Tuesday, April 18, 2006

THE SYNDROME OF THE “ESSENTIAL MAN”

How likely is it that any human is well-qualified to judge his own status as an “essential man”?

It is true that history shows some examples of fellows who resisted all external pressures to step down, knowing with brilliant sureness that they had a vital and historic mission. Almost certainly Abraham Lincoln was right, when he took this stance. Arguably, FDR. And yet, knowing humans as we do – especially their most dismal habit of self-serving delusion, should we not have the reflex of holding this kind of self-appraisal in… well… suspicion?

Should not one of the traits of an honest and mature man be to recognize this delusional habit, and worry about it? The way that George Washington did, when he resigned paramount power – several times – and set the Great Example?

Sure, a certain bullheaded determination is essential in politics. But there are ways to compensate. To ensure accountability. To (above all) provide that your institution and constituents get the benefit of the doubt, and not you. The nation and not the leader. When overwhelming evidence suggests that maybe a guy should go… shouldn’t he go?

You see the same classic syndrome across the entire CEO caste, driving up compensation/pay/stock-option rates toward the moon, as chummy fellow members of the caste vote each other outrageous pay scales, justified on what basis?

Why, it seems always to be a variant on (surprise!) the old Essential Man thing!

So let’s veer aside for a moment and ponder this version of the syndrome. The CEO variation.

Start with basics. These guys believe in capitalism, right?

All right, then. The core assumption of capitalism – and I believe this too - is that high rates of return will normally attract new talent to a field! Right? Imbalances and shortages should be self-correcting.

Specifically, if a shortage of good managerial talent stimulates high market prices for managerial talent, then, within short order, new managerial talent should commence to train itself, ramp-up, then compete (presumably fairly) and innovate until there is so much of it around that the shortage is eased. Whereupon, anomalously high premiums will no longer have to be paid.

In other words, the predicted curve is that a brief period of elevated CEO pay should soon give way to a talent migration that causes a surfeit, even a glut of skilled executives, easing the shortage and causing pay rates to drop.

Isn’t that the fundamental premise? Isn’t that the absolutely basic article of capitalistic-freemarket faith?

But it is not what we’ve observed. Not at all. Instead, the pattern across the last two decades has almost perfectly matched what you see when insatiable demand meets an absolutely limited supply. Like the limited supply of Da Vinci paintings, or Stradivarius violins. Or seven foot centers who can both rebound and pass accurately from mid-court.

Members of the CEO caste seem to be saying “we are actually mutants, like pro basketball players. No matter how much we are paid, the pool of skilled corporate administrators will remain fixed and small.  Market incentives – even astronomical ones - will never augment supply. All companies can do is bid up CEO pay in order to hire the few mutant managers away from each other, just like sports teams!”

Well? Is that not EXACTLY the logic implicit in the CEO compensation spiral, as we see it endlessly accelerating skyward? The justification for taking billions away from research, from reinvestment, from worker benefits and from dividends for smalltime stockholders? So that top managers can move around like football free agents, playing rapid musical chairs and games of golden parachute?

Hm. Interesting proposition. Mutants. Like Sports stars. (In which case, are we best served coming up with some kind of league-wide reserve clause, hm? Don’t some of these same guys own sports teams and cry for caps? For cost controls? Oh, but then let’s also leave off the whole youth factor. They seem also to be saying that in this field, unlike any other across all of human endeavor, youthful brilliance is entirely irrelevant. Hm. And double hm.)

Alas, there is a problem. In sports, there are explicit performance metrics that can be applied, in order to determine who are the top fifty or so mutant-level -- and thus irreplaceable -- athletes in a given sport. But in business, tremendous effort is made to obscure and obfuscate every performance metric. Correlations with stockholder return or rates of innovation or long term company health are vague, at best. The one correlation that seems always to affect pay is how well you manage to pack the Board with your pals. And that is a dead giveaway. Because truly superior men would be ashamed of having to use tricks like those. They would refuse.

Here’s an example offered by financial expert John Mauldin: “John Walter joined AT&T, but after nine short months he was out of a job. The complaint was that Walter "lacked intellectual leadership." Walter got $26 million for that little stint in a severance package. That's what you call really beating time. Of course, a few of us might have another word for it -- and for AT&T.”

And yet, let’s reiterate the irony -- these same guys sing the praises of capitalism as a perfect mechanism for swiftly correcting imbalances of supply and demand! It always works, they say. Well, except where you just gotta have mutants. Amazing.

Just for the record, I most definitely believe in competitive markets and have said so countless times. Indeed, my aim during this aside is to point out a hypocritical betrayal of markets by those who most vocally claim to be defending them. In fact, there is a business correlate with the kind of price curve that we have seen in the area of CEO compensation. You’ll see a similar curve in a market for a commodity has been cornered so that production is controlled by a small, collusive group, in order to create artificial scarcity. Think diamonds.

And no better example is served (as we return full circle to the earlier topic) than the situation we observe with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The man who oversaw our humiliation in not one, but two catastrophic Asian land wars, who supported Saddam for decades, till the maniac slipped his leash, who participated in the incredible Blunder of 1991, who later perceived Saddam bulging with hair-trigger WMDs, who suppressed military counsel about troop levels, who confidently predicted we would be greeted by the Iraqi people with “kisses and flowers,” who sanctioned torture, who declared “mission accomplished” while predicting a short happy transition to peace and democracy in Iraq, who oversaw the worst decline in our state of readiness in generations and has alienated most of the Officer Corps and most of our allies…

…now appears to be claiming (without offering a scintilla of evidence) that he is such a superior manager of our nation’s defense that there are no possible replacements. None at all. Not even from the pool of experienced and well-respected conservatives. (e.g. some retired general?) (Er, some other retired general?)

Look, there are many ways to look at these things, but I always try to ask… ”what are you REALLY SAYING?”

And what this “essential man” seems to be saying is “you must continue to put up with all my failures, arrogance, bullying and unending chain of mistakes. Because my political faction cannot find anyone else to bring forward. Nobody else who might – while lacking my heavy burden of liabilities – actually do a better job.”

It’s all the same dreary rationalization – and hearkens to the pattern that really destroyed markets in most cultures, for 4,000 years.

A market for a commodity has been cornered and production controlled, in order to create artificial scarcity. But this market – for managerial talent – must be opened and freed, if our civilization is to prosper.
 ==The Generals' Revolt==

Some of you have commented upon Donald Rumsfeld’s response to the Generals’ Revolt, in which he firmly dismissed any possibility of resigning the office of Secretary of Defense. He admits that there have been problems and miscalculations and failures – many – worthy of deep criticism. Yet, he insists that his leadership remains badly needed.

culturewarbattlegroundInstead of joining the back-and-forth hatefest at its superficial (and least interesting) level, let’s dig a bit. Inherent in everything that Rumsefled is saying appears to be one core assumption -- that there aren’t any other qualified conservatives – untarnished by scandal and failure – who are capable of doing his job.

In other words, despite taking responsibility for AbuGhraib and failed intelligence and mangled war planning and losing the confidence of the Officer Corps, he remains the “essential man.” Impossible to replace, even by another, similar conservative.

Notice how I expressed it. Of course, many of us would like to see neocon leadership replaced at the top of our republic. This movement has acted as if they had a “mandate” to utterly transform America, despite having “won” disputed and at-best profoundly narrow electoral victories. A troglodytic and roughshod era of rationalization and contemptuous dismissal of all dissenting thought.

See: The Real Culture War: Defining the Background
neoromantics

and NeoConservatism, Islam and Ideology: The Real Culture War

But I am not going there right now. Instead, let us perform another of our patented thought experiments.

Let us assume, for a moment, that DR and his movement do have a “mandate.” A blank check from the American people to pursue a general line of policy called “neoconservatism” – including all of the adventurism and romantic Platonism that comes part and parcel with the Straussian worldview.

Even if his movement had such a mandate, that is irrelevant to the issue of whether or not Rumsfeld should resign. For what he is actually claiming is that he – himself – is not replaceable even by some other neocon who has a top defense background and is politically compatible!

In other words, his own movement has such a paucity of talent that it cannot step in with another highly qualified person who can pursue conservative policies WHILE soothing the trainwreck of morale within the Pentagon and across America at large.

Let’s take a moment to delve into the implications of this dogged stand. Whether we call it “stalwart and determined” or “obstinately power-grubbing,” there are even deeper levels that merit exploration.

74 comments:

Francis said...

Several observations:

1: Any leader who is indespensible hasn't done his (or her) job properly. Accidents happen (even hunting accidents...). Illnesses happen. One of the jobs of a leader is to organise a system that can work without any of its component parts - and that includes the leader.

Therefore any "leader" claiming to be indespensible is actually admitting a mark of incompetence. (And this goes double for military institutions where they systematically teach things like leadership).

2: Irreplacable people really aren't that common. To the point that I only know one person who might qualify as ultimately irreplacable in her position. (And this certainly isn't because the people I know lack ability).

3: One of the hallmarks of a good leader (including CEOs) is that they attract and nurture ability. If they don't have possible replacements then not only have they not done their job by producing and nurturing talent that can cover for them, they are manifestly bad at leadership because they are neither attracting nor nurturing talent properly. (This also means that most CEOs should come from within the company...)

