Meet the flexians

The rise of a new type of flexible power broker is a signature feature of our era. As they swivel through roles in government, corporate, think tank, and media. Economics is the go-to explanatory science of today. Want to know why some ideas become laws? We tend to assume they're economically. Meet the Flexians: the new hybrid class of professional controlling the flow of power 'FLEXI'PLANS/PROMO @pacificstand PS-love THT(FLEXIANS)going for .

In their ability to personalize bureaucracy, privatize information, occupy multiple professional roles, and relax rules at the state-private nexus, flexians blur traditional boundaries between state-private, bureaucratic-market, and legal-illegal practices that ultimately undermines public accountability and market competition.

Shadow Elite carefully details the activities of these players in post-Cold War Poland and Russia as well as the privatization of and neoconservative ascendancy within the US government. In late socialist Poland, where the author first observed the workings of these operators, the mix of public and private as well as formal and informal practices enabled ordinary citizens and state officials to negotiate the constraints of a shortage economy.

Indeed, she notes how despite the neoliberal rhetoric of downsizing government, the federal government has actually expanded for almost twenty years with many vital government functions contracted out to private actors working for think tanks, consulting companies, and the like.

The Neocons, too, personalized bureaucracy, privatized information, circumvented rules of accountability, and inhabited ambiguous professional roles to promote their foreign policy agenda in the Middle East. Despite the different country contexts, then, these flexians nevertheless share a remarkable set of behaviors that make them such adept manipulators.

One of the key analytic points Wedel makes is the importance of social networks to the new system of governance. Instead of examining the production of governance power in a narrow and abstract legal-rationalistic framework, in other words, Wedel wisely puts human agency at the heart of her story.

meet the flexians

The flexians who are redrawing the boundaries between official and private power derive their group identity and authority from their shared social backgrounds, ideologies, and personal relations that enable them to link disparate yet powerful institutions together in the case of the Neocons, think tanks, the media, and the Pentagon. In a flex group, an apostate is kept in line through immediate banishment from social membership — witness the temporary exile of Barry McCaffrey after he became critical of the conduct of the Iraq war p.

Unfortunately, conventional audits are inadequate tools to hold flexians accountable. In fact, they are part of the problem. Given the importance of network relations to this group, it should come as no surprise that accountability tends to become diffused, thereby making it difficult for current accountability systems to assess flex players. So far, flexians have demonstrated a remarkable ability to avoid the consequences of their actions because the tools to monitor and oversee them have not kept pace with changing practices.

How this system will look and operate — and to what effect — remains the task of our collective energies and creativity. For a collective response not piecemeal responses by individuals or individual institutions is what is necessary if such investigations are truly to have an impact.

Their desire for power and influence not just money makes the corruption label difficult to stick. In many respects, then, this analysis echoes what an increasing number of people in the governance and anti-corruption communities have been urging us to do: Public servants could easier conceal their private interests.

Back to top How do flexians and flex nets work? Wedel enumerates their most important features pp. First is "personalizing bureaucracy", which means that flexians use informal relationships to affect formal institutions. Flexians are loyal to people not to organizations or institutions.

The Discreet Charm of Flexians: Reviewing Janine Wedel’s Shadow Elite

Second, "privatizing information while branding conviction" with "shared conviction and action" — flex nets are capturing the information available only to insiders and their members get a similar worldview.

Third, "jiggling roles and representations", which is simply representing simultaneously different and sometimes competitive interests. Fourth, "relaxing rules at interstices of official and private institutions", which is literally clear but it needs to be emphasized that this relaxing is achieved by constantly "almost breaking" a given rule a little more. Concepts of flexians and flex nets are used by Wedel for explaining some apparently irrational decisions of the US Government. Wedel argues that flexians captured important links in decision making processes.

For example, saving bankrupting banks with public money has been, until recently, unthinkable. But, as she proves, influence of flexians has blurred the border between the public and the private and between bureaucracy and the market.

Wedel's concepts are illustrated by four case studies. The first is about post—Communist transition in Poland. The author shows how some flexian—like individuals connected with authorities of the former system together achieved enormous success during and aft er transformation.

Wedel describes the example of institutionalization of a flex net. She argues that Ordynacka Association students association in the beginning was an attempt to organize a formal flex net with intention of creating background for informal influence.

According to Wedel, the effect of that enterprise was the Rywingate — considered a major Polish political affair that in consequence totally reshaped political balance in Poland. Another case is an analysis of the process of the US government outsourcing and deregulation. Wedel argues that instead of budget's savings and limitation of bureaucracy, outsourcing brings to former governments' contractors exclusive knowledge and other useful resources.

The third case study is about Russian industry privatization. Wedel describes how western privatization advisors, mainly economists and managers from Harvard, mixed their liberal and free—market ideas with local, post—communist management culture, which resulted in ruination of Russian industry.

But a more interesting discovery is that western advisors brought back to America the Russian way of doing business with no respect to the rules and private property. Back to top The fourth case is of American Neoconservatives. According to Wedel, they create a flex net whose aim was to protect the world from repetition of holocaust. The author argues that "Neocons" captured a vast part of governmental administration to the level which allowed them to force the invasion on Iraq.

Consider the example of their impact: It is also interesting that, according to Wedel's findings, Neocons' flex net, like Ordynacka, is also responsible for a huge political affair — the well—known Iran—Contras.

Is it possible that in an established state, a small group of individuals is able to influence the major institutions of the state for a long time? How do they do that?

The Discreet Charm of Flexians: Reviewing Janine Wedel’s Shadow Elite |

Janine Wedel is not the first who analyzes such phenomena. She directly quotes theories of Polish sociologists: In her book Wedel explored complex and clandestine phenomena and as a social anthropologist she has got an excellent background for uncovering the hidden meanings of social activity.

Moreover, she has not only spent years on analyzing informal institutions and social networks in Central and Eastern Europe but she has also been a participant in Moscow meetings of privatization advisors. Wedel used the data collected by participant observations and by interviews with insiders. We can surely agree that Wedel has overcome the obstacles mentioned in the beginning, the access to hidden data and its unavailable context.

meet the flexians

She has just used well documented examples. In "Shadow Elite", there is no systematic theoretical background. Wedel uses different ideas from classic and modern scholars in an easy manner. The reasoning is sometimes not clear mainly because of the sophisticated narration and non—intuitive terminology. The theses are oft en too strong for the argumentation. But there is still a wealth of evidence.

Wedel manages rather to impress the reader than to prove her theses. Some ideas of Wedel are surely brilliant. She states important questions and off ers original answers. What makes Wedel's book so valuable is that it also contains useful heuristics for other researchers.

On Social Costructing of Ignorance], Warszawapp. Zybertowicz, Privatizing the Police—State: Hellman, Winners Take All: Wedel, Collision and Collusion. Kurczewska, Main Actors of Transformation: The Nomadic Elites [in: For most advanced sociological conceptualization of social arrangement which capture state institutions see: O peerelowskich korzeniach sieci biznesowej Zygmunta Solorza [Violence of the Arrangement: O nieformalnych mechanizmach przemian [Transformation Streaked with Violence: