Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Warlord Versus The Bureaucrat

I've had this idea floating in my head for some time and I finally got around to composing something on it. I hope I made it clear enough, although I'm not completely happy with it. Be warned - it's a looong piece, but I just didn't want to cut any more. I've included an executive summary and broken it into several parts to help.

Executive Summary

Two basic leadership styles predominate in America today, which I have dubbed the warlord and bureaucrat models. These operate at organizational levels of government and business. The warlord privileges the fitness of his own close genetic offspring and those whom he perceives as genetically similar to him (his 'tribe'). The warlord seeks power primarily as a means to reward friends and allies; his leadership is characterized by rewarding friends, punishing enemies and exploiting those below him. He operates based on personal connections and social relations rather than any objective standard. The bureaucrat style concentrates on creating successful organizations which are maximally beneficial to society at large, not just a select few. The bureaucrat promotes fairness, equity and meritocracy, while the warlord promotes hereditary aristocracy, unfair advantage, and unearned privileges. Bureaucrats seek inclusion, warlords, dominance. Warlords are less intelligent generally, and their leadership style is less successful in the long run,  but it is more beneficial in an evolutionary sense. History can be seen as a waxing and waning of these leadership styles.

I. Background

Over the course of time, I've noticed two very broad categories of leadership styles that I've seen play out both on a personal level in various organizations I've worked for, and in the larger political sphere. I've dubbed these models of individual leadership modes the Warlord and the Bureaucrat. These two differing styles of leadership come from differing worldviews, and produce very different outcomes.

The impetus for this concept came from an observation that bosses who tended to be highly politically conservative in the American sense (i.e. extreme right-wing Republicans) espoused a phillosophy that everyone had to make their own way and those who were at the top got there by dint of hard work and superiority and were therefore justified in taking everything they got no matter how excessive. Meanwhile, these bosses were blatant nepotists, handing jobs to friends and relatives, and by extension, taking them away from the very kinds of people they insisted should just "pull themselves up by their bootstraps." They paid lip service to the just world hypothesis while undermining it at every turn, yet they saw no contradiction. Over time, I noticed a number of other unique characteristics of such leaders that seemed to accompany this attitude.

One was that to these bosses, everything was personal. Often times these bosses owed their positions to well placed connections; glib garrulousness; outgoing, narcissistic personalities; fussiness and intimidation; and oleaginous charm, where social connections and "managing people" were their major stock in trade. In fact, this was often their only major talent; most of them were of middling intelligence and ability. Their cunning, feral, gut-level ability to read people extended into all walks of life, both inside and outside of the office. Because of this they were unable to make objective appraisals of employees and their abilities; promotion was mainly a personality contest. The more you resembled the boss in political views, likes, personality, outlook, class status, appearance, etc. , the better your chances of being noticed and given opportunities to excel. Others were neglected and ignored. These leaders see a likeable person as a good employee an vice versa.  Maybe they like your hair, maybe they like your shoes. Can you chat about spectator sports? Play golf? Play basketball? Have a mortgage? Kids go to the same school? Maybe you look good in a miniskirt and pumps. It doesn't matter, the warlord promotes whom he pleases, case closed. Who's going to complain?

In a similar vein, they often divide their offices into in groups and out groups. The in-groups are lavished with raises, bonuses, professional opportunities, etc. For everyone not a member of the elites, promotion is not even a possibility no matter your level of ability, talent, hard work, qualifications, etc. The old saying "you don't get to be pharaoh by working on the pyramids" rings true in these types of organizations.  Often time the phrase "old boys' club" is used, and in some cases that’s true, but many times women are also part of it if they meet certain conditions (attractive, athletic, outgoing, type A, rich family, etc.). 

We've already discussed how the warlord tosses jobs to his relations, no questions asked, even if there are other qualified people. The warlord promotes people like himself, period. In the warlord's philosophy, it really is about who you know, not what you know. They spend copious amounts of time with their inner circle, whereas they barely know the names of their other employees, and probably don't care. They believe that they are the true source of the organization's success, and having employees is a necessary evil. Such bosses are miserly with salaries, and morale is typically low, but they do not care as long as they and their entourage are making money and getting ahead.

Since these leaders surround themselves with personally chosen loyalists, they are put in a bubble, where words and ideas are repeated back to them in an echo chamber. Anyone who does not think in the same way, or has differing opinions or ideas than the boss is marginalized or eliminated. Usually this leads to groupthink and tone deafness, and the most ridiculous ideas take shape in an Emperor's New Clothes scenario, where loyalists are afraid to say anything the leader does not want to hear for fear of being ostracized from the inner circle and banished to outsider status. Management takes on the appearance of a personality cult. If  employees outside of the inner circle have good ideas and talents that will help the organization, they are not seriously considered, even if they do somehow reach the top. The average employee soon learns he or she does not matter and soon gives up and does the minimum to get by and collect a paycheck.