Of course, no one will have a replacement that can immediately step into their shoes due to a lack of experience, and an unwillingness to step back from the tiller because of a desire not to see mistakes is entirely understandable.

Hawker Hurricane said...

"Any leader who is indespensible hasn't done his (or her) job properly."
Amen.

I spent the last 10 years of my military career 'training my replacement(s)'. My objective at every command was to train myself out of a job. I measure my sucess by how many people under me qualified (and recieved!) promotions.

A wise person said "The cemetary is full of people who thought they couldn't be replaced."

That SecDef Rummy thinks there is no replacement for him is just more evidence that he shouldn't be allowed to have the job in the first place.

reason said...

I personally think that the huge salaries of CEO are class warfare. It ensures that CEO don't mix in the same circles as the normal beings who work for them and so are not troubled by scruples of any sort. It is also why they are recruited from outside - no conscience problems related to earlier agreements or promises.

In the end I think it will prove counterproductive because this very callousness will break the web of co-operation that holds their enterprises together and ahead of the competition.

But in general, yes I agree there is a tendency to see individuals as more important than they are. After all, we all grow up with the great men view of history. I think it is mostly bunk. Yes individuals have an influence, but mostly they are enabled by the times. Making Churchill a war hero takes aware from the less mythical but just as great heroism of the average Englishman at the time.

Blaming Bush for the current disaster is also not seeing the whole reality. Something was "rotten in the state of" the USA to allow these scoundrels to come to power. Remember the Donavon song "Universal Soldier"? Don't take it literally I'm not demonizing soldiers, just pointing out that individuals really are fairly powerless without an army of supporters.

Darrell said...

DB said:
"Members of the CEO caste seem to be saying “we are actually mutants, like pro basketball players. No matter how much we are paid, the pool of skilled corporate administrators will remain fixed and small. Market incentives – even astronomical ones - will never augment supply. All companies can do is bid up CEO pay in order to hire the few mutant managers away from each other, just like sports teams!”"

I think this syndrome can be explained simply as greed + opportunity. In the case of both CEOs and DR, when some people find themselves in a situation where they can increase their wealth and power, even though immoral or illegal, they will do it. And, similar to indignation addiction, once they get a taste of it they want more and more, until their ONLY goals are to create conditions that enable them to steal more money and power. I think that this is a trait that is inherent in humans in general to one degree or another. By various means, (nurture, education, etc.) most people, or at least many people, learn to suppress or redirect this trait, to one extent or another. You've said it many times before, "satiability." If we want to move up to the next level as a society we have to find ways to contain these kind of people and keep them from positions where they can do harm. Or, better yet, create conditions where this trait is much more likely to be suppressed or redirected.

Edward Ott said...

Doing volunteer work for several years at the Islamic center of Baton Rouge has shown me how much of a myth that essential man is, don't get me wrong their are go getters and inovators but many of our volunteers are students and when they graduate everyone moans and says how will we ever replace so and so, and low and behold a new group of freshman arrive and someone does the job that needs doing.

lightning said...

A limited supply of CEOs? I'm sure we can outsource the job to India for a fraction of what we'd pay for an American CEO ... (0.5 joke)

I've had the hypothesis for some time now that our larger institutions are evolving into "super organisms" that have their own will and goals. Unfortunately, they seem to be clinically insane, or at least really stupid.

Jacare Sorridente said...

I think that the subtext for Rummy's obstinance is clear: "I accept responsibility..." but it was really someone else's fault, and if all of my orders had been fulfilled as given, everything would be alright.

There can be no other explanation. The secretary of defense thinks he is doing a great job.

Recent rumblings from the white house seem to indicate that a re-shuffling is on the way. Hopefully this will be a good thing.

As far as CEO salaries etc. The problem here is a complete lack of accountability. Too few CEO salaries seem to have anything whatever to do with performance. A CEO can drive a company into the ground and then move on to something else with apparently no "black mark" from the failure. It is a very curious thing.

HawthornThistleberry said...

While I agree wholeheartedly with the conclusions and most of the premises, I feel obligated to point out what I think is a logical fallacy.

To say that he should not be replaced, Rumsfeld does not have to believe he is irreplaceable. All he has to believe is that, of any of the "some other neocon who has a top defense background and is politically compatible" candidates, none of them is substantially better than him, by enough to make up the non-trivial costs of a transition (both "real" and political).

Seems to me all he thinks is that he's blameless, he's doing as good as anyone else, and that switching him out is going to cost as much as, or more than, keeping him. No need for him to imagine he has no peers to come to that conclusion.

Patricia Mathews said...

There is one and only one reason to believe Rumsfeld, and I know this because I share it. It's the feeling a lot of us seniors have when confronting the current crop of fanatics and chickenhawks, "They've all run MAD! Don't they KNOW what a World War is like? Because I do. I remember...."

For that reason and that reason alone, I am willing to cut Rummy a little slack, perhaps 5% of my all over opinion of him. Remember how everyone thought Sharon and Arafat were stirring up trouble between Israel and Palestine and all along they were making enough noise to keep their followers semi-satisfied (the Sabre Rattler Dance?) without actually (Allah forbid) touching off the war the hotheads wanted.

Like I said, I'll give Rummy 5% credit if that what he's doing or thinks he's doing. In which case, he is not really indispensable; he had a perfect prospective ally in Colin Powell and threw him away. Sigh.

Brother Doug said...

I think its obvious what is going on. Bush learned from Nixon’s failure that you never fire your supporters when you have done something illegal. Bush may fire the window dressing like O’neal and Powell but he has to keep the core intact to protect from a congressional investigation.

Stefan Jones said...

I've got a bunch of stock, in many companies. As a result, I get dozens of proxy mailings every year, where I get to vote for a board of directors and, usually, give a thumbs up to an auditing firm and a bunch of other measures.

Democracy in action . . . NOT!

The problem -- particularly where it comes to board members -- is information. You really can't tell, from the sparse information in the booklets sent out with proxy mailings, what these people are *like*.

Are they dutiful stewards of capital, or arrogant pricks who happen to be college buddies of the CEO?

I've taken to abstaining from BOD votes, voting against executive compensation measures, and often vote for any measure that looks like it was introduced by trouble-making, bunny-hugging, labor-loving stockholders. Just to keep 'em on their toes.

Stefan

Frank said...

DB: "The one correlation that seems always to affect pay is how well you manage to pack the Board with your pals."

Hey, if it's not illegal, it's not really cheating :) It's just a business deal. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Tit for tat.

"Hm. Interesting proposition. Mutants. Like Sports stars."

Well? Why not? Do you have any evidence that these CEOs do not have some kind of genetic advantage ? (Oh and BTW, are you really suggesting that some kind of Übermensch philosophy has started to expand itself from business into politics?)

"Because truly superior men would be ashamed of having to use tricks like those. They would refuse."

It's not about keeping up some vague honor system. Even sports people cheat. It's about winning. You're an American, you should know this :).

francis: "Any leader who is indespensible hasn't done his (or her) job properly."

Amen squared.

Brother Doug: "Bush may fire the window dressing like O’neal and Powell but he has to keep the core intact to protect from a congressional investigation."

That may work during his presidency but what happens afterwards?

michael vassar said...

This is just a casual impression, but it seems to me that in the big picture there are only two indespensible types.
a) Inventors of abstractions.
e.g.
How many centuries passed between reinventions of the zero?
Without De Carte would we have graphing and analytical geometry even today?
on a more modest scale
Without Fischer and Haldane would anyone have thought to focus on selection at the Gene level?

b) Inspired Maniacs
Truths will recurr, but great errors with high memetic fitness need only be made once.
Rousseau is the top example in my book.
Some people would list their choise inventor of some artistic innovation they consider destructive, such as Picasso, Joyce, Warhol, or the like.
Fredrick of Prussia and Lennin invented novel pernicious systems of government.

Dave said...

You really, really have to read "Rumsfeld's Rules" to appreciate the lip-service he pays to this concept:

- Don't think of yourself as indispensable or infallible. As Charles De Gaulle said, the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.

- Have a deputy and develop a successor. Don¡Çt be consumed by the job or you'll risk losing your balance. Keep your mooring lines to the outside world -- family, friends, neighbors, people out of government, and people who may not agree with you.

- Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the President and do wonders for your
performance.


Much more at http://www.library.villanova.edu/vbl/bweb/rumsfeldsrules.pdf
or google:rumsfeld's rules

Rob Perkins said...

I found this: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/16/opinion/16delong.html?ex=1145505600&en=9415244dc09ef8f8&ei=5087%0A

(http://snipurl.com/pdm0)

...while reading through the NY Times online. Considering the subject I expect it's cogent stuff.

Doris said...

As one of my former supervisors pointed out, the irreplaceable employee cannot possibly be allowed to go on vacation. (Translation: We're all replaceable.)

Frank:
Brother Doug is probably right. In answer to your objection, the cronihood in power now will still have friends in high places later on and will still get away with it all. And should they encounter a really dogged and clever prosecutor, the cronihood still has passports. They will still have friends in high places overseas. Our better hope is an international court, such as the one that accused Rumsfeld of war crimes and only backed down under economic pressure from the U.S. Once the cronies are expatriates, there won't be quite the same pressure to withdraw the indictment.

To help us analyze Rumsfeld, we could try to find a more suitable job for him. Since he is a tough old bulldog, interested in national security, I think he should be a security guard at a nuclear power plant. :-)

Doris said...

