Comments on: Is Power Stupid or Smart? Property - Prosperity - Peace Sat, 09 May 2015 08:06:55 +0000 hourly 1 By: Jamie Moor Sun, 04 Dec 2011 08:20:19 +0000 Political agents (and I don’t here speak of the puppets who get elected but the real sinews of the state, the Media elites, crony-capitalists and top-dog bureaucrats) tend to be much smarter than your average dog. However, being intelligent does not necessarily correlate with being right or honest. See, in this world it pays to say the same things other people say, not because they’re true, but because they’re popular. Politics turns this ordinary (though still obnoxious and dangerous) game of follow-the-mediocre into a multi-trillion dollar industry.

It is very, very smart to get into politics; that is, if you can do it successfully and can deal with all the nonsense. Of course, most of these political actors don’t know or care about economics – that has no more to do with their job than coal mining does – so it’s not as though they’re tied up in existential knots. They are strategically ignorant – as most normal people are.

By: Stephan Kinsella Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:50:38 +0000 Fantastic post. Tuckerian, almost. :)

Regarding this: “certain amount of cleverness of obviously necessary to outwit the media and your opponents” — Hoppe has some interesting comments about this in some of his writing and speeches: see his recent Mises U Advanced Graduate Seminar; and this video: “From the Malthusian Trap to the Industrial Revolution. Reflections on Social Evolution”. In this talk, and in a draft paper, he mentions Mises, Human Action, “The Limitation of Offspring” (p. 667). In this talk he argues that in a Malthusian situation, there are positive eugenic effects: people get smarter because intelligence is an asset. But under post-Malthusian conditions this is less so, as political skills are more important and stupid people reproduce b/c of welfare support.

In A Theory of Socialism and Capitalism, , Hoppe observes how personality traits change under socialist conditions. In the Hoppe Mises Academy course I gave, I had this interchange with a student, about this:


In Chapters 2 & 3 (Pages 12 & 46, for example) Hoppe speaks of how socialist economies force people to rely on family/personal relationships and persuasion to advance their economic standing rather than ingenuity and skill.

Later on Page 70, he says that people develop “uniform” and uninteresting personalities, and that the state kills creativity.

These statements seem to be at odds. How can a person’s behavior at once–reacting to the same economic stimulus–become both more private and more political?

Having to rely on interpersonal relationships to achieve advancement would seem to force people to become more personable and seek interaction with others, not resist it.

My reply:

I don’t think they are at odds. 

Hoppe is pointing out various systematic tendencies that socialism encourages.

On the one hand, it encourages people to become more “political” since that is how you get things done when productive effort is not rewarded as much. This leads to certain personality traits–the political personality. To get something done you might need to call in a favor for example. You can’t just rely on impersonal business relations to get your plumbing fixed; so you have to call in favors; to do this you need to breed networks of contacts, people who owe you, etc., and so people become more “political” in this sense. Thus he writes:

“Accordingly, as people want to improve their income and want to move into more highly evaluated positions in the hierarchy of caretakers, the increasingly have to use their political talents. It becomes irrelevant, or is at least of reduced importance, to be a more efficient producer or contractor in order to rise in the hierarchy of income recipients. Instead, it is increasingly important to have the peculiar skills of a politician, i.e., a person who through persuasion, demagoguery and intrigue, through promises, bribes, and threats, manages to assemble public support for his own position. Depending on the intensity of the desire for higher incomes, people will have to spend less time developing their productive skills and more time cultivating political talents.”

Now, on p. 70 he talks about a different phenomenon: 

As social-democratic socialism favors nonproductive roles as well as productive ones that escape public notice and so cannot be reached by taxation, the character of the population changes accordingly. …  as the degree of taxation rises and the circle of taxed income widens, people will increasingly develop personalities as inconspicuous, as uniform, and as mediocre as is possible—at least as far as public appearance is concerned.

So here he is pointing out that people become less productive in response to a system that penalizes productivity (or doesn’t reward it as much) and that rewards nonproductive activities (e.g., being political).

But also, when the state taxes some activities it tends to tax those that are publicly visible; it’s harder for the state to tax hidden or underground or gray or black market activities. Thus people tend to engage more in these “hidden” activities since they are less taxed. But to do this, you have to keep a low profile–make sure the activity stays hidden.
tendencies are not in conflict:

On one hand, incentive to develop your personal relationships and politcal skills to survive or prosper; on the other hand you have an incentive to keep a low profile and not be noticed, at least if you are shifting to unregulated and untaxed black market activities to escape taxes and regulations.

Even if these traits or tendencies are in conflict, that is only because the state is incoherent and contradictory itself and sets up opposing incentives.

E.g. taxation penalizes hard work, but makes hard work less profitable at the margin.

By: ricketson Thu, 01 Dec 2011 16:28:48 +0000 I have a couple of thoughts on how “intelligent” politicians are. In general, I believe that they have above-average intelligence, and the higher the office, the smarter they are. However, this is “political intelligence” — not necessarily the same type of intelligence that results in scientific advancements or medical achievements. Politicians can read their audience, they can motivate people, and they can keep track of the actions, abilities, and allegiances of tons of people. I consider myself fairly smart, but I could never do that stuff effectively.
Perhaps it’s just that I don’t have the heart for it. When I say something, I want to say something true and meaningful, not something manipulative. But either way, I’m no good at politics. You say that smart people would want to do something “real” rather than participate in the theater of politics — but that’s a question of values, not intelligence. It also depends on what avenues for fulfillment a person has open to them.
Another thing… some studies of leadership have found that the most effective leaders are only a little bit smarter than the people they lead– being much smarter tends to cause alienation. This implies that most politicians would be just a little smarter than average. Politicians in higher office tend to spend a lot of their time dealing with politicians in lower office, so they are likely to be a little bit smarter than those people.
In the end, the question is not how smart a person has to be to gain political power, but how smart a person has to be to see through the mythology of the state.