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06/17/2007

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Andrew

First, for some comic relief watch this YouTube clip where Bill Maher does a routine related to this topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0sNJhphi7U

Second, I think Posner has the right idea but is off base. To be a successful leader/president, one must have intelligence, adequate social skills, AND emotional intelligence (EQ). To argue which is more important is like arguing about whether the engine or the tires are more important parts of a car. Without both parts working together, the car will not move.

For example, Donald Rumsfeld seems like an intelligent man to me. But according to retired generals who have worked with him (and whom I believe), he is also tremendously arrogant and refuses to admit making any sort of mistake, nor will he allow anyone else to suggest an idea that is better than one of his. I think Colin Powell may have been referring to this in an interview I read where he said something along the lines of "I don't like politics because I'm used to being in the military. For example, if the plan was to march straight ahead and we were ambushed from the side, we would simply change our plans. I'm not used to being in that sort of situation and hearing people say 'Well, although we're being attacked from the side, we'll be perceived as weak and incompetant if we change our plan, so we have to pretend that the ambush from the side isn't happening and just keep marching straight.'"
In any event, no matter how intelligent someone is, if his ego is so fragile that he cannot admit to making any sort of oversight or that someone else had a better idea, he cannot be a successful leader in the long run (he must be able to "flip-flop"). I think this is one of the main reasons why Rumsfeld and the vast majority of the members of the Bush Administration have been such catastrophic failures. I do not think it is because they were too intelligent.

(Halliburton's stock price has more than quadrupled and the energy industry, with which this Administration has been closely tied, has been making record profits. So if a large part of their REAL goal was to make money for themselves and their friends, I am sure that, at the end of the day, they will have the last laugh.)

As for Larry Summers, it sounds like he is a textbook example of someone who should have been a successful leader but had inadequate social skills. For example, of the parts of his highly politically incorrect speech that I have heard, everything he said was true. However, despite being correct (i.e., intelligent), it seems that he carried out his message in such a way that his poor social skills overshadowed the sound logic on which his idea was based.

Corey

Oh come on, all appointed government jobs, CEO positions, and University presidencies are distributed per cronyism/nepotism, when the cronies are smart, no one notices the cronyism.

You can call them "brilliant laterals" if you want, that's a grand marketing label for what regular people would call a crony.

There are brilliant people throughout the civil service, in senior production level jobs at companies, and on university faculties, they stay there NOT because of lack of brilliance, but because they are morally unwilling to adopt the prime tactics of a successful crony, which include:

1) Taking sole credit for the work and ideas of subordinates
2) Betraying what is right for what is loyal
3) Negative political action against peers

Intelligence is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to maintaining a career as a crony. This administration has proven as much. But if it makes you all feel better about your chances in life to think that smart = successful, I shouldn't take that away. As for myself, I will take what success I can achieve without betraying values for ends.

Jim

We will only be surprised if we assume that intelligence is a single trait, like when we divided our grade school classes into the "smart kids" and the "dumb" kids. Long before Gardiner's "multiple intelligences" we knew that people are "intelligent" about different things. I have strong analytical skills (high SAT score type), but I have all my life had trouble mastering a fraction of what my mother knew about the natural world (plants, birds, rocks, stars). I do a great job when I can master all the information, but struggle to make good decisions when there is not enough information available. I miss important interpersonal signals and political dimensions issues. I am pretty smart -- and pretty dumb. I don't look for leaders who are necessarily the "smartest" people out there, but for people who are reasonably thoughtful and have strong skills in and records of leadership. We make a serious mistake when we assume that smarts of one sort imply intelligence or smarts of another.

KC

I saw the Bill Maher video and found it amusing. The interesting thing is that it seems to ignore the fact that Bush, Gonzalez, etc. are elite educated.

Yes, it is inexcusable that a person with little but a political tie is appointed to such a position. However, tt is also possible she was selected BECAUSE of her credentials. I could be wrong but isnt it a political asset to have ready scapegoats hanging around? What better scape goat than a lowly educated political appointee with little power?

Personally, I am from Texas (born and raised) and live in New York City. I go to law school at night and work during the day. I worked in the corporate world as an engineer and was somewhat successful by my measure. The corporate experience combined with New York has certainly been an interesting experience.