Rumsfeld & Germany:

http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,1564,1483982,00.html

Doris said...

Rumsfeld & Belgium:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2003-06-12-rumsfeld-usat_x.htm

Doris said...

This is the site for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has several cases against Rumsfeld:


http://www.ccr-ny.org/v2/home.asp

Put "rumsfeld" in the Search box and you'll get a couple of dozen cases mentioning him.

David Brin said...

Dave, did Rummy really say all these things? Dang!

But there is more at:
http://www.library.villanova.edu/vbl/bweb/rumsfeldsrules.pdf

Like “Don’t divide the world into “them” and “us.”

Yipes! Who are we dealing with, the Bizarro opposite-doppelgangar of the guy who wrote this stuff? There is not a single “rule” that is not obsessively reversed by this “evil twin.” Alert Star Trek!

Doris, I am not interested in prosecution. I am interested in removing the kleptocracy from its throttle grip over a free nation, a free people, a free economy and the Enlightenment. Let them go live with their r:oil patrons, for all I care.

Many said this is simply theft. Oh, sure, there is a level at which this is all boringly predictable, the same confluence of gred+opportunity+rationalization that ruled every other human culture. So why my convoluted explanation? Because one of the biggest insults in our society is HYPOCRISY. And what I just did in this posting was NAIL them for the logical contradiction of praising market capitalism while forming a secret, market-cornering, market-destroying cabal.

Moreover, it was important to skewer their calls for mutant wage caps in their own sports franchises, when “mutant ability” is THE justification they give for the utter failure of market forces to drive down CEO compensation.

That’s the trick, guys. When you skewer an enemy, NEVER let him dismiss you as a member of an already-dismissed category. In this case “loony pinkos who hate free enterprise.”

No, we are going to turn this around. WE are the defenders of markets. THEY are the hypocritical enemies of markets. Would-be feudal lords who will gradually become dinosaurs in a truly modern and outrageously creative 3rd Millennium, when competition flowers as the truly joyful birthright of every free person.

Michael, thanks for calling me indispensable on TWO counts, both creative and inspired-mad! (Dribble...;-) Now to get them agents to stop puttin’ stuff in my fooood! (I am stashing samples in secret undisclosed locales!)

Oh but I had BETTER be replaceable. Because I ain’t writing novels anymore...

One factoid came out of all this. Stefan owns a lot of stock! Party at his house!

---

PS This month's Harper's Magazine has an interesting round table on "American Coup D'Etat" - miltary thinkers discuss the unthinkable -- essentially the use of the military corp for political purposes. Worth a read.

Nissan Haramati said...

Cornered markets - not only does it hurt the entire field and anyone related to it, but it also encourages and urges the development (or evolution) of the newer and better product, whether it would be a newer model, or an entirely different type of product, is utterly irrelevant-as it's the purpose that needs fulfilling, not the product that needs using.

Doug S. said...

CEOs get absurd pay packages basically because incentives are messed up. The people who "hire" the CEO really don't have an incentive to keep costs down, as executive compensation generally doesn't depress stock prices (as far as I know). And yes, there are lots of people who want and train to be a highly-paid corporate executive, but I don't know how many MBAs ever make it up out of middle management. You could say it's rather like being an actor - a few stars get ridiculous salaries even though there are plenty of unknowns who are good enough to carry a movie, although they might not be the best of the best.

HarCohen said...

Talk about replacing the Secretary of Defense and I start to wonder about the the Deputy Secretary.

http://www.defenselink.mil/bios/england_bio.html

So is this the person to replace Rumsfeld, or should we go farther afield?

Kevin said...

David,

I think the astronomical CEO pay relates to your very useful meme about the relationship between skillful amateurs and the professionals we entrust to take care of us (and also our major economic institutions).
Modern industry somehow allows power to gravitate into the hands of the company leaders, even in systems such as the Soviet Union, where in theory they were quite subordinate. (I don't mean the obviously false claim to be subordinate to the proletariat but their subordination to the party.)
Much of this is the selection and encouragement of technology that enhances power at the top and dulls creativity at the bottom.
As for Rumsfeld, the truth is probably that just as one poster above pointed out that Bush has learned from Nixon, Rumsfeld has learned from his subordinates.

Francis said...

Bush on Rumsfeld: "I'm the decider and I decide what's best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain,"
(via Making Light)

In other words, Rumsfeld doesn't go because Bush says so, and that's it.

Human Rights Watch is also saying interesting things about Rummy...

reason said...

The guy I find difficult to understand is not Rumsfeld (stubborn old goat, attached to incorrect theories) but Cheney. I can't work him out at all. Is somebody at his old employer blackmailing him? What motivates his extreme secrecy fetish, his fanatically cronyism, his attachment to repeating proven untruths dogmatically? He is old enough and rich enough that he doesn't need this aggravation - why then, is he doing it?

Tangent said...

What this suggests then is what we have currently in the American economy is not a Capitalism but either an Syndicracy or a Plutocracy.

Capitalism runs off of a concept of Meritocracy. It states that those who have the ability will rule (corporations). What we've seen, instead, is an Old Boys Network where those people who have the contacts and have spent enough time in middle upper management each take the reins of power.

Sort of like the Senate and Presidency in the U.S.

Rob H.

Tangent said...

And to paraphrase: Power has the potential to corrupt. Absolute power has the potential to corrupt absolutely.

However, this is only potential. If someone refuses to be corrupted by this power, they can avoid the pitfalls that so many others have succumbed to.

What we need are a couple of those people, who have looked power in the eyes and refused to be corrupted by it.

Rob H., idealist

Julia said...

I guess I've been extremely fortunate in that the CEO who has made the biggest impact on my life personally in the last 7 years:

a) came in with a stated goal, and eventually met and surpassed the goal, and then stepped down;

b) spent several years grooming a replacement from within;

c) (and this is the most telling) took a 20% pay cut during a 10-20% (can't remember the exact percentage) RIF.

She was THE highest paid female CEO in the world at one point. (I don't know if Carly Fiorina eclipsed her or not, and I don't really care at this point.)

I wish she were the rule and not the exception she seems to be. :(

Rick Aucoin said...

Mr. Brin, once again an outstanding analysis and commentary, thank you VERY much for posting it.

michael vassar said...

Julia: Can you tell me who this CEO is? I manage a mutual fund portfolio of companies with female CEOs. I might want to investigate her in more detail.

Reason: I agree that people like Cheney are baffling if you think of them in self-interest terms. My best guess is that their behavior is not very deliberate but is mostly habitual and instinctive. They also probably don't identify in any real sense with anyone other than their immediate circle, who they reliably support, and don't think about broader issues except in terms of "what does my group way about X".

michael vassar said...

David: I think that you may be projecting too much of your social circle onto the people you are modeling. (I certainly was back when I thought like you appear to about this issue)

You said

"Because one of the biggest insults in our society is HYPOCRISY. And what I just did in this posting was NAIL them for the logical contradiction of praising market capitalism while forming a secret, market-cornering, market-destroying cabal."

and

"That’s the trick, guys. When you skewer an enemy, NEVER let him dismiss you as a member of an already-dismissed category. In this case “loony pinkos who hate free enterprise.”"

The trouble is, I don't think that the red counties or the plutocrats *are* 'in our society'. I don't think that they consider hypocrisy to be a big insult, just a weird fetish of the liberal elite (if they think about the idea at all). The insult that they (and most of our feudal ancestors) care about is DISLOYALTY, which includes having greater loyalty to abstractions like truth or logic than to a person or group. In other words, (though they don't formalize it logically), to them (as to most of our feudal ancestors) NON-HYPOCRISY is the insult.
I don't think that either left or right actually cares much about logic except when it suits them (the far left typically doesn't care about logic even then). Scientists, sf authors, and the people who like to communicate with them may be embarrassed to be caught in a logical contradiction, but normal folk never will be.
As you pointed out recntely regarding Christmas and Rove, I don't think that you have to let an enemy who doesn't mind hypocrisy dismiss you by placing you in an already dismissed category. If Rove doesn't like what McCain says, he can call him a pinko coward. If Ayn Rand criticizes him he could call her a liberal. Truth doesn't matter to such people *at all*. Only winning matters.

Ironically, I suspect that the reason we in the blue-states have so much trouble thinking about this is because we are so influenced by Christianity. The bible says "the truth will let you free" "do onto others" "the lord is one" etc. Through generalization and trickle-down, the real Christains (including Jews) have obeyed by caring about truth, using reason to move towards it, dismissing silly anthropormophic gods, priesthoods, superstitions, and rituals, and becoming Atheists (What the Romans called disbelievers in some god. Christains were sometimes killed for being Atheists as they disbelieved in some gods http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2004/2004-12-15.html). By contrast, the Pagans (Latin Paganus = Rural people.) as a class never believed much in abstract verbal truth or in the unitary nature of god (philosophically, that "there are few basic types"), so it was relatively easy for them to accept and stick with a veneer of Christianity (cross imagery) on top of their solistice and fertility imagery etc, provincial tribalism, etc.
Millenia pass, deep assumptions come to seem obvious, and today Christians (e.g. blue staters) like Richard Dawkins don't have a clue that they are Christians or that they are still trying to Christianize the pagans, who are still worshiping Odin et al under the name 'Jesus' and Christians like you assume that the pagans share with you basic cultural assumptions that they have never accepted.