Many of these insiders are practically clones of the leader himself. In my current organization, they even physically resemble the leader! His speech patterns and phrases are endlessly parroted by his entourage ("at the end of the day", "it's a win-win", etc.). In my current organization, the boss and his inner circle play games of "alpha male basketball", where he and his chosen ones can flaunt their overwhelming physical superiority and athletic prowess over the mere mortals beneath them (warlords are obsessed with competition in every aspect of life).  If you play, you get promoted. If you don't you won't. It's that simple, and that blatant. Again, what can you do?

Warlords do not like rules. They do not like to be told what to do, or held to some objective standard outside of their own personal whim. And there is absolutely nothing that the warlord despises with an almost bottomless, incomprehensible, passionate, visceral hatred than the idea of "fairness." To the warlord, the very concept is the greatest evil, the source of inefficiency and decline, the crutch of those too weak to compete, and must be weeded out wherever it is found. The warlord believes in a winner-take-all world, red in tooth and claw, and things like rules and fairness upset the natural order of things and limit the greatness of people like him and his family.

Another feature of warlords is that no matter how many overwhelming advantages they been given in life, they truly believe they are entirely "self-made". A perfect example is the comically outrageous claim made by Mitt Romney that he started from nothing and worked his way to the top in "small business," despite the fact that his dad was the CEO of a major automotive firm and the governor of a U.S. state, he was born wealthy, and went to the country's most expensive elite institutions as he was groomed to do since birth.  Yet Romney apparently truly believed what he was saying. "Born on third base and thought he hit a triple," is an apt description. 

Ultimately, the warlord runs an organization as a looting operation for the benefit of his friends, relatives, offspring, sycophants, and cronies which is why I have chosen this moniker. At the same time as they take for themselves they are brutal and punitive to anyone not in their inner circle. One of the reasons these people love the radical right is that they promote a social Darwinist competitive view of a winner take all society where the successful owe nothing to the wider society outside of their immediate blood relatives.  Anything else is "socialism" which takes from them and rewards the undeserving, such as people not related to them.

I noticed the leadership styles I had observed first-hand playing out at the national level as well. It began with the Bush administration. Plumb and cushy jobs were handed out as "spoils" rather than out of any sort of sense of duty to the people of America. Being related to so-and-so or being the son of a big donor meant you were in, regardless of qualifications. This was best summed up be one commentator who described the Bush administration as "rewarding loyalty rather than competence." The most infamous example was noticed during Hurricane Katrina when the head of FEMA was revealed to be a long-time upper-class Bush loyalist with no experience in disaster management, or any management (except judging show horses). "Heckuva job Brownie" became the poster boy for administration staffed with incompetent sycophants and cronies at a every level, rather than competent, qualified civil servants who worked hard and climbed the ladder. Also, Bush himself was surrounded by advisors who told him only what he wished to hear, and the phrase "Bush bubble" was coined, especially with regard to the Iraq invasion. Of course there is some degree of personal connection and patronage in all politics, and there always has been, but this was a whole other level.

And then I noticed the exact same pattern when the extreme right-wing Walker administration took over the Wisconsin state government. Children of donors were given plumb positions. In one controversial case, the recipient had no college degree (neither does the governor for that matter) even as ordinary people were told that they needed to get more and more education for any job and were sinking themselves further into debt. This was typical:
(Newser)  Dont you hate those overpaid public employees? Why, just look at Brian Deschane. Hes racked up two drunk driving convictions, has little experience, and no college degree, yet Scott Walkers administration is paying him $81,500 a year, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. How did he get the job? Well, it probably didnt hurt that dad Jerry Deschane is a longtime lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, and that the groups PAC was one of Walkers top five campaign donorsringing up $121,652 in donations. 

