The Era of Empty Suits

empty suit

Walter Russell Mead:

Italian voters don’t have a lot of use for their leaders, and it’s hard to say they are wrong. The left wants to preserve the unsustainable, the right doesn’t have what it takes, and the center is dominated by short term, self centered careerists whizzing through the well oiled revolving doors that connect business with government. But how different are politics elsewhere? Voters ultimately weary of repeat policy failure by the well connected and well educated, and whether you look at Europe, the United States or Japan, the failures of national leadership keep piling up.

Americans often like to believe that our problems are as exceptional as our strengths, but our stale and ineffective political establishment looks a lot like its peers around the world. The American elite is not alone in its inconsequential futility and its lack of strategic vision; world leaders everywhere are falling down on the job.

The assumption that the people guiding the destinies of the world’s major powers know what they are doing is a comforting one, but there’s not a lot of evidence to support it. The “pass it to find out what’s in it” health care ‘reform’ in the United States, the vast stinking policy corpse that is European monetary union, the failure of establishments everywhere to figure out the simple arithmetical problems that our welfare states are encountering because of the demographic transition, the metastasizing tumor of corruption also known as the Chinese Communist Party: none of these suggest that the world is being governed with unusual wisdom.

But the problem is bigger than politics; in civil society as well as in government we are in an age of empty suits and stylish haircuts on hollow heads.

The people who run our affairs today come in many shades of bland. There are the elected officials and their direct appointees clinging more or less precariously to their posts. There are the career bureaucracies and civil servants who toil on regardless of the political winds. (This is a group that includes senior staff in national and regional governments and central banks; others in this category work for international organizations like the EU, the UN, the IMF and the World Bank.) In the developed world there are also the serried ranks of the leaders of the imperial non-profits: the heads of foundations, presidents of universities and think tanks, top staff at prominent NGOs. There are the intellectuals and academics whose views influence the decision makers, and there are the press lords—proprietors, editors and writers—who shape public and elite perceptions about what matters. There are the CEOs and financial movers and shakers whose views and deeds can move markets. More influential in some parts of the world than in others, there are the religious and spiritual leaders, officials and opinion makers. There are the cultural powers in Hollywood and elsewhere that both shape and express the zeitgeist.

As individuals, many of these people are outstanding: bright, hardworking, public spirited and dedicated to their jobs. They score well on tests and they get good grades in school. They can navigate the tricky path of advancement in the large and clumsy institutions that are the hallmark of our time. There are a lot of things they do well: they are mostly polite, they pay their bills and are reasonably faithful to their spouses and reasonably mindful of their kids. They are good company at cocktail parties and can at least appear attentive to panel presentations at multiday conferences. Whatever virtues are fashionable they are ready to exhibit, whatever opinions fit them for power they are eager to embrace. They look the part.

But they also have their limits: generally speaking they not only can’t think outside the box, they can’t conceive of a reality beyond the box’s comforting walls. They are bad at estimating probabilities, bad at anticipating consequences, bad at policy design and bad at managing change. Most are technical rather than strategic intellectuals; they often understand their own specialties pretty well, but cannot grasp the big picture. Incremental and cosmetic change they can process; deep change, not so much. They color between the lines and they play well with others, but under their mostly well meaning and eminently consensual direction the world is careening toward chaos.

During the 20th Century we saw the professionalization of the public sphere take place. “Public Servant” became a profession and “civil service” a career. This includes everyone involved in government, from the elected leaders down to the menial employees like file clerks and janitors.

Don’t get me wrong – in many ways this was both necessary and good. It was a definite improvement over the old patronage systems that it replaced. One example is the creation for uniform standards and training for police officers.

But there are always unintended consequences.

Lawyers tend to think in terms of law. Give them a problem to solve and they’ll come up with “legal” solutions. Business people tend to think in terms of business solutions. That’s because when you spend most of your days doing one thing it tends to affect your perspective.

People who spend their lives in government tend to think in terms of government. They think government is good and their solution to every problem is “more government”. They also tend to be risk-averse.

But the professionalization craze extended beyond government service. It included professions like journalism and business. And the key element to professionalization is education. More and more people went to college and got degrees. This resulted in an explosion of academia. Nowadays every profession has it’s own branch of academia.

In the computer science field there is an old programmer’s acronym – “GIGO” – that stands for “Garbage in, Garbage out.” It basically means that a program is only as good as the data you feed into it.

For several generations we have been feeding the same kind of people into an ossified system. Is it any surprise that we keep getting the same results?

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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46 Responses to The Era of Empty Suits

  1. myiq2xu says:

    Second-grader suspended for having breakfast pastry shaped like a gun

    Yet another student has been suspended for having something that represents a gun, but isn’t actually anything like a real gun.