I didn't say that creativity made someone indespensible. Anyone can invent an invention who's time has come. It's the inventors of creative *abstractions* such as my examples (zero, graphs, gene-centered viewpoint evolution) that I was arguing were genuinely indespensible. There are a limited number of true beliefs and if one person doesn't invent one another will, but there are a much greater number of clever and innovative ways of thinking about things and those, if uninvented, tend to remain uninvented. The Chinese and Europeans invented similar tools and toys, but very different ways of thinking.

I didn't know you weren't writing any more novels? Why?

Rob Perkins said...

Not writing more novels?

Say it ain't so! The only one I didn't enjoy *and reread* *and recommend to others* was _The Practice Effect_, and it wasn't because of the ideas in it!

Michael,

The "red counties" comprise half the country. Are you absolutely *sure* you don't want to include them "in our society"?

Let's be bigger than the culture war, eh?

Stefan Jones said...

Blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga on how serving in the Army turned him into a Democrat:

"The Army taught me the very values that make us progressives -- community, opportunity, and investment in people and the future. Returning to Bush Senior’s America, I was increasingly disillusioned by the selfishness, lack of community, and sense of entitlement inherent in the Republican philosophy. The Christian Coalition scared the heck out of me. And I was offended by the lip service paid to national service when most Republicans couldn’t be bothered to wear combat boots. I voted for Bush in 1992, but that was the last time I voted Republican."

The Soldier in Me

Tangent said...

michael: You do the pagans an injustice with your statement there. I know of quite a few pagans of varied paths (from Norse worshippers to Wiccans to generalists) who are in fact quite honest and trustworthy.

And while you might deride them as "neo-pagans" and the like, there is still a rich subculture here of people who are trying to find the truth of reality as found in our world, even if the instrumentation of science cannot effectively determine if some of their beliefs are in fact valid or delusion (ie, magic and psychic phenomena).

Instead, a better description of these subjective truth viewers is that they were raised in households where they modeled parental behaviors which had parents lying about their actions because of a fear of committing sin while they continue to do so. This fear of doing wrong and being punished for it is a core ideal of many Christian sects. It's about fear. Fear of damnation. Fear of eternal punishment. And so people end up committing crimes in the eyes of their God and then lying and covering up for it because if they can conceal the sin, perhaps they won't burn forever for it.

That's why I don't believe in Hell. If God is a loving and caring God, why in all creation would God allow people to suffer for all of eternity just because that person didn't follow the tenets of God's will?

It's a dichotomy of a schizophrenic abusive God that says "I love you" and then smacks His/Her children for any perceived fault. Indeed, this form of the Christian God could be considered a typical Abusive Parent. Is there any wonder then that these people see no fault in their actions and instead lay fault everywhere else? There is no personal accountability.

Indeed, that's big in pagan circles: accountability. YOU are responsible for your actions. The Lord and Lady will not punish you for what you do. Instead, you are responsible for your own deeds. If you do good? Then you've nothing to worry about. If you do harm? Then you are responsible for the harm you've done. And begging for the Lord and Lady to forgive your crimes will do nothing in the end. They don't forgive "sin". You do. There is no eternal "all is forgiven" copout while waiting for the next smack from an abusive God.

So please, don't call these people pagans in Christian clothing. It's an insult to Pagans everywhere.

Rob H.

Doris said...

I echo -- you "ain't writing novels anymore"???!!!

What's up? Short stories? Screenplays?

There's still a market for your work, so what's going on? You haven't been threatened, have you?

BTW, I saw "The Postman" over the weekend. The book was better. Even though some of the book was not cinematic, much more of the original could have been incorporated in the movie.

Also, the postapocalyptic setting of the book and movie reminded me of some current events, such as a mumps epidemic in the heartland (and the year's first case of mumps in San Diego) and the threat of using tactical nukes. Hmmm...

Brother Doug said...

As Frank said
Brother Doug: "Bush may fire the window dressing like O’neal and Powell but he has to keep the core intact to protect from a congressional investigation."

That may work during his presidency but what happens afterwards?

Probably the same trick that Nixion used; get a presidenal pardon from your successor. Or now that he has packed the suprime cort with his buddys they could rule any judgement unconsitusional. Or the lawers may just give up if everone refuses to coperate. Plus his family and political action commitees have tons of money that they could use to fight it for years. Look how long it took to get enron to trial. Impeachment by congress is the the only viable threat. [Sorry spell checker not working]

michael vassar said...

Rob Perkins: I'm rarely *sure* but I see no reason to think that they are part of our society. I'm not stating anything about what they should be. Still, answer this question. If the South had succeeded successfully, would life in the blue states be any worse in any way today? Assume that the confederacy would not have gone on to invade the North or to occupy the land that later became the west coast (unrealistically, but you are arguing that they are part of us, not that they were a potentially dangerous competitor and had to be defeated to eliminate competition). I think that it is clear that WWI, WWII, and the cold war would have gone the same way as they did, and I see no economic benefits from unity except in their contribution to our war efforts.

Tangent: (are you the "tangent" who I know personally) Please read what I say rather than associating. I was using the terms ironically and in their Latin meanings, where Pagan means rural and has implications of the "normal" or "natural" human default state. Neo-Pagans have very little to do with the sense in which I was referring to Paganism and Christianity, which was obvious from my post. After all, I said explicitly that Atheists are intellectually the heirs to Christianity, which brought us into the weird and unnatural state of being human and yet puttin "Truth" on a pedestal.

David Brin said...

Tangent said...”What this suggests then is what we have currently in the American economy is not a Capitalism but either an Syndicracy or a Plutocracy.

reason said... “The guy I find difficult to understand is not Rumsfeld (stubborn old goat, attached to incorrect theories) but Cheney. I can't work him out at all. Is somebody at his old employer blackmailing him? What motivates his extreme secrecy fetish, his fanatically cronyism, his attachment to repeating proven untruths dogmatically? He is old enough and rich enough that he doesn't need this aggravation - why then, is he doing it?

You both made key points. This is what is so frustrating about our situation. The utter BANALITY of this ruling clade. A cabal that has proved to be genius-level at seizing and rationalizing power, but utterly dismal at the art of statecraft.

The closest parallel that I can think of is .... Saddam Hussein.

Of course his style and methodology were different, and I am not accusing all members of the neocon cabal of being utter monsters. Not utter. Still, you see the same incredible juxtaposition of brilliance at the ruthless exploitation of power, combined with a thug’s complete indifference to the health of the state that he controls.

The same rationalization that “what is good for me and my class is good for the nation.”

In fact, this is a parable about human nature, especially the nature of human males. We are all descended from the harems of guys who were great at seizing or holding power. Every generation, on every continent, these guys would send another gusher of those traits into the gene pool. On the other hand, it was not anywhere near as certain that a GOOD and WISE king would have a big advantage - reproductively - over a nasty and vicious one.

Yes, the kingdom was marginally more likely to collapse under the vicious one. But not often. Anyway, you can easily see that this made an order of magnitude less difference, genetically, than the ability to terrorize your subjects and grab hundreds of their daughters.

All right, most neocons aren’t running around grabbing up harems. The Enlightenment is still vastly too strong to allow that. (Though their r”oil patrons do PRECISELY all of these things, baldly and openly.)

But work with me here. What we are talking about is PERSONALITY TRAITS. Those are somewhat inherited, genetically. The details of methodology are not.

As far as the “Essential Man Syndrome” is concerned, it is only natural for leaders and CEOs to cling to power, rationalizing that they are indispensable. In fact, it is so natural – a trait inherited from all those harem-grabbers - that they themselves should realize all this. If they truly were superior men, they would be capable - as George Washington was - of entertaining self-doubt, painful self-awareness, engaging in accountability experiments to verify rightness... Following a policy of CITOKATE. And occasionally proving their capability to walk away.

They would ALSO re-inspect their rationalizations -- the way I re-inspected the rationalization that “CEOS are defenders of capitalism and every critic must be a socialist.”

Isn’t that the great big smug justification offered by the Murdochs and Cheneys and their cohort? But I think I demonstrated pretty clearly that this is utter hogwash. Oligarchic syndicalism is, in fact, a variant on feudal-socialism. They are the market destroyers, not us. At least, not those of us who believe that the health of a market economy is measured by small business startups and the competitive delivery of rapidly innovating goods, services and solutions. Free enterprise is not ever-increasing social stratification that connives to prevent competition and social mobility.


Rob H said...”What we need are a couple of those people, who have looked power in the eyes and refused to be corrupted by it.

Ah but here’s the key point. We would be utterly screwed, if all our hopes rested on creating a human leadership class that was capable of seeing past its own delusions! The fraction of us who can be as mature as George Washington – the American Cincinnatus - is vanishingly small. There is no hope of changing that, any time soon. We are a species (or, at least, a male gender) of inveterate self-deluders.

So, is it hopeless? Our first 4,000 years of literate civilization was spent trying to solve this problem by preaching at people to be nice. And, yes, at leaders to be good, to devote themselves to statecraft, and to be wise. The entire Confucian dialogue, for example, was intended to help foster a non-delusional Chinese leader-clade, devoted to benevolent state management. Marxism is another example, that preached for a leadership dedicated to the greatest good for all. And, you’d better believe it, so did most western religions and monarchial justifications and so on.

