Nepotism and Oligarchy

Zenpundit has a incisive post up on the corrosion of nationalism by oligarchic elites, who look beyond the walls to grow and perpetuate themselves.

Oligarchs elevate self-interest and class interest over national interest, it’s the signature of oligarchy, be it the Thirty Tyrants or the Soviet nomenklatura. Milovan Djilas knew what the hell he was writing about as much as did Thucydides.

What to do?

The proto-oligarchical class in America, the elite who are the product of “the good schools”, tend to embrace and celebrate progressive taxation and diversity as high moral principles. What if we applied them?

I think the specifics of his proposal are a little wacky, but he’s got his thumb on a problem.

Then again, maybe I should get him together with Adam Bellow

5 thoughts on “Nepotism and Oligarchy”

  1. But when the sons of these men received the same position of authority from their fathers-having had no experience of misfortunes, and none at all of civil equality and freedom of speech, but having been bred up from the first under the shadow of their fathers’ authority and lofty position-some of them gave themselves up with passion to avarice and unscrupulous love of money . . . Polybius

    The Polybius quote is interesting, but I think Zenpundit is galloping off in the wrong direction with it.

    Tony Judt in his new book “Ill Fares the Land” makes a similar observation as Polybius. The social democratic state (social security, medicare, unemployment insurance, welfare, foodstamps, etc.) was built up in light of very extreme poverty and injustices that existed in the wake of the industrial revolution and during the era of the big trusts at the turn of the 20th Century. We’ve had it very good for a long time as a direct result of those achievements. The present generation, having lost sight of the need for these innovations, taking their good effect for granted, is trying hard to tear these things down because we feel taxation is too high, and we see that the state often spends our tax dollars poorly.

    In the U.S. we largely have a corporate oligarchy. It’s not an oligarchy of individuals. Tom Frank has an interesting article in “yesterday’s WSJ”: which also speaks to this. By attacking Geithner and government regulation, specifically bank regulation in this case, the inadvertant result will be an increase in inequality; it hurts the middle class. We have it so good for so long, we are unable to see the need for regulation. So we cry against it . . . to our own detriment.

  2. I can’t believe anybody actually makes an argument that regulation is the reason the US did so well in the 20th century. Sure it had some benefit, making sure everybody had a fair chance and was treated decently but to actually claim that is the reason for the US being the economic powerhouse is crazy. The US allowed people to takes risks and that gave them the opportunities to try new ideas. Some of those ideas actually paid off and made their owner rich and employed millions. Not some regulation that said they only had to work 40 hours a week. I have read reports some of the new regulations make it harder to be a venture capitalist. In other words they are slowing down the money source which drove the 90s.

    The governments job in the economic arena is to make sure everybody plays fair and then to get the heck out of the way. Not to make sure nobody loses. If there are no losers then there are no winners.

  3. His solution won’t work even if it does work, because the oligarchy is a symptom not a cause. Oligarchies are opportunistic infections you get whenever you have a decision making system where the decision makers are isolated from the consequences of their decisions.

    In that environment, an individual’s abilities, what they can do, becomes far less important than their ability to game the system, who they know. The patronage system (or good ol’ boy network) is simply the most effective known way to game the system.

    Destroy the current patronage network, and it will simply be replaced by a new one. A new one likely less capable than the current one. Think, late Chinese Imperial history where they chewed through how many different layers, and even after the communist revolution, are still stuck in a patronage system not much different than the one they started with (just a different propaganda paint job).

    The problem is our entire civil service bureaucracy. The seniority system was meant to protect from political manipulation, but succeeded only in cultivating incompetence. Superb performance is not rewarded. Failure is not punished. Catastrophic failure is punished regardless of fault. The result is naturally a system that eschews ambition, accomplishment and innovation, for extreme risk intolerance, butt covering, and systematic (but not catastrophic) incompetence.

    Programs are never tied to metrics, and are infamously rewarded for either failure or success, both resulting in larger budgets and more personnel. Program managers thus ride the political winds, claiming alternately that the sky is falling (SEND MORE MONEY) or unprecedented success (SEND MORE MONEY). Actually tracking results gets in the way and determining effectiveness of different approaches gets in the way, best not to track.

    And do I need to go into government budgeting? Spend less than your budget and lose it permanently. Spend equal, keep it. Spend over your budget, get it increased.

    The left has, frankly, hit a wall of their own making. If your governing philosophy is built around the belief that government can and should be use to improve the world, than you should cultivate a darn near fanatical focus on efficiency and competence in government affairs. In a rational universe, the left’s number one hobby ought to be endlessly gaming and nit-picking various organization structures, incentive setups, etc.

    In this universe they apparently couldn’t be bothered with the effort and the result is plummeting public trust in an incompetent, inefficient, corrupt government. We’ve seen what happens when our illustrious civil service masters run everything. It was called the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

  4. Well, the social democratic _European_ states where built by the national oligarchies in order to avoid losing their powers as universal sufrage was conceded. It was, as it remains, a way of buying votes against the Liberals (Libertarians) who threaten their privileges (Mises, _Omnipotent Government. The Rise of the Total State and the Total War_).

    I think it is unfair now that the Commies are gone and no one can nationalize their properties that they keep nationalizing ours through taxes. They had more respect for property then.

  5. I think Treefrog has it right here:

    If your governing philosophy is built around the belief that government can and should be use to improve the world, than you should cultivate a darn near fanatical focus on efficiency and competence in government affairs. In a rational universe, the left’s number one hobby ought to be endlessly gaming and nit-picking various organization structures, incentive setups, etc.

    I just got back from Austin where I visited the LBJ library. It’s the first presidential library I’ve had the privilege to attend. I found it inspiring. LBJ strikes me as a Tom De Lay with a heart and soul and brain. I particularly liked a quote on the granite obelisk (fat squat kind of obelisk) in the lobby below the 43 million pages of presidential papers:

    The great society aks not how much, but how good; not only how to create wealth, but how to use it; not only how fast we are going, but where we are headed. It proposes as the first test for a nation: the quality of its people.

    And down by the bathrooms on a cartoon, there’s another one:

    I do not believe that the great society is the ordered, changeless and sterile batallion of the ants. It is excitement of becoming–always becoming-trying, probing, failing, resting and trying again-but always trying.

    . . . and on the way back Southwest Airlines had us write cards to our troops in Afghanistan.

    A darn near fanatical focus on efficiency and cutting out waste seems in order at this time . . . so we can once again go about the exciting business of becoming a better people, from top to bottom.

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