From this experience my gut feel (intuition, subconscious, etc.) is that arrogance negates any potential gains that may be realized from intelligence. I have worked with brilliant engineers that simply were not able to get the job done because they ignored important data being provided by 'suspect' sources. Similarly with attorneys.

In these circumstances, it seems that there is essentially a starvation of information caused by the arrogance combined with absence of specific human capital in lateral transfers. This is, if you ignore the specific human capital from your underlings then how is your high IQ going tbe be effective absent of data provided by specific human capital?

So what does the arrogant manager do? He makes stuff up. I dont know how many meetings that I have sat in where bad news is conveyed and the manager clearly just 'spins' it and blames some underling, usually the one bringing the bad news. But then again, all of this is mere 'unconscious' information that is impossible to quantify.

I think maybe the answer to Maher's question regarding the poor regard for the term of elite in politics is that it may be seen to lack merit outside of the political framework. That is, the customer of, say, Microsoft could care less about whether Manager X has an IQ of 170 and his underling has an IQ of 150. The customer only cares about whether his Word allows him to produce the same amount for less money (the brand preference manufactured by the marketing departments aside). The same may be said for Washington.

So, I would say that being focused on human IQ and acquired skills is probably a little narrow in scope. It seems that there are variables that probably have a greater weight on success from what I am reading in the comments. Perhaps focus should be paid on other human capital like Becker appears to suggest.

I think in history we can look at people like Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Hamnibal, etc. who advanced on the combination of merit along with politics as lessons. Correct me if I am wrong, isn't it widely regarded that their arrogance ultimately their downfall?

Then you look at successful leaders like Churchill, Lincoln, Eisnehower, etc... do you see evidence of willingness to collaborate with underlings? Also note that these 'leaders' rise in times of crisis where the ability to get the overall job done is paramount over political or perception of IQ.

This is not rocket science. The only reason why it is debatable is that it requires the current 'elite' to question the validity of their positions. Of course they are going to avoid putting forth arguments that undermine their legitimacy. After all, putting forth an argument that arrogance combined with lack of specific human capital is deadly would tend to undermine the career advances the 'elite' may make not to mention rendering ineffective many political tools (e.g., a ready scapegoat).

Nelson

Lincoln -

It is somewhat amazing that Lincoln is considered one of the best if not best president in our history. But the facts show that more Americans died as a direct result of his rule than any other president's before or since.

From an historical perspective, maybe Bush was/is too peaceful. He actually expected Iraqies to be able to govern themselves and tried to minimize civilian casualties. What he should have done, to be considered a good president, is ordered massive decimations of civilian populations and forced complete surrender and obedience to the American government. See the way we treated the American South during the Civil War and Germany and Japan during World War 2 as examples of good American presidential leadership.

James

High-IQ people tend to suffer in adolescence -- get tagged as nerds, withdraw. They turn to intellectual pursuits at the expense of devloping their social skills. They thus are less likely to become great leaders because leadership above all is a social skill.

Helen

Jimmy Carter is more intelligent than...[doesn't matter who]...can an antisemite ever be considered intelligent? I don't think so.

Wes

[Bush] actually expected Iraqies to be able to govern themselves...First, it's not clear what Bush expected - what you are referring to was an expectation of many US citizens (who weren't really paying attention). Second, Iraq will have a government no matter what. The natural tendency, though, is toward an Iranian style theocracy. What you really mean by "govern themselves" is having a pro-western democracy.The problem is that "pro-western" and "democracy" are mutually exclusive. Democracy is government by the people - but the people (of Iraq) are not pro-western. You can have one or the other but not both.Some of the Republicans who were paying attention (e.g. James Baker) were hoping for a puppet government that looked like a democracy - a "non-Jeffersonian democracy".Not surprisingly, a lot of the Iraqis are sufficiently unhappy with their USA imposed "non-Jeffersonian democracy" that they're willing to fight and die to get rid of it. Whether Bush has more or less Iraqis killed isn't going to change that.Changing perspective a bit, if China invaded and occupied the USA and set up a "democratic" government that operated out of a Chinese military base and depended on the Chinese government for just about everything, a lot of people in the USA wouldn't like that too much either.

Collestro

James,

Posner is a judge of the United States. The troops are here to support him, not vice versa.

Maybe you ought to support the troops and ask that we end our unwinnable asian land war against a country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

G McL

Cheney damn near bankrupted Halliburton through his purchase of Dresser Industries. The parallels with Iraq are failure to do proper reasearch, actions based on wishful thinking, and being bailed out by friends in high places. He has been very successfull at maintaining political power. He was a failure as a businessman.