But the elder Deschane says hes sure thats not why his son was hired. He got the position himself, he says. OK, he admits, he may have mentioned Brian to Walkers chief of staff a few times. I put in good words for every one of my children in their jobs, he says. To be fair, the younger Deschane must be a great worker; in two months on the job hes already earned a promotion and a 26% raise.
Incompetent people whose only qualification was loyalty to the party and a willingness to do anything, no matter how ethically questionable, were placed all over government, with predictably disastrous results. Donors and patrons like the Koch Brothers and road builders were rewarded with favorable legislation and tax cuts, even as the budget was being slashed and burned for the public at large. "Greedy teachers and government employees" were blamed for the state's budget deficit rather than the economic downturn, while tax cuts and other business subsidies were handed out like candy.  Like the Bush admistration, it was basically a looting operation for well-heeled insiders covered by propaganda and divide and conquer tactics, even as the state's formerly excellent services were gutted, and the quality of life, wages and job growth tanked for most people. It must be noted that my warlord bosses were fanatical supporters and donors to both men.

The bureaucrat model, by contrast, is designed to be meritocratic and fair, blind to the whims of the powerful and relatively immune from corruption. I spent several years working for city government during my college years.  In government, fairness is paramount. If a job opened up, everyone had to be considered. If someone were hired merely because they were related to so-and-so without any qualifications, or because they looked a certain way, or had a certain political opinion, there would be outrage. Even people with disabilities were accommodated, sometimes to the point of absurdity, in the interests of fairness. Seniority mattered, and those who had been there the longest were given first consideration. Many of these rules were due to the influence of unions (which were put in place to reform the corrupt system I described above). The military operates in a similar manner. They truly are meritocracies, or reasonably close. You have to earn your stipes.

In the bureaucrat model, salaries and promotions are based on ability, not whether the boss likes you or not. People can't be fired for no reason or on a whim. Nothing's perfect, and there are still plenty of office politics, but the rules prevent the worst abuses. Yes, this can encourage some complacency and inefficiency, but by and large, it gives workers the belief that hard work and loyalty are rewarded rather than just being taken advantage of. In the private sector, I've found that bureaucratic-style leaders really care about their workers and the organization, are accessible, and make the effort to find out who is really pulling their weight based on performance, ability and potential, not just on personality, class or brown nosing. Often bureaucratic leaders are talented, hard workers themselves who have indeed worked their way up from below, rather than taking advantage of the system.

Bureaucratic leaders will even sometimes promote people they dislike, because they are able to look at objective qualities beyond just personal feelings. They don't believe in nepotism - you need to be the right candidate and compete for a job just like someone from a poorer family. They believe in giving everyone a fair shot - rich poor whatever, and unlike right wing Republicans who are always looking to cement their status, they are true meritocrats. Their loyalty is to the organization first rather than themselves, and they want it to be as successful as possible rather than just a source of booty for their friends and relatives, whether it be a business or a country.

Bureaucrats believe in laws, not men. They believe in objective truth, not a world shaped by their own biases and opinions with everything else filtered out. This means they can make more accurate decisions and see problems more clearly. In contrast to the warlord, they surround themselves with people of differing opinions, even people who disagree with them, because they know this makes for better decisions. Unlike warlords, they do not place themselves in a "bubble." Often times, their key people are very diverse in interests, opinions and thought processes, but each provides something valuable. Lincoln's "team of rivals" is one historical example. 

The warlord does not like this. He does not like to be told he cannot reward his sons, of that he has to share with someone of different genetic stock. So he sets about dismantling this by any means possible, changing institutions to be subordinate to his will. You can see now why "conservatives" want to drown government in a bathtub. It is the major bastion of their most hated enemy - fairness. It is a check on their power. It is anathema to their very view of the world. It helps the weak and powerless at the expense of the strong and powerful via impersonal laws and "theft" via taxes. The warlord prefers to do as he pleases - hire who they please, fire who they please, hire only beautiful girls, or 6' 8" basketball players, or whatever. Government acts like a referee, enforcing fair outcomes for all citizens, regardless of who they're related to and whom they know, and fairness is the warlord's most hated enemy. Why else would they be so opposed to any inheritance taxes ("death tax") which by definition they will not have to pay (their heirs do)? Oligarchy and lack of class mobility is not a downside - it's a goal.

Recent Democratic administrations have  been more likely to bring in a diverse group of people, even those of other political persuasions, unlike the loyalists and toadies who make up the Republican echo chamber. This was demonstrated recently by the fact that Romney was convinced he was going to win the election because he was kept in the dark by sycophantic advisers who told each other what they wanted to hear and rationalized away any dissenting information (even if it was accurate). The Obama campaign, by contrast, hired the most talented people, paid them well, and gave them the resources needed to to their jobs. Need it be said which style produces better judgment calls by leaders and better outcomes for those they lead?

