Monday, June 28, 2010

The Louis XVI and Nicholas II Problem

Something that has puzzled me for decades is how, when a society reaches a grave crisis, the person in charge seems to be amazingly, abnormally stupid. The question I have asked myself is, "Does the crisis produce the stupidity, or does the stupidity produce the crisis?" Would a smarter king or tsar kept the status quo going a while longer?

Looking at the current situation, I begin to think the crisis produces the stupidity. If you read the posts by Krugman, Weisbrot and Hudson below, you will get a sense that this trio of quite bright and thoughtful economists are driven crazy by the obvious wrongness of decisions being made. It's not a question of selfish or immoral decisions, it's a questions of decisions that won't work and will lead to more severe problems. Yet the people making the decisions are politicians who do not appear to be unusually stupid, in spite of what they are doing. (Many American congresspeople are unusually stupid, but that is something else.)


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10:12 AM  
Blogger Soren said...

Hey, you've got spam!

More seriously: take a look at generationally analogous eras and situations - the 1920s are apposite - and maybe watch this (along with the second part).

I lean towards the idea that stupidity produces the crisis - there's no such thing as a surprise, just creeping dysfunction nobody could quite be bothered to pay any attention to.

More seriously, the modern American system is full of institutions that prize system-gaming behaviors. So what you tend to get is an oligarchy of the moderately gifted, people smart enough to reliably cheat the system, who have been trained and rewarded (often lavishly) both by a psychotically competitive educational system and by their psychotically competitive parents to get the 'right' answer (of which there is only one) by any means possible, as fast as possible. And very often the easiest and 'rightest' answer is to game the system to make it look like you're doing your job - so much so that the system sometimes further penalizes people who actually do their jobs.

2:08 PM  

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