He is a strong leader who took bold actions and did not use his intelligence. Perhaps the question is wrong -- do we really need strong, dynamic leaders?

Watches

Yes it does help a little in some cases!

Paul Barnes

One of the qualities that I have not seen discussed here is the ability to relate to other people. Well, that is not entirely true (since EQ was mentioned) but how intelligence does separate people. For example, I will assume that (to throw out a number) only the top 15% of people of intelligence will read this blog. This already separate us from the other 85% of people.

The people we are generally talking about here are probably in the top 5% of intelligence (well, some might argue about President Bush, but thats besides the point). It seems like to me that these high intelligence people will not have the experience that us lowly mortals have. Therefore, having too high of an intelligence might interfere with the ability to govern well.

Paul Barnes

After rereading my previous post, I think that my grammar speaks ill of my intelligence. Mental note: proofread.

Nelson

Second, Iraq will have a government no matter what.That seems like a leap of faith if you ask me. Iraq will not necessarily have "a" government no matter what. They will most likely have two or more competing governments and civil war. And even the government(s) they have now are incapable of actual governance. It takes more than just passing laws and debate. Someone has to actually enforce law and order, clean up the streets, make sure schools, hospitals, roads, utilities, etc... are running smoothly.

The Muslim world just gets crazy with political power for some reason. How often does the West have suicide bombers compared to the Middle East? Not that we're helping all that much. We really should have pushed harder to separate religion from politics in Iraq instead of assuming the population was behind wanting Islam mentioned in their constitution. But that was because our administration listened to "experts" instead of asking itself "What would Stalin do?"

What Bush should have done if he wanted to forcibly Westernize Iraq is take over the Oil fields first and use that money for the occupation rather than just give it to the Iraqis. Carpet bomb any city that refused to completely surrender to American rule. Destroy all holy buildings that could be used as rallying points to form an opposition. Have one non-religious pro-capitalist person write the Constitution instead of a committee. Forcibly remove anyone from power who was unwilling to implement our views. Change the schools to teach English and Western values. And basically put the country under direct military rule for at least a generation. Then start letting them govern themselves bit by bit once they could be "trusted".

Corey

Nelson, you seem to be endorsing facism.(In its most classical Mussolini/Hitler sense)

Is it really the case that the lessons of WWII only lasted for 60 years? Wow...

Wes

Iraq will not necessarily have "a" government no matter what.I meant "government" in a very broad sense. Perhaps I should have said "system of government(s)"They will most likely have two or more competing governments and civil war.Sort of, my impression is that, if (when) the Iraqis are left to themselves, the most likely outcome is a fragmentation of Iraq into about three separate countries. I suspect that ethnic cleansing will eliminate civil war and establish authoritarian governments in each of the separate countries. There may, however, be military conflicts between the newly formed countries (possibly in retaliation for the ethnic cleansing).Someone has to actually enforce law and order,...Saddam Hussein is an obvious counter example to the idea that it is impossible to enforce law and order in Iraq in any general sense. In fact, the real long term danger in Iraq is too much "enforcement" (e.g. excessively totalitarian government(s)).But that was because our administration listened to "experts" instead of asking itself "What would Stalin do?"Actually, I would argue exactly the opposite. I would argue the the USA's occupation of Germany after WWII succeeded precisely because the USA did things differently than Stalin. Admittedly, Stalin and his successors were able to maintain an occupation of Eastern Europe for quite a while - but eventually that situation collapsed and now many Eastern European don't really like (the remnants) of the former Soviet Union all that much.What Bush should have done if he wanted to forcibly Westernize Iraq...This is the real key here. Why would Bush want to forcibly westernize Iraq? There was never any possibility that Iraq could defeat the USA militarily and the risk of terrorism from Iraq is much greater under US occupation than if Iraq is just left to languish under a totalitarian government....is take over the Oil fields first and use that money for the occupation...Well, here's the problem, even under ideal circumstances there would not be enough oil money to pay for everything. Even Saudi Arabia only makes about $100 billion a year on oil profits - which would be just barely enough to pay for the direct US military expenses with the occupation at it's present level. If the occupation was increased, as you propose, or if money was needed for reconstruction from something like a carpet bombing, which you also propose, then the US taxpayer would (eventually) take it in the wallet in a very big way.... And basically put the country under direct military rule for at least a generation.Again, why are you doing this? Who is supposed to benefit? Is it really so important to have a McDonald's on every street corner and a WalMart in every neighborhood that it's worth a generation of brutal (borderline genocidal, as you propose it) military rule?Iraq is a tiny little country of only 25 million or so people. Suppose that as much as 10% actually want the McDonalds / Walmart experience. That's still only 2.5 million people. The USA has over 300 million people and could easily absorb 2.5 million people without even noticing. For that matter, it could absorb the entire population without even noticing.If it's really that important that people have access to the "American" experience then open the US "border" with Iraq. Let people in Iraq who want to be American come to America and let everyone else in Iraq live their lives the way they want to live them (a falafel stand on every corner and a mosque in every neighborhood - or whatever it is they think will give their lives a small glimmer of meaning and purpose).