II. Conclusions

How can the warlords justify calling half of America lazy moochers even as they ship jobs oversees and force fired employees to train their replacements? How can they claim people succeed by merit even as they amass trust funds worth millions for their offspring and send them to exclusive institutions off limits to most people? How can they tell people to get an education and make themselves valuable to employers on their own dime while cutting funding for schools and tuition assistance? How can they gut every social program and safety net while at the same time giving themselves and their allies enormous tax cuts? Is it madness? Yes, but it makes perfect sense when you view it through the lens of evolutionary biology.

The warlord's behavior is ideal for maximizing their genetic fitness. The winner take all society - with all the benefits accruing to them and passing it down to their offspring and selected friends with impunity, is the best way to ensure their offspring and kin will have less competition for reproduction with the most highly desirable mates. It is known that women prefer men with greater resources, and that the sons of wealthy and priviliged men have disproportionate access to the most attractive and fertile females. Helping someone not of your genetic stock decreases the overwhelming advantage you have clawed from the market for your own genetic offspring. If all you are concerned with is reproductive success, who cares if society crashes and burns around you? In fact, it's probably better that way - more for you and your kids!

Socialism means everyone gets a shot. And why would a warlord want that? After all they're on top; they're in a position to give their fortunate sons every advantage. Why should someone take money from them in the form of taxes to help someone less fortunate go to school? Why level the playing field? From an evolutionary standpoint it makes no sense.  According to evolutionary biologist Satoshi Kanazawa:
...Kanazawa argues that humans are evolutionarily designed to be conservative, caring mostly about their family and friends, and being liberal, caring about an indefinite number of genetically unrelated strangers they never meet or interact with, is evolutionarily novel.  So more intelligent children may be more likely to grow up to be liberals.

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) support Kanazawa's hypothesis.  Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as "very liberal" have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence while those who identify themselves as "very conservative" have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.
The warlord promotes people he "likes" because in his lizard brain, he sees them as genetically similar (similar to how we see pets as children). A story will illustrate this. A while back, we hired a certain young fellow. Not long after, he was working alongside my warlord boss on all the plumb projects, given a nice desk, etc, even though he was fresh out of school in his first job with little experience (unlike many of us who toil in obscurity with extensive experience, skills and qualifications). But a couple of things made this "golden boy" golden. The first was that he was  6'-8" - perfect for "alpha male basketball." Later, when the boss tossed another of his kids a summer job in the engineering department it became even more clear - his son was the spitting image of our "golden boy."  The boss identified this person as his son, and thus worthy of promotion. He looked the part. The warlord, under the influence of  his lizard brain and selfish genes, percives certain employees as part of his "tribe" at a subconscious "gut" level (another feature is making "gut" decisions in place of deliberate thought). We like people who are like us; in scientific jargon, we are predisposed to "in-group kinship" in looks, personality, etc. As Kanazawa explains, this is the default setting. Getting past that takes a level of emotional intelligence that the warlord simply does not possess.

Taxes and regulations mean less money and privileges to shower on their own offspring, which is taken and given to level the playing field for mates, something the warlord is viscerally opposed to.  Like their namesake, they believe you should grab as much as you can and set your family up as hereditary rulers. Why would they voluntarily renounce that, handicapping their genetic fitness? The warlord strategy works. Want proof? Genghis Khan left over sixteen million male descendants.

Now it's important to note that this is not a conscious process. The warlord does not understand his behavior, any more than a cat knows why it chases mice or dogs know why they bury bones. They don't put it down to selfish genes; for them it is completely natural. That's why they concoct ridiculous inconsistent ideas ex post facto such as the Just World Fallacy, The Horatio Alger myth, or the forty-seven percent, to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their espoused beliefs and their actual behavior. Libertarianism, Objectivism, and trickle-down are the latest ethical fig leafs for rule by the strong. 

III. Consequences

In their book Why Nations Fail, economists Darin Acemoglu and James Robinson argue that nations where there are extractive institutions tend to fail, because they are designed to extract resources from the wider society to benefit a priviliged in-group at the top while preventing comptetion from below emerging. They contrast this with countries with inclusive institutions, where there is a level playing field and the best people and ideas can take their rightful place and make everyone better off, even if it tips the apple cart for those currently on top. Extractive economies tend to have poor rule of law and are subject to the whims of powerful men and corporations. They are highly unequal with little social mobility. Inclusive countries tend to have good opportunites avilable for all and are relatively equal societies with a high degree of innovation and prosperity.

