Wednesday, August 27, 2008
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To explain why the American political class invades the wrong countries, indemnifies criminals, picks people like Joe Biden for responsible positions, and engages in so many other destructive acts, we modestly propose Werther's Law, or the Iron Law of Adverse Political Selection: in decadent political systems the most damaging policy option tends to be the one chosen.
To explain how Werther's Law works, we need reference to another political rule of thumb, the Iron Law of Oligarchy, which states that all organizations tend to develop into hierarchies with oligarchs at the top. We submit that those oligarchies over time tend to become inbred, either literally (think Bush family), or because they select members based on obedience to hierarchy, a groupthink mentality, and ability to self-censor. The rewards for correct behavior are lucrative: not only the thrill of wielding power when in office but a virtual ironclad guarantee of well-remunerated lifetime employment as a lobbyist, a board member of a defense contractor, or a holder of an endowed chair at a foundation.
Making serious mistakes, or even pursuing disastrous policies, are no impediment to one's career moving onward and upward. "Failing upward" (known cynically in Washington as "f*ck up and move up") is an occurrence as frequent in Washington as the common cold. How else to explain Paul Wolfowitz's horrific tenure at the Department of Defense being rewarded with a plum job as president of the World Bank, where he could make further business contacts that would keep him well-paid even after he failed in that job? It is no sin to be incompetent; it is a sin to be competent and diligent in one's job if it involves blowing the whistle on malfeasance in one's organization. The fate of whistleblowers in the Bush administration is abundant evidence of this. No one with a mortgage likes to be demoted, fired, or blackballed from future employment.