The Civil Service Post
Back in the 1970s, when my country was first burgeoning as a financial centre and tourist destination, the government of the day decided to seek a more dynamic director for one of its departments. The department in question had long been an unproductive, paper-shuffling department, led by a series of complacent and unimaginative directors.
A suitably ambitious candidate was found overseas and brought in to lead the small department, which at that time employed only a handful of people. The new director settled into his job and it wasn’t long before it occurred to him that the best way he could push his own career forward was to continually expand the size of the department. That would not only justify numerous salary increases for himself as the department’s head, but would allow him to create his own fiefdom within the civil service.
As the country was expanding its business sector annually, the revenue collectable by the government was also expanding and, within ten years, the department had grown its employee base tenfold. The director had reached a far-higher salary level than when he began and did indeed create a fiefdom, in which he was virtually the king.
But, along the way, he often ruffled the feathers of the political leaders, who annually made the funding decisions for the department. It occurred to them that, as he was all-powerful, he could not be fired. The department had no hierarchy, no lower leadership.
So they created the post of Deputy Director and instructed the director to set about hiring a suitable candidate. Seeing that he would be choosing an unwanted successor, he set about finding the most inept candidate he could find. He selected a man who, although he actually possessed a suitable diploma to justify his hiring, had virtually no experience and neither the inclination nor the ability to make decisions. He was, in fact, the classic “educated fool.”
It soon became apparent to all that the new deputy was a waste of money and office space, but, the civil service being what it is and all governments being reluctant to fire senior employees or institute cost-reduction exercises, the deputy remained in place until the director retired, many years later. (The deputy had never changed jobs, since he was already in a position that thoroughly exceeded the Peter principle.)
But, again, the civil service being what it is, he was the senior man when the director retired, so he was promoted to director, even though he was entirely incapable of doing the job, thus assuring a dysfunctional, inefficient department.
The key here is that this particular case is a textbook example, but, in essence, is not unusual. It’s the very nature of the civil service in any country to degrade from within.
The National Leader
In 1979, Saddam Hussein, having acceded to the presidency of Iraq, held a meeting of the Ba’ath party leadership. With hundreds of senior party delegates in the audience, he announced that some had been identified as being disloyal. One after the other, he pointed them out and, as each was named, was led off for execution. Those still in the room became more nervous with every removal, knowing that any one of them could be taken away. Did they condemn their leader? No, they began spontaneously standing up to praise the removals and to praise Saddam for the purge. At the end of the meeting, Saddam invited those who were most loyal to volunteer to become the executioners, thereby ensuring that they share the guilt of the purge.
In the ensuing years, stories were sometimes told of Saddam asking his top people who amongst them should become his successor. It became apparent that, if a name was put forward as someone who was favoured to be the next leader, he was certain to be executed. Thus he made it clear that there would be no pretenders to the throne.
Saddam Hussein’s approach to the avoidance of succession was not unprecedented by any means. In fact, the more dictatorial a leader becomes, the more paranoid he is likely to become that his lieutenants are seeking to replace him. Adolf Hitler was famous for provoking jealousy between his lieutenants so they wouldn’t get close enough to each other to plot jointly against him.
The more autocratic the leader, the more he will create ineptitude beneath him.
Those who are involved in the free market tend to assume that all leaders invariably seek to surround themselves with the most capable and inspired people. And, certainly, in business, this is often the case. In a free-market system, those who are productive tend to rise to the top. The support for them comes from the fact that all others involved in the company will profit by having the most capable individual in the president’s chair.
However, in politics, it’s far more common for those who are fundamentally flawed to rise to high office. Their achievement lies not in increased productivity and efficiency, but in hoodwinking the voters into believing that they can produce panaceas that will make everyone’s lives better.
In business, it’s far more likely that, at some point along the way, the pretender will be unmasked by his superiors or his peers. However, in politics, as long as the pretender continues to fool the voters, he remains highly valued to his fellow politicians, as he has the ability to carry them upward.
In politics, as we see in the first example above, rising to the point of significant power requires intelligence and capability, but the most valuable talents are often manipulation and deceit. In the second example, where a leader seeks to retain power, we again see manipulation and deceit as the most valuable talents.
This is not to say that manipulation and deceit cannot exist in the free market; they often do. But, in politics, they often serve as the cornerstone of the individual’s path to power. In the free market, productivity and efficiency are uppermost in creating success.
Centuries ago, the world was largely dominated by kings and the people could easily decide for themselves whether or not the king was a good leader. However, the modern world is based primarily on political parties, in which opposing factions are created and each faction seeks to discredit the other. The closer such a system comes to collapse, the more polarization occurs. It becomes the norm for each party to vilify the other and its leader, encouraging its followers to literally hate the opposing leader. In doing so, they tend to defend their own leader as being more admirable, blinding the electorate to even the leader’s most blatant shortcomings.
In today’s politics, more often than not, what we’re seeing is two manipulative, deceitful individuals, neither of whom is fit to rule. Yet we lionize one and vilify the other.
In every such competition, our task should be to rise above the fray and understand that, for each candidate, the objective is increased power for himself. The service of the electorate is generally the least of his interests.
In carving up the sphere of power, as the two gentlemen in the image above are doing, each hopes for the largest slice to be placed on his own plate. What we must bear in mind is that the characteristics that would elevate him to that position are those characteristics that are the least moral and the least likely to result in his desire to be of service to those who elevated him.
This has historically been the case for the great majority of political leaders and remains true today. As such, no leader should engender our trust.
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