Warlords are what they would call extractive elites. They run their organizations as zero sum games, with their friends and offspring getting the swag. They also make sure there is no fair competition, a winning strategy if your goal is to maximize your genetic success. Bureaucrats, by contrast, are inclusive leaders, who believe the best and brightest should get to the top no matter who their parents are or what advantages they were born with. A good description of extractive elites in action is this:
The president's wife's brother's son gets an exclusive license to import exercise machines (mostly used in hotel gyms since local people are too poor to use them) and earns a nice living do so free from competition. Eventually some eager beaver comes along and says, hey if this other guy is earning monopoly rents importing exercise machines then I'll just build some here domestically. But the eager beaver is naive. The exclusive import license isn't a coincidence, it reflects the president's wife's brother's son's privileged position in the political system. Smart hoteliers will know better than to buy from a competitor since it will only buy them regulatory trouble. Smart bankers will know that the new business is doomed and won't lend him money and even if it weren't doomed, lending him money would only buy them regulatory trouble. Eventually, the eager beaver's savvier wife will explain to him why the plan is doomed. Absent opportunity, human and physical capital stagnates and ambitious people focus their attention on climbing the ladder of corruption. Even if the President realizes that on some level he's running a counterproductively dysfunctional system, he knows that if he starts threatening the economic privileges of the people he counts on to support the regime that his own base will vanish.
Similarly, Francis Fukuyama argued that the nation state first emerged when people were able to look beyond their immediate blood relatives and set up political institutions that functioned for wider groups of people, engendering a modicum of stability. His main example is China, where a widespread bureaucracy based on examinations and open to all was used by a powerful central state to administer their empire. Yet even in China, such periods often broke down in violence, dissolution and (literal) warlord rule.

Periods when bureaucrats predominate are when opportunity is expanded, fairness is enforced rather than arbitrary whim, and social reforms (e.g. the right to vote, unionization, ending slavery) are brought about. They are periods of expansion and cooperation leading to centralization and widespread prosperity. The Enlightenment is one example.

Periods when warlords predominate tend to be when things fall apart. Rules becomes subject to a few powerful men and their offspring and cronies, rather than laws. They seize the reigns of the centralized state apparatus and use it for wealth extraction and rent-seeking, causing horrible suffering and even death in society. Central order breaks apart, and people get steadily poorer as the elites take everything they can. Social trust deteriorates. A hereditary aristocracy emerges, and downward mobility becomes endemic. The early "Dark" Ages is such a period.

History can be seen as a cycle of rule between warlords, who extract wealth for few, and bureaucrats, who maximize opportunity for all. When warlords take over the reigns of power, dark ages arise, and misery stalks the land. Warlords preside over periods of stagnation, inequality, dissolution and decay. When bureaucrats have control, there is often disruption and ferment in society, but it's often pressure being released, and progress is made. Bureaucrats preside over periods of enlightenment, expansion, equality, and the development of new ideas and institutions.   

Rather than the simplistic models of liberal and conservative, or Republican and Democrat, if we look at periods of warlords and bureaucrats, we see the turning points of historical periods. The period from Frankin Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter was an age of bureaucracy in business and government. The period from Reagan to today is one of warlords. This spans multiple presidencies and parties. Similar patterns were noticeable in the previous century (The Robber Barons, The Progressive Era).

Corporations run by extractive elites strip assets bare and maximize profits to shareholders and those in the executive suites, even while ignoring festering problems on the shop floor and paying as little in wages as possible. They privatize profits and socialize losses. They maximize short-term profits at the expense of long-term company viability, because they know only workers will suffer while they get golden parachutes. They blame workers for not working hard enough and not having enough education while overlooking thin resumes for their friends' kids and hitting the links at 3 PM. 

Corporations run by bureaucrats attempt to provide quality products at reasonable prices. They view employees as assets and pay decent wages. They make long term investments while striving to maximize sharholder value. They pay managers competitive, but not obscene, wages.  They consider the social impacts of their business on the wider society. In the long run, such companies do better, and are better for society, but such companies are becoming extrmely rare in the age of mergers, hostile takeovers, and Wall Street high finance.

Governments run by extractive elites shower benefits on cronies such as tax breaks, loopholes, bailouts and subsidies. They eliminate inheritance taxes and transfer the costs of government onto the backs of labor. They gut the social safety net and break unions to drive down wages as low as possible to maximize profits. Their preferred solutions to rising health care and education costs is to make tax shelters which are available only to those who already have significant familial wealth (e.g. health and education saving accounts). Expensive education and unpaid internships are favored because they keep poor kids from competing for good jobs. Regulations that protect workers and the environment are stripped, while those that hurt competitors to favored insiders are retained.