David

Interesting topic of discussion. I disagree with many (most?) of Judge Posner's assumptions and conclusions on this topic. But what interests me most is his fascination with IQ and education, which he terms "general human capital," and which - it seems to me - he confuses with "brilliance."

Anyone who has supervised employees knows that IQ and education get you only so far. An immensely talented individual will not succeed if he does not work hard, does not think critically, or is not rigorous in his analysis. An immensely talented individual can also fail if she allows her judgment to be clouded by politics or ideology. Moreover, an IQ of 170 does not necessarily imply a good moral sense or a respect for institutional goals. In fact, some highly intelligent individuals believe that the normal rules of conduct do not apply to them. Their hubris can be their downfall.

The most accomplished persons in most fields have the native intelligence (though not necessarily degrees from the best schools - especially if their upbringing was modest). A talented individual who applies himself will almost certainly succeed. But as Thomas Edison famously said, genius is 99% perspiration. Most employers would prefer a reasonably bright, dedicated, fair-minded, and hard-working employee to one who is highly intelligent but undisciplined, erratic, or excessively ideological. As the employers of our public officials, We the People should have the same preference. But unfortunately, we often do not.

Finally, I submit that "brilliance" refers to a person's body of work, not to his native talent. A bright person who has not succeeded in his life's work does not deserve the "brilliant" label, even if he made straight A's in school and memorized the collected works of Shakespeare.

N.E.Hatfield

Corey, You could go one better. Try Hadrian, Judea, the diaspora and the creation of "Syria-Palastine" (or something like that). The Romans really knew how to take of political-military problems. As for Pompey, he cleared the Mediterranian of pirates. Perhpas, we could take a few lessons. But, I doubt it would do our standing in the world any good.

Ted Preston

The discussion of presidents and intelligence leads to a major point of Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals. At the risk of not doing her theme justice, she says that Lincoln did well by gathering around him persons whose experiences and emotional inclinations were different, so that he could have the benefit of a wider intelligence than he alone could provide. Certainly Lincoln was highly intelligent on his own; and certainly he made significant mistakes. But is he an example of a leader optimally combining both the analytic and experiental skills that were available? Had Summers been able and willing to lean on others in the Harvard community who had rival positions, might he not have had a more successful tenure?

An other interesting point is the relevance of this discussion to the American jury. Some of the comments posted in April about the tort system were critical of juries, and there are indeed valid criticisms (for example, concerning their ability to handle complex cases). But a great positive aspect of the jury is that it widens the knowledge pool; it widens the intelligence that can be brought to bear on a matter. And it can fliter out biases. It is, of course, democratic, and we like that. But does it combine enough of the raw intelligence that is required in many cases? Is the knowlege pool wide but too shallow? How often will the jury have one or more "leaders" who can distill the collective wisdom and work for the best result?

From what I have read, most judges believe that juries do a good job. In a survey taken in 2000 by the Dallas Morning News, 97% of judges participating (state and federal)said that they agreed with jury verdicts most of the time, and 90% said that jurors had considerable understanding of the legal issues involved. (I can dig up the web site for anyone interested.)This implies a good level of intelligence (even though it is possible that the respondent judges mostly wanted to think that their jury instructions were clear and understandable).

The question is: Based on the analyses and arguments presented here, what conclusion can be drawn concerning the future role of the American jury?

Thanks for this blog. It's terrific. I learned of it too late to benefit a book that I just published, but shall return here often.