The lesson is that this methodology did not work. It’s been tried. Given its chance. Every preaching turned into a rationalization for the rulers to (figuratively or literally) gather harems.

But there is hope. Because that failure doesn’t matter much! Because the Enlightenment came up with a new solution. One that is totally different than the theoretical preachings of Confucius and Plato, who prescribed rule by wise philosopher kings, excusing thereafter every lie that they might choose to make. (See my rant about Leo Strauss, who taught the neocons their duty to lie.)

No, we have a better answer. The alternative of Reciprocal Accountability is the one and only methodology that elevates statecraft above the self-interest of leaders.


Michael... You are right that Rove et al do not mind being hypocrites. But they do hurl the CHARGE of hypocrisy as a weapon, knowing that it will affect people who teeter between two worlds.

You miss my point about arming ourselves against charges of pinko-ness, when we assail the real betrayers of free enterprise. I don’t CARE whether they are convinced or not. Who cares about what dinosaurs think. (Well, one should, since they can hire hit men.) What my relentless re-evaluation of cliches is meant to accomplish is to arm you in the never ending fight for the undecided. Those swing voters who right now are letting Fox News convince them that there are “two sides” to global warning and evolution. Millions who mean well and believe SOME of the lessons of the Enlightenment.

They deserve new arguments. New tactics from us. If you use standard liberal party lines, you will lose. But if you show that the party lines are a trap, allowing Rove to blind people to the Real War, then you will at least win points for originality, and maybe spark a different set of neurons.

And yes, I am tempted to rephrase Ble-Red as Blue-Gray and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic while calling up the real America to fight like hell for the real Union. It may come to that.

But only if I am dragged, screaming into that conclusion. NOT because it is actually smugly SATISFYING to pre-judge that conclusion! There is a vast difference.

I WANT to believe that red staters and rural folk (well, lots of them) are fellow Americans, with college educated minds that are vastly better than 40 years ago and some real potential for modernist thinking. The kind of thinking that would make a truly honorable Creator proud.

Moreover. I can prove it.

Brother Doug... Read my “Democratic Contract With America!” One of the main clauses is an attempt to limit Presidential pardons in a way that does not constrain an actual constitutional power, but that makes it hard for W to pre-save all cronies with a get out of jail free card. People, please spread the word on this one. If even a few Dem candidates took up this “contract...”

Markbnj said...

Wow. Don't know why I never googled your name before. I'm totally WOWed.
My favorite living author..Ok I still worship Issac Asimov too, sorry...

Some points you made.
1) no more novels, please deny this?!
2) ...tempted to rephrase Ble-Red as Blue-Gray and sing the Battle Hymn of the Republic while calling up the real America to fight like hell for the real Union. It may come to that.
I said that WWIII may be starting relatively soon..(http://markbnj.blogspot.com/2006/04/mideastwere-on-eve-of-world-war-iii.html)
in myblog...
3) in the Essential man discussion you quoted John Mauldin: “John Walter joined AT&T, but after nine short months he was out of a job. The complaint was that Walter "lacked intellectual leadership." Walter got $26 million for that little stint in a severance package. That's what you call really beating time. Of course, a few of us might have another word for it -- and for AT&T.”
Interesting insight. Considering I spent 25 years inside AT&T/AT&T Labs, and other areas.
John Walter did not lack intellectual leadership.
He was an individual of high moral standards. He was recruited under false pretenses, and when he started he gave 30 day notices to his reports that he expected honesty, and integrity, and was not a "Yes Man"
And his strategy for the company was very different then the previous inbred CEO...
Of course today his strategy would have been looked at as extremely successful, as he esentially proposed undoing the 1984 consent decree by getting rid of everything, and buying back the RBOCS.

Gee. Just what the shell of AT&T, now controlled by SBC has done.

But his 26 million dollars bought him a nice private "No more working" or no more corporate board" lifestyle.
I've really got to write a book about that company one day.
I just need to find the right angle.
The man was totally maligned by AT&T and the public. His 26 million dollar parachute is NOT too much for the humiliation of being run out of AT&T after nine months for wanting to make it an HONEST company at the top.

Don Quijote said...

Once more courtesy of the whiskey bar.

Raw Story|As rhetoric builds, Democrats in Congress lie low on Iran

Most aides refused to speculate whether Democrats might support a military operation in Iran. Several aides acknowledged, however, that some Democrats in Congress could support a military strike . . . Any military action Democrats supported, one aide said, would not include the use of nuclear weapons.

This is what happens when you sell out your base continously in the name of Pragmatic Modernism. You have no base and you end up being the party of me too-ism.

Don't expect the Dems to stand up to Shrub over Bombing the living daylights out of Iran. To brgin in October after product marketting in August.

I WANT to believe that red staters and rural folk (well, lots of them) are fellow Americans, with college educated minds that are vastly better than 40 years ago

They are fellow Americans and they probably worse, far worse than they were 70 years ago, they have not lived through large scale deprivation and have zero empathy for their fellow man.

Despite being "college educated", having far greater access to media and to the world, they are still short-sighted, greedy morons who voted in the single most incompetent moron into the white house.

palliard said...

They are fellow Americans and they probably worse, far worse than they were 70 years ago, they have not lived through large scale deprivation and have zero empathy for their fellow man.

Quijote, let's take an example, shall we?

Hurricane Katrina wrecked and ruined a lot of places.

Red State (Mississippi) response: pull together, pick up what's left of the wreckage, and keep going.

Blue State (Louisiana) response: pull apart, bicker about responsibility, whine about how the government isn't fixing everything, and ponder the notion that things may never get rebuilt.

The sheer arrogance of the left is NOT one of its most attractive features. You should really take a cue from Dr. Brin on this: you're not going to win over people to your cause by telling them how stupid and useless they are.

michael vassar said...

David: I didn't say that Rove doesn't mind being a hypocrite. I said that His Constituency doesn't mind Him being a hypocrite. I also believe that our side already HAS most of the millions who mean well and believe some of the lessons of the Enlightenment.
OTOH, there is a core constituency who we could reach out to who are simply confused about what the Democrats stand for and are convinced by Rush, Coulter, etc that they stand for what their most vocal monsters, Chomsky, Nader, Zinn, etc represent. These people intend to choose the feudal servitude of a monstrous right over the gulags of a monstrous left. I think that the Democrats could win them over if they aggressively rejected their internal monsters and outright accused the Republicans of being monsters at the same time. In other words, they could win if they kicked out Don Quiote and his likes.
I'd really like to see the detail that should have followed the sentence "and I can prove it".
I don't think that we should be crying the "Battle Hymn for the Republic". My point is that many people are NOT fellow members of my culture, even defined broadly, and that we would be better off going seperate ways. I actually don't think succession would be the best approach. Far better to MASSIVELY cut back on federal power, while expanding (with permission from new members) the size of the US, turning it into something like an "Anglosphere Union" containing the UK, Au, Nz, Canada, and a few regional blocks of now fairly independent US states. Anyway, that's not going to happen. Just a pipe-dream, but so is another actual Civil War with a happy ending. Long befor things reach that point (I'd say about 30 years at the current rate) much better to simply leave.
I try to believe not what I want to, but what appears to be the case, or more precisely what appears to have the greatest expected value associated with correct belief (decision theory complete with Pascal's Wagers when they are logically sound which is essentially never).

Anonymous said...

This is topically unrelated, but I'm too lazy to dig up the email address on the page.

Emergent Traffic patterns in India:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjrEQaG5jPM

Nate said...

Oh, for pity's sake.

Don Quijote said:
They are fellow Americans and they probably worse, far worse than they were 70 years ago, they have not lived through large scale deprivation and have zero empathy for their fellow man.

Right, let's bitch at people because they haven't suffered wide scale deprivation. Like most Americans haven't. That's a pretty stupid tactic. "You only vote for Republicans because you haven't suffered enough!" Let's not try and associate the side we want to win with suffering, maybe? And writing people off as morons really doesn't help, either. And I'm saying this while agreeing with you that the whole "Shun the Monsters of the Left!" idea is stupid and helps Democrats lose.

Michael Vasser said:
OTOH, there is a core constituency who we could reach out to who are simply confused about what the Democrats stand for and are convinced by Rush, Coulter, etc that they stand for what their most vocal monsters, Chomsky, Nader, Zinn, etc represent. These people intend to choose the feudal servitude of a monstrous right over the gulags of a monstrous left.

The "gulags of the monstrous left"? Ralph Nader as a "monster"? What gulags? The one people I've seen calling for (or running) gulags lately have been the "right". Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram, all the other secret CIA bases? Who's calling for the eradication of entire groups of people who don't agree with them? Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and the rest of their merry band of hatemongers. And somehow Ralph Nader is the equal and opposite of these monsters who millions of people listen to?

palliard said:
The sheer arrogance of the left is NOT one of its most attractive features. You should really take a cue from Dr. Brin on this: you're not going to win over people to your cause by telling them how stupid and useless they are.

The irony inherent in that paragraph is amazing, especially right after the comment about "Blue State" Louisiana, when Louisiana's a Red State. And given how New Orleans was wrecked, abandoned, and left to rot.