Governments run by bureaucrats provide opportunity to every individual to reach their potential with decent education, child care and health care for all, no matter their economic status. They maintain competitive economies without impoverishing their citizens in a race to the bottom, and workers are protected by laws from being exploited.  Regulations apply equally to all, and are not designed to disadvantage outsiders.

Broadly speaking, the warlord is an unthinking tool of evolutionary biology whose success comes at the cost to the wider society, while the bureaucrat's actions lead to happier, healthier, more prosperous societies, even though his own genes are not exclusively favored. As the article by Kanazawa explains, the bureaucrats are usually more intelligent - their behavior is evolutionarily novel. It was probably the emergence of just this sort of intelligence that led to centralized states in the first place, as opposed to the constant infighting of isolated groups (again with periods of expansion and collapse). Certainly both always coexist.

It looks as if warlords have taken over many of our institutions, sidelining the bureaucrats. Perhaps they just want power more. Perhaps genetically optimal strategies are simply destined to succeed, and naked self-interest trumps all (no pun intended). Maybe true cooperation among such a large and diverse population isn't possible due to evolution. In every business I've worked for that's been headed by a warlord (and most have been), the warlord was a fanatical right-wing republican. How could they see flaws in the Republicans' corrupt leadership style and bestowing of swag on favored insiders when they ran their businesses the identical way? To them, the Republicans were advancing their interests - birds of a feather. Such leaders see the world as "us versus them," and they've taken over the entire business class, and hence the economic foundations and pillars of our society. As warlords like Scott Walker, sponsored by warlords like the Koch Brothers take over state after state, and warlords like the hedge fund managers strip assets for Wall Street, we can see how we are at the beginning of a new Dark Age not just in terms of resource scarcity, but in the very style of leadership of all of our most important and cherished institutions.

IV. Examples

B: Hire good people, pay them well, make a good product.

W: Pay a pittance, keep employees constantly on edge through fear and intimidation, and maximize short-term profits.

B: In hard times, shared sacrifice. Everyone takes a pay cut and work is shared to the greatest extent.

W: Throw employees under the bus to keep money flowing to the executive inner circle. Bailouts and golden parachutes if the company is run to the ground.

B: Cares about people beyond his immediate relatives.

W: Cares only about his blood relatives and those similar.

B: Everyone contributes to the success of the organization

W: The essential few and the trivial many. The executives make the organization function, everyone else are parasites.

B: Objectively looks at the best person for the job and considers everyone.

W: Bases job choices on who he sees at his basketball games, golf outings, personality, looks, family friends, relatives, etc.

B: People in positions of authority should serve everyone.

W: Gaining power is a means to reward your inner circle and distribute the swag.

B: Promotes teamwork and collaboration where people are rewarded in proportion to what they contribute

W: Establishes an exclusive club of people he likes based on personality and similarity. Lavishes praise, reward, and opportunity on the in-group while being stingy to everyone else and lording it over them.

B: Knows he owes his place to a healthy society and talented coworkers as much as his own efforts.

W: Is a narcissist who believes he earned everything he got by being better than everyone else.

B: Promotes a clear way to work you way up the ladder

W: No ladder. You're either chosen or you're not.

B: Promotes the idea of fairness for all in management style and institutions; everyone has a shot.

W: Sheer and utter contempt and bottomless hatred of the very idea of fairness.

B: Hard work rewarded.

W: Hard work rewarded only if you're in the inner circle of people whose names he knows.

B: Surrounds himself with people of differing views and opinions. Exposes himself to uncomfortable views even if he disagrees with them.

W: Lives in a bubble of sycophants and yes-men and carbon-copies of himself. Punishes any dissenters as "not team players." Can not tolerate criticism. 

B: Reality-based community.

W: We create our own reality, you can only stand by and watch.

B: Hears of problems within the organization with concern and takes reasonable steps to fix them.

W: Punishes those who point out problems and flaws for having a negative attitude; replaces them with cheerleaders.

B: Power and wealth is for doing some good for the world.

W: Power and wealth is for getting even more of it and setting up my kids for life.

B: Some level of redistribution is necessary, or things won't work, 

W: Redistribution is always wrong  - everyone has exactly what they earned and no more.

B: Tax unproductive assets and ill-gotten gains

W: Taxation is theft.

B: Believes in objective facts, even if he doesn't like them

W: Filters facts based on his world view - reality is malleable.

V. Media Examples

Tagg Romney, then 35, was woefully unqualified to be a baseball team's marketing executive. Like dad, he got his bachelor's degree at Brigham Young University and master's degree from Harvard. He majored in business.

