Editorial Board

On Bratton, Scotland Yard Uncovers the Last Global Taboo: View

David Cameron, the U.K. prime minister, had a bright idea: Hire the best person for the job. In the wake of the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal, he floated the idea of naming William Bratton, the former New York and Los Angeles police chief, to head Scotland Yard.

The suggestion was hit with a flash-mob of criticism and was quashed by Theresa May, the home secretary, who cited national security and reminded Cameron that only British citizens should be eligible for the post. Her move was seconded by, well, lots of other people, including, not surprisingly, the police unions.

The prime minister, who lacks the authority to appoint the Metropolitan Police commissioner, took Bratton on as an unpaid adviser. But the incident exposed globalization’s last taboo: the idea that a country could import a talented foreigner to lead a government entity.

What would be so odd about having Bratton, now head of Kroll, an international security firm, run the London police with an American accent, especially given the London riots?

Think about it: we know that goods and ideas cross more borders more quickly and often than ever before. We are connected, entwined, linked. Talent travels, whether it’s an Indian engineer at Google Inc.; a Brazilian-Lebanese chairman of Nissan-Renault, a Japanese-French automobile confection; or a Chinese center in the N.B.A.

More relevant is the fact that sensitive public jobs are increasingly entrusted to foreigners, even if they’re only “consultants.” David Kilcullen, an Australian, helped forge American counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. The former head of security at Ben-Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, Rafi Ron, was brought in to shore up Boston’s Logan Airport. Jay Walder, an American, was the managing director of London’s transportation authority, then was hired to manage New York’s, and is now on the way to do the same job in Hong Kong. When it comes to cities, it’s hard to think of a more sensitive job.

We have no particular brief for Mr. Bratton, though one imagines that overseeing police departments in New York and Los Angeles -- enormous, complicated cities with large foreign populations -- would have prepared him well for the London job. What we do believe is that skill and intellect are exportable commodities and that right now the public sector is largely a closed market. For governments at all levels, and in all parts of the world, the most effective route to reform may be to import strong, innovative managers.

We have no illusions that this will be an easy sell. Questions of divided loyalties and hurt national pride would have to be addressed, as would citizenship regulations in many places.

And yet breaking the Bratton Barrier would be a good thing, especially in the context of security, a transnational threat if ever there was one. “Why shouldn’t someone who has been a proven success overseas be able to turn around a force at home?” David Cameron asked Parliament. Although the answer was harsh, his question was the right one.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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