Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
My own sense and observation of the last fifty years of US society tends to confirm TGB's thesis that US business and political structures are such that people with what reasonably could be called socio-pathic characteristics have an advantage in business and politics. But it is complicated.

The contracting company for which I worked the longest time as an employee had a president who was a very astute businessman. A colleague who worked closely with him as an estimator was of the opinion that, to be successful, a company had to have a president with the morals of a thief, and that our CEO qualified well in those regards. I always felt that I was limited in what I could do for that company because he feared that I was not sufficiently ruthless. But our president had another side as well and was genuinely concerned with the welfare of his long time employees and with fair treatment. One year, when all of the business turned out to be work that I was involved with, I was the only employee to get a bonus.

After I became self-employed I found my reluctance to follow the official line when I knew it to be bullshit to be a detriment to my success, both when working for public and private companies. Those situations are what taught me that there was an analog to Gresham's Law that operated in organizations: that counterfeit competence and integrity would drive the genuine article out of circulation.

It was my experience with educational institutions as a consultant that revealed the extent to which careerist considerations trumped technical and economic factors in decision making. The people I saw doing these things were not fools -- far from it. Neither were they unambiguously evil. But the consequences came to be that vast amounts of public monies were squandered as a result of turf wars, personal power plays and, in some cases, personal gain. The result is that the public got only about two thirds of what it could have gotten under the culture and methods that had existed up to the mid-'70s.

It was also my experience that the higher one went in the organizational chart, the more callous the people could be -- not always -- but often enough. The pattern seemed worse in private companies. It is built into the culture. People use that fact to justify what otherwise would be unjustifiable. "Only doing what they have to do to survive." "If I don't do it, you know somebody else will." And so they will.

The problem is finding something effective that can be done about this situation. Many who are likely the most serious cases of sociopathy, or outright psychopathy, are brilliant people who could respond to a psychological assessment instrument in a way that would make them look like a saint, but they are scarcely likely to ever be subjected to such an ordeal. But denying the existence of the problem doesn't help either. It is a quandary.

The problem is that it costs so much more to build things today than it did 40 years ago while, at the same time, we are now less able to afford to build needed facilities than we then were. It is with such considerations in mind that I recommend making all dealings with public money, at a minimum, subject to anonymous recording by any and all participants while providing substantial rewards for whistle-blowing and protections for the whistle-blowers.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Dec 7th, 2010 at 09:14:43 PM EST
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