Seriously, anybody trying to equate the "monsters of the left" with the "monsters of the right" is either covering for the monsters of the right, or not paying attention. And anybody saying the only way the Democrats can win is to ditch their "monsters" and "appeal to the center" is writing a recipie for disaster. Because that's what the Democrats have been doing, and it Doesn't Work. Trying to run as "Just like the Republicans, but Not Crazy" doesn't convince anyone. People who want the Republicans will vote for the real thing, and people who want something other than Republicans will get disgusted and not vote. And it leaves you wide open for the charges of hypocricy and flip-flopping and so on that Rove and his ilk like to throw around.

And by being too afraid of being called weak to stand against the monsters, you are weak and save them the trouble of trying to attack you with that.

Dave said...

David -- I did read those other rules, and looking at the end result, I find it hard to believe he actually wrote them. this link cites them to a Rumsfeld byline in the WSJ January 29, 2001.

CITOKATE may be, but Rumsfeld and Bush do not fear criticism nor use it as an antidote to error, they use it as a tool to identify loyalty/disloyalty and have gone far in giving other people's wealth to their loyalists.

Rumsfeld's rules sound good, reasonable, and like what you'd want a good CEO to do, but they reserve exceptionalism of the "essential man" to only themselves, and use it as license to say anything to get and keep the job.

Catfish 'n Cod said...

Earth Predictive Hit: cooperation between hunters and environmentalists resumes!

Remember the North American Church of Gaia endorsing the International Fowl Association, despite protests from the radicals?

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2006/0605.larson.html

"The Emerging Envrionmental Majority", by Christina Larson

Rob said...

"Rumsfeld's Rules" are clearly for the Little People, not for Rumsfeld himself.

On the fatuous Red State/Blue State "example" with regard to the response to Katrina: Mississippi is governed by and represented in the Senate by BFFs of the party in power. Louisiana is governed by a woman Democrat and represented by a woman Democrat Senator. Mississippi didn't have tens of thousands of poor black people scattered to the winds (literally) and financially unable to clean up the devastation of their homes. And if you look I'm sure you'll find that Mississippi that great example of pull-togetherness is still mostly just as devastated as shameful divided Louisiana.

But of course it sounds so pleasing to talk about how superior the God-fearing, morally upright people of Mississippi are as compared to the godless, debased people of Louisiana who doubtless deserve to be abandoned to their fates.

Stefan Jones said...

The White House's teflon has definitely worn through.

Two items of note, both from an interview with Tim Russert:

" . . . I knew something was happening when I had John Murtha on several months ago and he talked about his plan for a timetable. And I got several calls from people at the Pentagon and others and they said, “You know Murtha’s right.” And I was stunned because you don’t usually get those kinds of calls. They were obviously people who would not allow me to broadcast their names."

Above is RE Murtha's call for a speedy withdrawl from Iraq.

"And then it continued with General Zinni who came on “Meet the Press” and said that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign. So the last couple of weeks, as I talked to people, one former general said we have the equivalent of a civil war going on at the Pentagon. The generals are trying to reclaim control of the war because they do believe serious mistakes were made. That’s a very serious statement. And then, someone very close to the President said to me, you know, he won’t fire Rumsfeld because it would be the equivalent of firing himself. He can’t acknowledge that it was such a big mistake, in so many ways. And so Rumsfeld will stay. And that’s the decision that the President has made and I think Rumsfeld will stay and try to see this through."

To some extent this lets Rumsfeld off the hook a bit. It's the incompetent in the Oval Office that thinks he is indispensible. For all the worst reasons.

From Think Progress story.

Carl said...

Some thoughts in half-defense of high CEO pay:

1. There may be quite a bit of talent out there for CEOs, but how much demonstrated talent?

2. Some of these guys may well be mutants. I think Bill Gates qualifies. There are better programmers, and there may be better managers/businessmen, but the combination is rare indeed. It is the combination of skills that make for a good CEO. Think of all the great chess players in the NFL.

3. Last, and perhaps most important, is what I call the "corruption principle." If you put someone in control of billions of dollars and don't pay him enough, that person can make more money diverting resources than he makes in compensation. Pay the person enough, and the diversions have to be huge -- and thus usually visible -- to be significant.

If you invest in oversight instead of salary, you usually end up with bureaucracy that is far more expensive than the high salary. As someone who has worked for government contractors, I have seen this process in action first hand.

If you want to reduce CEO salaries, shrink the corporations. See my web site on ways to do this.

OdinsEye2k said...

You guys have to check this out:

http://www.nytimes.com/pages/business/businessspecial/index.html

When you look at the "Pay for Performance" chart, think of this: As far as I can tell, the two axes are completely unrelated to each other - meaning that the data points on that graph are almost completely random scatter.

Now, as my business friend that I showed this to pointed out, the raises may be due to lots of intangibles, which is likely true. Somehow, I doubt that anyone really "measures" a CEO performace. On the other hand, it may show that no one is really good (or cares about becoming good) about detecting a CEO's worth to the shareholders.

Also, I think the last comment (part 1) can be very spot-on for how the caste defends itself. It's similar to why innovation in spacecraft is so slow. No one will use parts that haven't been space qualified. You don't get space qualified without being used....

Don Quijote said...

OTOH, there is a core constituency who we could reach out to who are simply confused about what the Democrats stand for and are convinced by Rush, Coulter, etc that they stand for what their most vocal monsters, Chomsky, Nader, Zinn, etc represent.

The worst Chomsky & Zinn can be accused of is producing crappy prose. As for Nader, every time you sit in a car, you can thank him for the joy of knowing that if it is rear ended it won't explode like a Pinto.

These people intend to choose the feudal servitude of a monstrous right over the gulags of a monstrous left.
What monstrous left? really you'll have to better than Zinn, Chomsky and Nader.

I think that the Democrats could win them over if they aggressively rejected their internal monsters and outright accused the Republicans of being monsters at the same time. In other words, they could win if they kicked out Don Quiote and his likes.

They already have, it hasn't done them a damn bit of good. As a matter of fact it pretty much guarantees that they will keep getting their butts kicked.

Now if they wanted to win, they would put together a platform that consisted of the following:

Higher Minimum Wage.
Single Payer Health Care System.
A Smaller Military (about 1/3 of current size).
A repeal of NAFTA, WTO.
A real Energy Policy.
a break-up of Media Corporations.
Legalization of Drugs.


Far better to MASSIVELY cut back on federal power,

Who is going to run NASA, the FDA, EPA, FDIC and the various alphabet soup of Federal agnevies that keep the US economy functionning?


while expanding (with permission from new members) the size of the US, turning it into something like an "Anglosphere Union" containing the UK, Au, Nz, Canada, and a few regional blocks of now fairly independent US states.

You are aware that most of the countries you have named are far more socialistic than the US with far more goverment?

Right, let's bitch at people because they haven't suffered wide scale deprivation. Like most Americans haven't.

It's more along the line that people who have suffered deprivation usually have more compassion for those less fortunate than themselves than those who haven't.

michael vassar said...

Nate: I appreciate that Nader was once a good guy. Once... But he willingly gave the election to Bush. Chomsky is (somewhat debatably) a F$#*%n Holocaust denier (not to mention Khmer Rouge apologist http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/ExtremistLang.html). What monstrous Left?
How about Edward Said?
There are a bunch in Academia really.

Look. I'm at Columbia. We have MAOISTS! We have people who support NORTH KOREA! Yes, the Left has monsters. The difference is that on the Right the monsters are the mainstream while on the left they have NO power outside of the universities and decreasing power in the universities.

Don Quiote may be one of the monsters I am talking about, though a small one, but I'm not sure. His platform does usually sound sane, it's just the attitude that he projects that seems problematic (but the same could be said of Marx most of the time). For the record yes of course I know that the UK et al have far more central government than the US. I don't object to that at all. I object to the loss of liberty, not to the fact that many people choose to use their liberty to seek just distribution in what may be a sub-optimal (or possibly optimal in Scandinavia) manner.

Rob Perkins said...

-- Higher Minimum Wage.

Each year, the Minimum Wage in Washington State gets a "cost of living" raise. Each year, the prices of each good and service whose business depends on minimum wage labor increase by the amount of the minimum wage hike.

Every. Year. It is not making a "living wage". It's making everything more expensive.

-- Single Payer Health Care System.

Again, Canadian doctors train here, go there, and if they can, they *come back here* to set up practice.

-- A Smaller Military (about 1/3 of current size).

I'm confused about this, actually. Is DQ's faction one of those which has been calling for a recognition that there should have been more boots on the ground in Iraq?

If so, how does a call for a drastically smaller military reconcile with that criticism? And how does it reconcile with Rummy's stated declaration that the size of the military should be smaller?

-- A repeal of NAFTA, WTO.

In my opinion, we should not now erect economic borders with Mexico where there has never before been a de facto economic border. The law should be changed to reflect what is, and to take into account the disparity of wealth between there and here.

Dismantling NAFTA would not accomplish this.

Free trade, even crony capitalist trade, is a powerful incentive not to go to war.

-- A real Energy Policy.

Can't argue with that. Of course, if you go about screaming that baby steps toward this equate to utter failure, as an environmentalist did in a state level town meeting I attended last month, you won't have my respect.

-- a break-up of Media Corporations.