    This time, it was a breakfast pastry.

    Josh Welch, a second-grader at Park Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, was suspended for two days because his teacher thought he shaped the strawberry, pre-baked toaster pastry into something resembling a gun. WBFF, the FOX affiliate in Baltimore, broke the story.

    Welch, an arty kid who has reportedly been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said his goal was to turn it into a mountain, but that didn’t really materialize, reports Fox News.

    “It was already a rectangle. I just kept on biting it and biting it and tore off the top of it and kind of looked like a gun,” he said.

    “But it wasn’t,” the seven-year-old astutely added.

    The boy’s teacher was not happy with his creation.

    “She was pretty mad, and I think I was in big trouble,” Welch told the FOX affiliate.

    According to the boy’s father, school officials say Welch also said “Bang, bang” while holding the breakfast pastry.

    School officials sent home a letter saying, in part: “One of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures.”

    Beyond the letter, school officials offered no further comment on the incident, citing privacy concerns.

    “They said they had to suspend Josh for two days, because he used his breakfast pastry and fashioned it as a gun,” the elder Welch told WBFF.

    The boy’s father described the events leading up to his son’s suspension as “insanity.”

    No one was hurt during the incident, he noted.

    “It’s a pastry, you know,” he said.

  2. myiq2xu says:

    Daily Caller:

    Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, the former campaign adviser to 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, has repeatedly argued that the Republican Party should be more inclusive — of almost everyone, it seems, except Sarah Palin.

    On Friday night’s broadcast of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” during its online “Overtime” segment, Schmidt tersely responded to a viewer question about McCain’s selection of Palin to be his running mate:

    MAHER: Steve Schmidt, ‘Is it possible you picked Sarah Palin the wrong year?’ Oh, my. ‘Could she have swung the women vote in 2012 enough to have put Romney in the White House?’
    SCHMIDT: No.
    MAHER: No? That’s your answer?
    SCHMIDT: No.
    MAHER: Never again. Your feeling is there never is a good time for Sarah Palin?
    SCHMIDT: No.
    MAHER: Well, do you think she has learned anything in the years since?
    SCHMIDT: No.

  3. myiq2xu says:

    Casting the first stone: Christian college fires pregnant woman for premarital sex

    A California woman has a filed a lawsuit alleging that an evangelical Christian college in suburban San Diego wrongfully terminated her because she became pregnant after engaging in premarital sex.

    The plaintiff, 29-year-old Teri James, had been a financial aid specialist for two years at San Diego Christian College in El Cajon before she was sacked. She is now six-and-a-half months pregnant. It’s a boy.

    According to NBC, the termination letter James received read: “Teri engaged in activity outside the scope of the Handbook and Community Covenant that does not build up the college’s mission.”

    Gloria Allred, the controversial, publicity-seeking attorney, is representing James. The suit alleges gender discrimination and discrimination due to pregnancy and marital status.

    “The HR director indicated that she was not being fired because she was pregnant. Instead, she was being terminated because she had premarital sex,” Allred told KGTV, the ABC affiliate in San Diego.

    Allred did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.

    In a potentially interesting twist, James alleges that school officials offered her boyfriend (now her husband) a job despite knowing that the man was the baby’s father who, presumably, played his procreative role.

    For its part, San Diego Christian College has been tight-lipped so far in its response to the lawsuit.

    School officials have responded to press inquiries by pointing to a two-page community covenant contract which all employees must sign and promise to abide by when they are hired.

    “Sexually immoral behavior, including premarital sex, adultery, pornography and homosexuality” are forbidden under the contract, notes KGTV.

    “Jealousy, lust” and “evil desires” as well as “prejudice based on race, sex or socioeconomic status” are also verboten, observes NBC.

    It is unclear on what basis violations of the community covenant contract result in job loss, or who is authorized to make such a decision.

  4. myiq2xu says:

    This one is for Dandy Tiger:

  5. myiq2xu says:

    I guess the sequester finally took effect cuz I seem to be the only person alive this morning.

  6. yttik says:

    For thinking outside the box, using your imagination, and learning how to work with others, I love Destination Imagination. It’s what the world needs more of. I’ve coached several teams, it’s great fun. It’s hard to describe, but basically you create a team of about six and they work together to solve a problem, a challenge. Then teams come together and present it in a competition. Starts around first grade and goes all the way up to college level.

    If I ruled the world. nobody would be allowed to run for office without several years of DI experience. And all our congresscritters would be required to participate every year. See, you don’t build DI teams of like minded kids, you need the diversity of ideas and personalities to come up with a really good solution. The thing is, it isn’t easy to work with people you disagree with, but learning how to value what they have to contribute is two thirds of the battle.

  7. wmcb says:

    Good piece by WRM, myiq. He has become one of my favorite liberals, because he holds on to principle but is unafraid to say so when solutions aren’t working.