His one claim to previous sports marketing was at Reebok, where he was something called vice president for on-field marketing. One Dodgers official said they later learned his primary responsibility was to watch NFL and NBA games, counting how many times Reebok was mentioned or its logo caught on camera.

During his approximately one-year tenure with the Dodgers, insiders described him as everything from a very nice guy who was just in way over his head to a vacuous-eyed, transparent political appointment.

Tagg left the Dodgers less than a year later to join his fathers first attempt as the Republican presidential nominee, his failed 2008 bid. Most people hardly remember Tagg was ever around Dodger Stadium.

The Short Career of Tagg Romney, Dodgers Executive (LA Times)

About a month after Mitt Romney ended his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in February 2008, his eldest son, Tagg, and Spencer Zwick, the campaigns top fund-raiser, met with a beef company executive who had been a major campaign donor over dinner at the posh Torrey Pines resort in San Diego. 

This meeting, however, was not about politics. Instead, the younger Romney, who had been a senior adviser to his father, and Mr. Zwick presented the executive, John R. Miller, with a business proposition: the opportunity to invest in a private equity fund they were starting, Solamere Capital. 

Neither had experience in private equity. But what the close friends did have was the Romney name and a Rolodex of deep-pocketed potential investors who had backed Mr. Romneys presidential run  more than enough to start them down that familiar path from politics to profit. 

Two years later, despite a challenging fund-raising climate for private equity, Solamere, named after a wealthy enclave in Utahs Deer Valley where the Romneys have a winter home, finished raising its first fund. The firm blew past its $200 million goal, securing $244 million from 64 investors, including a critical, early $10 million from Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, and hefty commitments from wealthy supporters of the campaign. 

The small firm, including Tagg Romney, 42, Mr. Zwick, 32, and a third partner they brought in, Eric Scheuermann, 47, the only one with a private equity background, is in line to collect at least $16.8 million in fees over the first six years of the fund, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The firm has earned a 20 percent return since 2010, despite having invested only about half of its money so far. 

Ties To Romney in '08 Helped Fuel An Equity Firm (New York Times)

But the story of Bush's career in oil, which began following his graduation from Harvard Business School in the summer of 1975 and ended when he sold out to Harken and headed for Washington, is mostly about his failure to succeed, despite the sterling connections his lineage and Ivy League education brought him. 

Thanks to his and his family's ties to wealthy investors around the country, including prominent Republicans, Bush was repeatedly able to raise money to invest in oil drilling, especially when prices were booming and tax breaks were inviting in the late 1970s. But connections could not help with the tricky business of picking profitable holes to drill, and Bush never made a big score. 

In fact, Bush lost money for most of his well-connected investors. At the same time, the management fees and other expenses he collected from them kept him in business and enabled him to buy oil reserves for his company's own account, including the reserves that eventually attracted Harken's attention. 

Three times during his years in Midland, Bush was saved from financial trouble or stagnation by the appearance of new partners or financial angels who gave him a fresh start. One was a Princeton classmate and friend of James A. Baker III, who was to serve as his father's secretary of state; another was a fellow Yale man who shared Bush's love for baseball. 

Bush Name Helps Fuel Oil Dealings (Washington Post)

You want off-the-charts status? Check out the curriculum vitae of one Willard M. Romney: $200 million in the bank (and a hell of a lot more if he didnt give so much away), apex alpha executive, CEO, chairman of the board, governor, bishop, boss of everything hes ever touched. Son of the same, father of more. It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis  Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap. The offspring of rich families are statistically biased in favor of sons  the children of the general population are 51 percent male and 49 percent female, but the children of the Forbes billionaire list are 60 percent male. Have a gander at that Romney family picture: five sons, zero daughters. Romney has 18 grandchildren, and they exceed a 2:1 ratio of grandsons to granddaughters (13:5). When they go to church at their summer-vacation home, the Romney clan makes up a third of the congregation. He is basically a tribal chieftain.

Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.

From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it. He should get Michelle Obamas vote. You can insert your own Mormon polygamy joke here, but the ladies do tend to flock to successful executives and entrepreneurs. Saleh al-Rajhi, billionaire banker, left behind 61 children when he cashed out last year. We dont do harems here, of course, but Romney is exactly the kind of guy who in another time and place would have the option of maintaining one. Hes a boss. Given that we are no longer roaming the veldt for the most part, money is a reasonable stand-in for social status. Romneys net worth is more than that of the last eight U.S. presidents combined. He set up a trust for his grandkids and kicked in about seven times Barack Obamas net worth, which at $11.8 million is not inconsiderable but probably less than Romneys tax bill in a good year. If he hadnt given away so much money to his church, charities, and grandkids, Mitt Romney would have more money than Jay-Z.