That's so amorphous I wouldn't have the first idea where to begin with it. I know a little bit about how at least one media company manages its editors and publishers, and I can say without equivocation that breaking up the holding companies would not change the quality of news reporting or the entertainment media offerings.

That said, I certainly would love to have an a la carte set of cable channel offerings, something these content providing juggernoughts have always opposed.

-- Legalization of Drugs.

They're legal now; I was given narcotics last year, and prescribed them for home use, for some medical problems I had last year. I still have a bottle of Vicodin and some Tylenol-3 syrup in the medicine chest, along with anti-nausea drugs, against the time I start passing a second kidney stone.

Unless you mean legalization of the recreational use of drugs?

Substances which always and invariably blind a person's mind to the real world in disturbingly short order, and make him more of a desparate jobless resource-sucking slave to his addictions than any chain smoker or uncontrolled alcoholic?

The ones which cause debilitating birth defects far worse than the low birth weights of tobacco users' babies?

You actually *want* that? 'Cause I think that sort of thing would be more insane and more damaging than even a misguided "War on Drugs". Absolutely, unequivically insane, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Instead of mere legalization of recreational drugs, what this country (and probably the rest) needs is a sort of maturation of its attitudes about drugs.

Legalization wihtout any additional changes could be devistating, but it might not (i.e. if they were legalized, would YOU start making crack-babies? I know it's a statistic with N=1, but still.)

Legalization accompanied by (more likely caused by) a paradigm shift in the way we think about drugs could "win" the war: Our society treats drug addiction as a most contemptable crime, when it would better serve everyone to recognize that it is a disease. A treatable disease that doesn't necessitate other crimes.

When I read anti-drug statements, I feel like it's people arguing against chemistry; people do drugs because this chemical likes that one. Stop arguing with a molecule, and figure out a way around it!

-Andrew

Tony Fisk said...

The problem with 'drugs', as Rob pointed out is *what* drugs?

Recreational drugs? Which ones?

Should we outlaw nicotine and legalise crack cocaine, perhaps?

Or maybe substitute heroin for alcohol?
Marijuana for chocolate?

Even LSD for nutmeg?

Those matchings are quite deliberate: they roughly represent the comparitive level of addiction. The real problem with having a drug legislation that can be taken seriously is the hypocrisy involved.

And Rob, you're making the assumption that every drug abuser ends up as a decrepit huddled mass on the street corner. Not so! Plenty of upstanding functional pillars of the community walking around with a glassy look in their eye: ask any paramedic!

Nope, a problem that involves one in three people (if we take the stats on they who have toked at least once) isn't one for the courts.

The police are inclined to agree. Left to their own devices, they tend to downplay the casual user. It's only when a politician representing the moral majority pulls them up that they get tough.

But, it feels so good to have a captive whipping boy to rant one's indignation at, doesn't it? Rather ironic, considering the biochemistry feedback involved there!

For the record, I think you're a dope if you smoke. But being a dope is not a crime in my books!

reason said...

Rob,
I'm very disappointed in your trite and somewhat irrelevant responses to don qujiote on minimum wage and single payer health system. Surely, you have better arguments than those?

The argument against a minimum wage is that it reduces the availability of jobs for the weakest members of society not that it has a (proportional! wow! and minimum wage earners make ooh say .1% of national income!) effect on the cost of living. It may be that the problem it is attempting to address is better solved via tax/social welfare adjustments than changing the minimum wage.

Your argument regarding single-payer is just silly. If the US moved to single payer then the incentives for doctors would change completely - and isn't that the whole issue - the US system is too expensive? There are more subtle arguments about monopsy power and potential abuses that could be used (accountability?) but the issue is fairly complex.

If you want to charge don quijote with being part of the irrational left, be careful not to look irrational yourself.-) Think before you write - even on a blog.

Francis said...

*sigh*

What monstrous Left in America. For that matter, does America even have an effective Left? (Referring to the Stupid Left in America, I can see).

Don,
I'll thank Nader when he causes another person I respect to lose their jobs because Public Citizen has managed to get necessary medication taken off the shelves due to trivial risks. It's only happened to two so far...

Rob,
Health care in the US is criminally inefficient. You spend more on healthcare in taxes than we spend in Britian and more than twice what we do in total. And despite this, your overall outcomes are worse (significantly lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rate - these are the big two measures when measuring health of a population). Yes, your best hospitals are better, and the doctors employed by the hospitals prefer it. What of it? I bet the insurance companies prefer your system as well - there are bigger profits to be made.

As for minimum wage, try looking at the experience in Britain (and our minimum wage is high by States standards...). The cost of cheap manufactured goods rises to match - but the cost of goods manufactured elsewhere doesn't. And profits for everyone except credit companies go up because the poor now have money to pay for things. The trickle-down effect is nonsense - but the trickle-up effect works reasonably well.

Don Quijote said...

You actually *want* that? 'Cause I think that sort of thing would be more insane and more damaging than even a misguided "War on Drugs".

It's my understanding that there are approximatly 3 million people in Jail in the US and that a large proportion of them (1/3 to 1/2) are there for drug related crimes. At a minimum of 30K a year, that's a lot of money that could be put to far better use.

I'm confused about this, actually. Is DQ's faction one of those which has been calling for a recognition that there should have been more boots on the ground in Iraq?

DQ's faction is the one that did not want us to go to Iraq, the one that is going "told you so you morons" everytime they read the news from Iraq, and wants us out of Iraq.

50% of all global military expenditures are made by the US, another 20% is spent by our allies. The countries with which have borders are friendly and substantially smaller than we are.

Don Quijote said...

Nate: I appreciate that Nader was once a good guy. Once... But he willingly gave the election to Bush.

Where is it written that if you are on the left, you must support the
Democratic Party?

When the Democrats start standing up for themselves and quit being the me-too party, maybe they won't have people running to their left.

Chomsky is (somewhat debatably) a F$#*%n Holocaust denier (not to mention Khmer Rouge apologist http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/ExtremistLang.html).
His argument about the Kmer Rouge can be boiled down to.

1) they are the result of US illegal bombing of Cambodia,

2) They have killed roughly the same proportion of the population than the Indonrsians did in East Timor and we were busy demonizing the Kmer Rouge, we barely noticed the Indonesians (US Allies) doing the same thing.


How about Edward Said?


Your problem with Said would be?

There are a bunch in Academia really.

What you have in Academia is bunch of smart people who can speak their minds without being fired.

Francis said...

Indeed. Bush didn't win the 2000 election (Florida notwithstanding) - the Democrats lost it. One of the reasons they lost it is that by veering to the right so much, they pissed off the left enough to vote for Nader.

This is the fault of the Democratic party, not that of Nader or the Left. And it is only in a Presidential election in a two party state that this would not be blatantly obvious.

Rob Perkins said...

It's difficult to treat an important set of issues entirely fairly in less than 800 words.

Having said that, I have to confess that *I don't know* if raising the minimum wage is a good or bad idea. What I do know is how minwage businesses react to it. They don't lower rents or cut the pay of executives. They uniformly and often cheerfully raise the prices, which does not improve the situation of the minwage worker, since now prices are higher.

Not that I can't afford it. Rather, I cheerfully pay it. And from time to time I let the minwage earner know how much worse it was just 20 years ago, when I was making a minwage, and it was less than $3.50/hour.

But it's for that reason above that I don't think it's contributing to the effort to bring a living wage to every possible job in the country. My point is a flip of Francis': Manufacturers just go where wage demands are lower; how much of what we Westerners consume is actually made in Britain or the U.S.?

(This is a supporting point of my kings-and-priests metaphor. Oh, we have our servants, but technology and international commerce has permitted them and the attendant pollution of our consumptions to be located on the other side of the world.)

So, I'd prefer to let wages not be tied to an inflationary spiral, and make up the difference with a tax subsidy or direct assistance program.

Francis, regarding health care, how's pure healthcare research coming along in Britain? Any new imaging devices or new pharma developed and exploited there? New surgical procedures and other innovations?

(I don't ask this to snark; I'm genuinely curious. I think that your system doesn't exist alone; our system is part of yours; one might argue that the cost burden of medical innovation is borne by the American middle class...)

Also, having had experience with the truth of the U.S. healthcare system, I'll offer that yes, it is all the things you say it is, and the burden rests squarely on guys like me (middle class) with insane laws preventing the most sensible solutions from rising to the top.

But I disagree that its inefficiency is criminal. It's getting there, but it's not quite to that point.

But that again, *single payer won't solve those problems without creating worse ones, in my opinion.* Less incentive to enter medicine means the doctors just won't be as good. Or as responsible as they are now.

@reason, my argument regarding single payer is some of the above, and also that doctors in that system who can get out of it, do. That speaks against single-payer without being at all silly.

Part of my opinion about the insanity of legalizing recreational drugs stems from the idea that I don't think even tobacco or alcohol should have the places they have in our society and culture; they're incredibly addictive substances.

And, yes, in the name of preventing people with predilections toward hard addiction from having their lives ruined by what I agree is a medical condition, I'm willing to call for the substance to be very well-regulated, to the point where recreational use is entirely illegal. (Narcotics, and perhaps even nicotine, all have marvelously practical uses.)

I've seen what chemical alterations in the brain do to a person's lucidity and volition. I think it's worth at least $30k/year per to try and help people overcome it, and to keep them from *my children* if the cannot or will not. It's as simple as that, really.

