Arnold Kling  

Frank Knight on the Humility Factor

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He said,

The probability of the people in power being individuals who would dislike the possession and exercise of power is on a level with the probability that an extremely tender-hearted person would get the job of whipping master in a slave plantation.

From Peter Klein, who quotes another famous economist (not Bryan Caplan) thusly:

the typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field. He argues and analyzes in a way which he would readily recognize as infantile within the sphere of his real interests.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Steve Sailer writes:

Right. For example, pundits think about race and immigration wholly differently in public than when making decisions about where to buy a house and where to send their kids to school.

Steve Sailer writes:

But, it's not that irrational when you think about it. Saying obviously ignorant and illogical things about race, immigration, IQ and so forth can help you get one up over your status competitors and can at least prevent you from getting Watsoned. If they can fire America's most prominent man of science for saying what the evidence suggests, they sure can roast you, too.

So, the reigning political stupidity makes perfect sense when analyzed in terms of self-interest.

Troy Camplin writes:

Allow me to invite you to read a satyrical short story I wrote on this very topic: Milton Wilcain's Intelligence

Randy writes:

Re; "...the typical citizen drops down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field."

Not just mental performance, but ethical performance as well. In their private lives most people recognize and act on the value of "live and let live", but in their public lives they suddenly see the need to stick their noses into other people's business.

Karen writes:

The problem with the first quotation (aside from the slavery allusion, which makes it powerful but completely unfit for mass-media-consumption) is the automatic implication of *malice* in those who seek/possess power.

The equally (more?) disastrous type of individual in power is the one who possesses vast ambitions for good. The road to hell... as they say.

A sense of moral imperative (or downright saintliness) quickly replaces all humility with a set of dangerous illusions about what any individual -- or any government -- is capable of accomplishing.

Ayn Rand was the first author I read as a teenager to show very vividly the cruel consequences that can come from a "tender heart."

T Carrington writes:

Knight’s statement seems to suggest that people who tend to possess and exercise power are more likely to take on positions of power than people who are tender-hearted. So, can it be inferred that people who are tender-hearted are weak? Whether true or not, I believe that many arguments can be made that there is a direct relationship between a position of power and people who possess and exercise power. In comparison, it can be argued that there is an indirect relationship between a position of power and people who are tender-hearted.

For instance, to be in a position of power a person must be able to withstand criticism as well as give criticism. People who are tender-hearted usually do not receive criticism very well and are even less likely to say something that would offend or upset anyone. In contrast, people who possess power can receive the criticism fairly well and give it back in a given situation.

Thinking in a different direction, suppose an employer needs to fill a position of power, e.g. chief financial officer. What type of worker is the employer likely to target? Obviously, they are more likely to target a stronger, more powerful person to fill the position.

It is not a fact that people who are tender-hearted cannot hold a position of power. However, the more power required for a position, the more likely a tender-hearted person will shy away. In contrast, a person who possesses and exercises power is likely to approach the position of power. In fact, people who possess and exercise power usually crave positions of more power. But in saying this, it should not be concluded that all people of power crave positions of power. There are always powerful people who are considered outliers.

Now, Klein’s statement seems to suggest that politicians engage in debates in a very infantile manner. To test this theory, one could survey a group of politicians and a group of fifth graders while engaged in a debate. If performance of both groups are similar, for instance, “You’re wrong, I’m right,” then it may be concluded that citizens within the political field seem to drop down to a lower level of mental performance. However, if the group performances are different, then it may be suggested that politicians are not smarter than average fifth graders. (Just for fun).

zwwdz writes:

So this was what was wrong with Fred Thompson---an insufficient appetite for power?

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