Thursday, December 9, 2010

When Elites Take Charge

Ever wonder why the uppity powers that be always seen to ignore the mutterings of the groundswell and end up making life more miserable for the masses? Author Yves Smith ("ECONned", Palgrave Macmillan 2010, a book about flawed financial theories that culminated in the global meltdown of 2008) has an interesting anecdote that may provide some clues.

When Henry Kissinger was first made head of the US National Security Council, Daniel Ellsberg of RAND Corporation was briefing him on options for Vietnam, and chose to add these words of advice:
You've been a consultant for a long time, and you've dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you are about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe 15 or 20, that are higher than top secret...

First, you'll feel exhilarated by some of this new information... you will forget there was ever a time that you didn't have it, and you'll be aware of the fact that you have it now and most others don't... and that all these other people are fools.

Over a longer period of time... you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information... In the meantime, it will become difficult for you to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to him, "What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know?" And that mental exercise is so torturous that... you'll give it up and just stop listening...

The danger is that you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours.

Scarcely 2 years later, Kissinger, in a meeting with Ellsberg, dismissed the group resignation of a team of consultants in Cambodia in protest of the policy of escalation because "They never had the clearances." Yet the consultants turn out to be correct. Kissinger's course of action was a failure.

Maybe it's time to change out the morons in charge.


  1. This anecdote is indeed interesting as it can also apply in reverse, that is the ground may feel that those in the ivory towers do not have the binoculars to look down thus refusing to take any advice (even the sound ones). Ape feels the key here is information sharing. Things fall apart when both sides fail to communicate effectively.

  2. Let's vote for change, we have heard enough of the lousy track record.

  3. Hmmm...a fascinating post. The elite sometimes think they are the only ones in touch of reality. Grunts just dont have what it takes to really understand whats going on, according to them. Yeah, but its the grunts who pay the taxes, do national service and provide the labor which really keeps the nation humming.

  4. The problem here is who is "surviving on" and "living of" who...

    Is it the elites or the people...

    Obviously those in the know will know real differences between a symbiot and a bottom feeding parasite...

    I leave you to decide...