    The biggest divide in this country anymore is not between the haves and have nots. It’s between the political class (which includes much of the media and academia and business as well as govt) and the rest of us.

    yttik, your experience with those kids is another reason why I become more and more Federalist as time goes by. Europe had its problems before the EU, but the problems since are much, much worse. I have a lot of EU friends, and they tell me that it’s the sheer unresponsiveness and necessity of one-size-fits-all policy that makes them frustrated and angry. What the hell does Brussels know about the specific needs of cheesemakers in France, as opposed to those in Italy? It really is an echo of our beefs with Washington – eerily so.

    I’ve become a huge fan of shifting a fuckload of governance back to the state and local level, and eliminating or at least simplifying much of what the fed gov does. Reality is that brainstorming and creative use of diverse ideas, etc happens a lot more easily with a group of 6 kids than with a group of 1000. Not that it’s easy even then, but you have a better shot at it.

    Solutions and advances come out of a degree of creative chaos. And that is simply not possible with a huge, farflung, massive apparatus of State. We are strangling on our own bureaucratic and political waste.

  8. driguana says:

    Love Mead’s writing…but, ok…so without naming a politician, a religious leader or a media mucker….name one important leader in our country today….does ossification occur everywhere???

  9. votermom says:

    it’s killing the rest of us more that he isn’t

  10. wmcb says:

    To truly understand most Dem proposals, from Obamacare to universal preschool to poverty programs, ignore the intended beneficiaries. Focus on the providers of that service. Because almost always, that’s who it’s really for.

      • wmcb says:

        It’s perfectly doable and feasible for the govt to offer a hell of a lot of help to people without making the price of that help ceaseless micromanaging via several more layers of paid bureaucrats and cushy board appointments. It would be cheaper, too.

        Most of our poverty programs, from unemployment to welfare to foodstamps, rent subsidies and more could easily be consolidated into a very simple “minimum support check” from the taxpayers, that almost everyone under a certain income gets, period, regardless of cause. What they do with it is their business – rent, food, whatever. But that would dismantle reams and reams of offices, govt employees, and federal boards, the vast apparatus needed to administer and oversee the dozens of programs.

        The fact that they absolutely refuse to step back, offer the help, but leave control to the local communities and individuals says very clearly that help is the carrot they use to get control and expansion of power.

        I’m not a “don’t help” person. I’m a “stop making help an EXCUSE to expand your fucking power” person. Big difference.

        • wmcb says:

          This is where I part ways with strict libertarians, who eschew social programs. I think it’s reasonable that we as a people can decide that there exists a level below which we will not allow our fellow citizens to fall. And govt can be an efficient and practical means of seeing to that, if done correctly.

          But I am very libertarian in the sense that in every single govt action, care needs to be taken to do as little as actually necessary, and to, as far as feasible, leave the choices and dispersal, and the attendant dignity, in the hands of the individual. Leave them their decision-making.

          Anyone who has ever needed to help out an adult child knows this instinctively. It is soul-destroying to have the price of “help” be a nitpicking nannying bullying takeover of your life, treating you like a damn child.

        • wmcb says:

          OK, on a roll here. The objection to that is going to be “But…but…some people will waste the money, and still have no groceries!”

          Oh, well. Too bad. Learn to make better decisions. See, this is where I do go libertarian on you. You have received a reasonable amount of support that ensures you won’t starve or be homeless. We the taxpayers are happy to generously do that. If you blow it all at the racetrack, then it’s no longer my problem. It’s yours. I did my part.

          To me, this really is my “Third Way”. A melding of my individual liberty/personal responsibility beliefs and my recognition that some people are going to fall through the cracks, and we ought to choose to help them. But it’s outside ALL the damn boxes, so will likely never happen.

        • DandyTiger says:

          I like your third way. I could get on board for that.

        • wmcb says:

          DT, I’m sure it would need some tweaking and safeguards. But who am I kidding – TPTB on either side will never even have this kind of discussion, much less try to figure out how it can be done.

          I think I might at some point try to collect my thoughts from all the above posts into some kind of coherent whole and post it. Who knows? Maybe someone with some actual clout will be inspired to refine the general idea, correct my errors of analysis, and run with it. Miracles happen.

        • Somebody says:

          I like your outside the box ideas. You are compassionate, but you also instill personal responsibility.

          I’d like to see things change into more of a hand up, rather than hand out, which is what I think we’d all like to see. I think our current system traps people in poverty. In essence they know better than to ever earn more than a certain amount, unless they’re able to leap frog into a much higher salary. If they can’t leap frog then they actually lose money getting a raise or a better job because of lost benefits…….to me this is completely effed up.

