there would be a shortage of sand." Professions enter into economic, social, political and licensing contracts with society; and, in turn, society influences the development of the professions. Society and the professions exist in dynamic, creative tension -- which, when well managed, promotes the public good as the first goal, but is not incompatible with the profit motive. Professionalism is compatible with the profit motive. In fact, a professional economy is a wealthy one. In professional economies, services are replacing manufacturing and agriculture, to the economic benefit of the societies concerned. Professional services have balanced Britain's trade-of-goods deficit for most of the past decade. The professional sector is the largest employer in the United Kingdom, and it accounts for the largest single share of UK output -- 8% (Spada Limited, 2008, p. 19). Living standards are higher for all -- not just for some -- in a professional society, as larger and larger proportions of the workforce enter into professional services-related work. Comparable American and Australian figures bear this out. Professionalism generates new businesses as well. Professional societies are characterised by social mobility. Increasing professionalism ensures wider access to higher education, particularly as the professions proliferate and technical and vocational schools become accredited on the level of colleges and universities. The development of professional structures does not occur in a vacuum, but happens in interface with society. Society and the professions interact in a symbiotic relationship that flourishes particularly well when the professions take a leadership role in being ethically devoted to serving the public good over and above their own interests. PROFESSIONALISM, GLOBALISATION AND THE FUTURE Globalisation tends to be thought of as a current phenomenon, but that is not the case. There were marked periods of globalisation prior to World War I and the Great Depression (Alden, 2009). In fact, globalisation dates back to the fabled 'Silk Road' trade routes linking China to Europe in the third to the seventh centuries. Goods were traded along this 10,000 kilometre network of roads crossing Central Asia, but, more importantly, political, social, cultural and religious ideals were transmitted along the route too. In modern as in ancient times, globalisation has often been carried along by trade. Perhaps no other force besides war contributes as much to the process of globalisation as business. Cultural exchange rides on the back of trade. The traditional professions are globalising largely by following their clients in the business professions and, perhaps to a lesser extent, by exploiting the offerings of technology. Globalisation has been embraced by all the professions, with some progressing faster than others. The faster movers are those led by business -- the locomotive of globalisation. See, for example, the speed and scale of change in the legal profession at http://www.beatonglobal.com/thebigpicture/. Of the business professions, accounting and advertising are well advanced, while the legal profession has for jurisdictional
ADA News Bulletin November 2010
ADA News Bulletin February 2011