And, for the record here, I didn't charge DQ with anything. I reacted to his ideas, not to him.

Francis said...

Our healthcare system's research is patchy. Pharma, we produce about 1/5 of the amount you guys do of 1/8 the budget IIRC (of course we have about 1/5 of the population of you guys). But as about half of all new pharma is developed in the US, that makes Britain the anomaly...

New imaging machines, not sure. (I know MRI scanners were ours - but that was years ago). New surgical procedures, again not sure and not even sure where to look. I do know that my sister was the fourth person ever to have her operation. I do again know that we have come up with some pretty ubiquitous ones (such as hip replacements) but I'm not even sure how you decide what is a new surgical procedure.

As for wage spirals, there's one wage spiral that really worries me - the one currently taking place at the top and turning both Britain and America into hour-glass societies. (As is normal, Britain comes somewhere between the continent (read: France/Germany/Scandinavia) and America in most things). And it's a very old pattern that when a country gets prosperous, the low paid jobs migrate elsewhere - and it even crippled the Dutch before the Industrial revolution (never mind what was done to the process by mass transport). Also, costs will go up...

Anonymous said...

Save the Earth! It's the only planet with chocolate. :-)

Doug S. said...

You want to hear something crazy? According to The New York Times, China is having a labor shortage and industry is having to choose between competing for workers by raising wages or moving to even lower-cost countries, such as Vietnam. Amazing. Maybe there's something to this "free trade" stuff after all?

I suppose it is as Adam Smith said: all that is necessary for a nation to rise from barbarism to the greatest opulence is peace, easy taxes, and tolerable administration of justice. (I don't know if China quite has "tolerable administration of justice" yet, but at least they're not as bad as they once were.)

On another topic:

I'm rather ashamed that the United States was the original narco-state, selling an addictive, dangerous drug to unsuspecting Europeans in the form of tobacco leaves. I think nicotine-containing cigarettes should be held to the same standard as any other drug or consumer product: in other words, they should be as legal as marijuana or cocaine. (Ethanol can be held to a different standard simply because it is less dangerous - booze is safe when used properly.)

There is a practical alternative to sending millions of smokers to the black market for to satisfy nicotine cravings: high-dose nicotine inhalers, which are currently available with a doctor's prescription. Nicotine, by itself, is not nearly as harmful as the combination of poisons found in cigarette smoke.

Oh, and the "war on drugs" is, in theory, winnable. Maoist China succeeded in wiping out the widespread use of opium. Of course, they used the evil dictator's usual draconian methods in doing so, but it shows that there is a way that can work, even if the cure is worse than the disease.

Anonymous said...

(mostly a response to Rob Perkins)

And, yes, in the name of preventing people with predilections toward hard addiction from having their lives ruined by what I agree is a medical condition, I'm willing to call for the substance to be very well-regulated, to the point where recreational use is entirely illegal.

Allow me to paraphrase: You're position is that preventing people from becoming addicted can be accomplished by outlawing the addictive substance?
We KNOW this doesn't work. They already ARE illegal. You cannot cure an adict by making their addiction illegal, just as you can't cure Down syndrome by legally enforcing a chromosome limit. Both of these things happen because of chemistry and biology. We, as very smart primates, need to figure out a way around these problems.

(Narcotics, and perhaps even nicotine, all have marvelously practical uses.)

Every drug has a use. That's why they're drugs. Which uses are legitimate is a value judgement. (moral relativism, yay!)

I've seen what chemical alterations in the brain do to a person's lucidity and volition.

[So you want to outlaw sex too? ;) It's not just an entertaining counterexample; sex has taken over some people's lives with the same destructive cycles seen in drug addicts.]

I don't know that this lends support to your argument, but it presume that one function of the government as a protecting body is to limit our behavior so as to maximize our lucidity and volition. I disagree with this premise. The (my) ideal government would find ways to identify and help people who have entered destructive cycles (prison just finds them, or worse, creates them), while preventing people from entering these cycles, which is not efficiently accomplished by outlawing them (as evidenced by our millions in jail and recidivism rates), but by education (and not just D.A.R.E).

I think it's worth at least $30k/year per to try and help people overcome it,

Um, the $30k/year was to imprison them, unless that's what you ment by "try and help people overcome it." You may think imprisoning 1% of our country's population (!!!) is acceptable, but I don't.

and to keep them from *my children* if the cannot or will not. It's as simple as that, really.

I agree entirely with your motivation (the "simple as that"), but I disagree with the premise that jail is the best method to protect your children:

*Legalization (accompanied by supporting programs) has the potential to divorce the problem of drugs from the problems of crime and violence.*

It is unbelievable to me that more effort isn't put into exploring these ideas.

-Andrew

Rob Perkins said...

Andrew, your paraphrase misrepresents my opinions almost entirely.

I'll state simply that I think no human being should see or be exposed to any addictive substance before he approaches his majority. Under that rubric I'd absolutely include alcohol, tobacco, recreationally used drugs, self-doping (such as gambling), and pornography (the part which people sometimes call "outlawing sex." Have a look at the research of Victor Cline, sometime, regarding that.)

My own parents managed to keep me from three of the five until I was 17. I don't know when my own kids will choose to try something dangerous.

Alas, the world is free not to shape itself according to my whim, and I simply cope with the disparity.

And you'll have missed it in my comments, but I am just as aware of and just as concerned about the failure of the U.S. correctional systems to rehabilitate as you are. Like you, I don't think what they're doing now is as helpful as other ideas.

Francis said...

Rob,
I'll state simply that I think no human being should see or be exposed to any addictive substance before he approaches his majority.

So you'll jooin my campaign to ban Dihidrogen Monoxide then?

Being serious, while I agree with your goals, I think your methods to achieve them are counterproductive. I've known people addicted to those highly dangerous substences: eating and jogging. Also to those well-known chemicals seratonin and adrenaline. (And some of my friends claim to be addicted to chocolate...)

Also, I want children before the age of majority able to learn to deal with substances safely rather than be thrown in at the deep end when they hit the age of majority.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, your paraphrase misrepresents my opinions almost entirely.

Well, I don't see how, because you stated quite concisely that you want to "prevent people from having their lives ruined" by regulation to the point of prohibition.

The Victor cline stuff IS interesting, though. I'm glad we agree that the issues and causes of dysfunctional mental states are not as unsubtle as only being drug-based.

My own parents managed to keep me from three of the five until I was 17. I don't know when my own kids will choose to try something dangerous.

Mine did a pretty good job too, but life is dangerous. No worries; we'll probably raise our kids the way we were raised. Alas, they could not keep me from the sweet release that is pharmaceutical grade mint-flavored chalk...

And you'll have missed it in my comments, but I am just as aware of and just as concerned about the failure of the U.S. correctional systems to rehabilitate as you are. Like you, I don't think what they're doing now is as helpful as other ideas.

Well, again, if this is true, than I'm glad we agree that there needs to be change, but you did state that you think the $30k/year
(as a euphamism for incarceration) is worth protecting your kids, when my opinion is that we should be concentrating on separating the problems related with drugs from those related to crime, that this separation is not actually that difficult, and that this would actually benifit the next generation more.

-Andrew

jomama said...

Ma Nature is a bitch.™

Rob Perkins said...

Francis,

You named two activities, and called them substances.

Andrew,

Andrew, your paraphrase misrepresents my opinions almost entirely.

Well, I don't see how, because you stated quite concisely that you want to "prevent people from having their lives ruined" by regulation to the point of prohibition.


I don't have a good handle on articulating it, any more than I can really articulate my (largely pro-life) position on abortion to an Evangelical Christian. Alas...

I think what I mean is I want kids to grow up so free of addictive substances that they have minds which can reason by the time they have encountered them. And, that they have all the information about the substances possible.

That way, their first experiments into anything are tinted by all that education.

It's what I'm trying to do for my own kids, to the point where I'm trying to teach my eight year old enough about how hormones work in her body that she can develop some decent biofeedback techniques to control rushes of anger, before her sexuality really starts to kick in. The same techniques can be used to manage rushes of other hormones, after all.

I'm getting mixed results, but for all the attempt our relationship is very close, and I'm told (by the ad council ads, no less) that that kind of thing weighs heavily in whether or not a child chooses self destruction.

my opinion is that we should be concentrating on separating the problems related with drugs from those related to crime,

That will help those who aren't so addicted that their urges have led them to crime. I tend to be more in your camp on the prevention side.

I just don't think that legalization of drugs for recreational use is wise, because the social cost will be higher than what we pay today to incarcerate. Even though I agree that what we're doing is non-optimal. It still keeps many away from my kids.

Francis said...

Rob,
You named two activities, and called them substances.

Indeed. My point was that you can be addicted to just about anything if you've got the wrong personality. (I even know one person who transferred an addiction for cocaine into one for nicotine and then into one for jogging). Removing proximate causes makes it less likely people will be able to handle them safely and gives them the allure of the forbidden. (See Abstinance Only sex-education for another example of this).

Doris said...

Rob should also have mentioned that those who spend childhood getting zonked on harmful substances never really grow up. This could explain a lot of the irresponsible behavior and illogical attitudes we see in society today.

Ashley said...

Hi! I found information about Talent migration on the website of a company called Ascentador
Cheers,
Ashley