          Why couldn’t we put benefits on a sliding scale? As you move up the income ladder and better yourself your benefits decrease, but you don’t fall off some cliff that has the potential to plunge you right back into poverty……wash, rinse, repeat……you try to escape and you’re back. If had a more gradual sliding system perhaps it really would be a bridge out of poverty, instead of a poverty trap.

          I also have a bitchy heartless streak in me. I think there should be total lifetime limits on full government support. 3 years, 5 years, x number of years…….you reach a lifetime limit of sitting on your ass if you are able bodied. We need to do away with generations of total welfare dependence. Before anyone accuses me of being completely heartless and uncaring, I’m not suggesting limits on the truly disabled. I would however want strict enforcement and thorough investigations to catch any scammers.

    • driguana says:

      Absolutely…and the next example to prepare for, because it’s coming next, is the “let’s fix up the crumbling infrastructure” routine….who makes the money???? the construction companies with political ties, the consultants with political ties, the contractor companies with political ties….very little ever goes to the laborer…’s coming next.
      The hook to this though is it’s going to help a crumbling America. Right! It’s going to help political cronies.

    • DandyTiger says:

      There is an additional place to focus. For most policies, focus on the providers for that service. Similarly, for most political efforts and speeches, focus on the next election. In this case, the focus of the sequester, the gun control, and many other things is about the 2014 house election.

      Funny thing is, Repubs could easily turn the efforts around in their favor. Here the effort is to put pressure and put forth bills who’s sole purpose is to divide the Repub house with their votes. In one statement, the Repubs could nullify that entire effort. They just simply need to respond: “we Republican’s have core principles and follow those, but unlike the Democrats, we don’t have to march in lockstep, we are free to chose and disagree on many issues.” BAM

  11. SHV says:

    ” Focus on the providers of that service. Because almost always, that’s who it’s really for.”
    A good example, that is going under the radar, is “expanding” Medicaid. The Rethugs have been against it, however, now the “expansion” is going to be through the insurance exchanges; it will cost a lot more but now runs the Federal money directly to the insurance companies. Now Dims and Rethugs in my state are happy with expansion. Makes me think that this was the “end game” for part this of Obamacare from the start.

  12. piper says:

    Good thread – great comments.

    Can something explain what Ashley Judd who is going to run against Mitch Mc. in 2014 meant when she told a group at GW U, ‘find your pig?’

    • wmcb says:

      I dunno, but her speech was just about incoherent in every respect. Politico initially had their headline as “Bizarre and Poignant Speech”, but they must have gotten an angry call from the Politburo, because they changed it to merely “Poignant Speech”.

      They also find the ramblings of the crazy dude at the intersection trying to wash your windshield with a filthy rag “poignant”, FWIW.

      • Constance says:

        Media who publish the politiburo line bring Yahoo to mind. Remember all the Obama worship stories Yahoo ran during the election? It got to the point where I dumped them as my home page because I was developing an aversion to my computer based on being hit in the face with their Obot BS every time I signed on. All that Yahoo’s Mayer has to do to bring the company around is figure out that half the population don’t worship Obama and personalize the stories that go out to them so the political stories are at least balanced. If she also cuts all T & A advertising to straight women and maybe substitutes some hunks and ass advertising her company can turn around quickly. I remember male writers were worried about privacy when it came to personalized content or ads on the internet but everyone who wasn’t served by the malecentric media was excited at what they could gain. There is no excuse for new media who can measure how many clicks a story gets to be as out of touch with real people as the old media is.

    • DandyTiger says:

      Maybe she wants to be our pig. I don’t know. I’m confused.

  13. wmcb says:

    BTW, the “focus on the providers” phrase was shamelessly stolen from an Althouse commenter. Because it said succinctly what I’d been heretofore trying to say in 3 sentences.

    • DandyTiger says:

      That’s what the intertubs is for. Find good ideas and ways to say them and spread it. Find your pig. Or something. 🙂

      • wmcb says:

        ROTFLMAO! Ok, “find your pig” is going to be my go-to vague phrase meaning…something. Find your bliss, find your pig, goo goo kachoo, it’s all good.

        *kicks back with deep deeeeeeeep inhale*

  14. DandyTiger says:

    Crazy Uncle Joe is talking on MSNBC. Jeeeeebus, he’s nuts. He’s saying we’re worse off than in 1965, and we basically have to go back to the efforts of that time to save minorities, who are being more oppressed now than ever. Can’t make this shit up.

    • DandyTiger says:

      Dem party wet dream.

    • DandyTiger says:

      • Constance says:

        MSNBC needs to be pushed into the free market where they could never exist. It is total crap that we are all forced to subsidize media outlets like MSNBC with our basic cable payment. Consumers need the option of purchasing channels a la carte .

  15. wmcb says:

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