Monday, November 7, 2011

One Meritocrat in a government of know-nothings in Canada

By Ross Douthat, New York Times, November 5, 2011
In hereditary aristocracies, debacles tend to flow from stupidity and pigheadedness: think of the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Battle of the Somme. In one-party states, they tend to flow from ideological mania: think of China’s Great Leap Forward, or Stalin’s experiment with “Lysenkoist” agriculture.

In meritocracies, though, it’s the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks than lower-wattage elites would never even contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects, and become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world. (Or as Calvin Trillin put it in these pages, quoting a tweedy WASP waxing nostalgic for the days when Wall Street was dominated by his fellow bluebloods: “Do you think our guys could have invented, say, credit default swaps? Give me a break! They couldn’t have done the math.”)
Inevitably, pride goeth before a fall. Robert McNamara and the Vietnam-era whiz kids thought they had reduced war to an exact science. Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin thought that they had done the same to global economics. The architects of the Iraq war thought that the American military could liberate the Middle East from the toils of history; the architects of the European Union thought that a common currency could do the same for Europe. And Jon Corzine thought that his investment acumen equipped him to turn a second-tier brokerage firm into the next Goldman Sachs, by leveraging big, betting big and waiting for the payoff. ...
In place of reckless meritocrats, we don’t need feckless know-nothings. We need intelligent leaders with a sense of their own limits, experienced people whose lives have taught them caution. We still need the best and brightest, but we need them to have somehow learned humility along the way.
Let's apply Mr. Douthat's analysis to Canada, where we have already seen, in the Conserative Party federally, the triumph of a leader from the meritocracy and a cabinet of feckless know-nothings. In the leader, we witness the triumph of both ego and will, linked to ideology; in the Cabinet, we witness miniature sycophants willing to read their scripts from pages published in the PMO (Prime Minsiter's Office). The pattern is quite clear.
One of the differences between the U.S. and Canada is that our financial services sector is much more strictly and conservatively regulated and no government in Canada has been willing to deregulate.
However, in the political realm, the agenda of this government comes, apparently, from the recesses of the brain of one Stephen Harper, whose love of symbols of the past (royal, for example, and ships and planes, for another) and whose ego stroked by milliions of marked "X's", although less than 40% of the total elegible, provides a chant of "we were given a majority mandate to make the country safer" for example, through increased sentences, and more prison terms for more offenders.
Or "we were given a majority government mandate to do".....(fill in the blank) if that statement itself is an adequate substitute for providing parliament with the necessary information that supports the legislation on which parliament is supposed to vote.
One single "meritocrat" in a government of "know-nothings" must be rather frustrating for those sitting in the government who know they will never make a mark, unless with the blessing of the PMO, and then only if and when it supports the "arrogance" and the risk-taking, in the political arena, of the single meritocrat.

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