Nelson

Again, why are you doing this?I'm not doing this. I'm just saying what is required of a "good" president. The North broke the will of the South and it took a long time to rebuild. The Allies broke the will of the Germans. The United States, with the help of nuclear weapons, broke the will of Japan. We have not broken the will of anyone in the Mid East, so it is too soon to rebuild anything. Now personally I'd settle for being a mediocre president and would have lifted sanctions against Iraq and never invaded them to begin with. But you don't make the top 10 list without military victory. And you don't achieve military victory without breaking the will of your enemies.

n.e.hat

Nelson, Do you know what's involved with breaking a Nation's or enemy's will to resist? You've got to be willing to "jump down their throats with both feet and make it hurt so bad that they have no choice but to capitulate" just to stop the "pain" so to speak. As Sherman put it, "War is hell and there is no way that it can be civilized." or as Caesar put it, "Veni, Vedi, Vici." If you're not willing to go to the lengths necessary, you'd best stay out of it.

I think there is misunderstanding between intelligence and the cold calculated use of power to achieve ends. Perhaps a question of "means and ends"? Perhaps all American civil servants and political leaders should be required to be fluent in Machiavelli's "Discourses' and the "Prince".
Then we might end up with some "real leaders".

n.e.hat

Nelson, Do you know what's involved with breaking a Nation's or enemy's will to resist? You've got to be willing to "jump down their throats with both feet and make it hurt so bad that they have no choice but to capitulate" just to stop the "pain" so to speak. As Sherman put it, "War is hell and there is no way that it can be civilized." or as Caesar put it, "Veni, Vedi, Vici." If you're not willing to go to the lengths necessary, you'd best stay out of it.

I think there is misunderstanding between intelligence and the cold calculated use of power to achieve ends. Perhaps a question of "means and ends"? Perhaps all American civil servants and political leaders should be required to be fluent in Machiavelli's "Discourses' and the "Prince".
Then we might end up with some "real leaders".

n.e.hat

Nelson, Do you know what's involved with breaking a Nation's or enemy's will to resist? You've got to be willing to "jump down their throats with both feet and make it hurt so bad that they have no choice but to capitulate" just to stop the "pain" so to speak. As Sherman put it, "War is hell and there is no way that it can be civilized." or as Caesar put it, "Veni, Vedi, Vici." If you're not willing to go to the lengths necessary, you'd best stay out of it.

I think there is misunderstanding between intelligence and the cold calculated use of power to achieve ends. Perhaps a question of "means and ends"? Perhaps all American civil servants and political leaders should be required to be fluent in Machiavelli's "Discourses' and the "Prince".
Then we might end up with some "real leaders".

Nelson

n.e.hat -

Yeah, I agree. That was kind of my point. I was willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt back when the war started because I was hoping things would turn out better, but the chaos in Iraq shows history's lessons are still valid today. Don't go to war unless you plan to do a lot of harm to a lot of people and property. Also, I was alluding to the fact that historians put perhaps too much emphasis on military victories when they create their lists of good leaders.

Wes

I'm just saying what is required of a "good" president.It's not enough to win a war, it also matters who you win against. There's a big difference between beating up the high school bully that everyone hates and beating up the prom queen that everyone likes.For example, the USA successfully invaded and occupied the Philippines but do most people even remember which US president presided over most of the war? It was McKinley, in case you're wondering - not really remembered as one of the USA's greatest presidents.The North broke the will of the South and it took a long time to rebuild.The people who think Lincoln was a hero also think that the Confederates were a bunch a racist rednecks with delusions of grandeur whose main goal was to perpetuate the horrific practice of slavery.The Allies broke the will of the Germans.And lot of people thought the Germans deserved a whole lot worse than what they got.The United States, with the help of nuclear weapons, broke the will of Japan.And a lot of people in the USA weren't too happy with the Japanese over that little incident called "Pearl Harbor".The bottom line is that if a US president wants to be remembered for greatness, he's got to win a war against a group that is very dangerous and very unpopular.Unfortunately for Bush, he didn't get to be president at a time when such a group exists. Sure, he can talk about how scary 20 guys with box cutters are and he can even invade a dippy little country of 25 million people that's minding it's own business except that the people look sort of like the 20 guys with box cutters. At the end of the day though, beating up on some random high school weakling doesn't garner the same popularity as standing up to the high school bully.

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