Like a Boss (National Review)

Buffett has thought a great deal about these difficulties over the years, and he shared some of his plain-spoken philosophy in a question-and-answer session after the ceremony. At the moral level, Buffett does not believe anyone has the right to be as rich as he is. He described wealth on the scale he has accumulated as a "claim checks on the activities of others in the future"claim checks that he has long ago recognized would have to be returned to society rather than passed on to his descendants. He delayed giving away his money until now for two reasons. First, as a "fast compounder" (better than 20 percent average returns over the past 40 years), he could give a lot more if he waited. Second, as Gates more than anyone else has shown, successful philanthropy requires time and focus that is probably incompatible with hands-on management of a large-scale business. "It's a much tougher problem than amassing money," Buffett noted.

Buffett's views on the political subject of wealth are deeply American. Wealth like his can be justified temporarily as an expression of how much opportunity our social system affords. But passing it down across generations, he says, "flies in the face of a meritocratic society" and threatens to create the sort of aristocracy the founding fathers sought to prevent. Capitalism also falls short as a distribution mechanism  for billions of people who are not born lucky. These views explain not only Buffett's giving away his money but also his strenuous opposition to the Republican effort to abolish the estate tax. "I would argue that when your kids have all the advantages anyway, in terms of how they grow up  it's neither right nor rational to be flooding them with money," he told Carol Loomis of Fortune in his first interview this week. 

There's a human and personal dimension to this as well: Buffett didn't want to cripple his own children by raising them to expect a free ride. As he pointed out in response to a question Monday, people at his country club who complain about the debilitating effects of welfare should recognize that they're creating a cycle of dependency by giving their own kids "a lifetime supply and beyond of food stamps." Buffett has followed through on his beliefs. While he endows the philanthropic work of his children, he doesn't plan to leave them great personal wealth. One of his aphorisms is that you should leave your kids enough to do anything, but not enough to do nothing. 

Wealthy and Wise: Warren Buffet's Lesson to the Rich (Slate)

Three of the most visible members of the "lucky sperm club" are media moguls, Arthur Sulzberger of The New York Times, James Dolan of Cablevision and Madison Square Garden (the Knicks and Rangers, etc.), and Mark Mays of Clear Channel Communications (the largest owner of radio stations is the U.S). None of them would have or be able to keep his job if their families didn't own a controlling interest in the companies they run.

In 2006, when America's second-richest person, Warren Buffett, turned the majority of his fast fortune over to the charitable foundation of America's richest person, Bill Gates, he famously reiterated his strong opposition to handing over wealth to one's offspring who haven't earned it -- to members of what he refers to as the "lucky sperm club." The always quotable Buffett has said that letting sons or daughters run a family-owned company is akin to "choosing the 2020 Olympic team by picking the eldest sons of the gold-medal winners in the 2000 Olympics."

A new book titled Management Practice & Productivity: Why They Matter, is based on a study by Nick Bloom of Stanford University, Stephen Dorgan of McKinsey & Company, John Dowdy of McKinsey & Company, and John Van Reenen of the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics. Their research reinforces the complete folly of having an eldest son run a family business simply because he's a member of the lucky sperm club.

The authors of Management Practice & Productivity: Why They Matter write, "When the firms in our survey were grouped according to ownership type, we found pronounced differences in both management practice score and performance. Companies with dispersed ownership performed best, while organizations owned and run by their founders or members of the founder's family performed relatively poorly. Worst performing of all were family-owned firms run by the founder's eldest son..." 

The Media Lucky Sperm Club (Huffington Post)


I have used the male pronoun exclusively because the warlord model is almost exclusively comprised of men. I strongly suspect that according to evolutionary biology, we will find a correlation between conservative political views, social status, and number of male offspring. In my experience, this is anecdotally true - my principal has 5 sons, just like Romney. More liberal people tend to have daughters or no children. This hypothesis is easily enough tested, and hopefully will be by an enterprising evolutionary biologist.

An example of both operating simultaneously - the Roman upper echelon was a closed society driven by favors and patronage. Yet it administered the most vast and ethnically diverse citizenry in the ancient world, with uniform laws and institutions, and promotion though the ranks of the military and civil service from below based on competence was common in the late empire. And Genghis Khan, whose name is synonymous with warlord, chose generals on the basis of ability and recruited talented people from defeated enemies to be part of his operation, one reason behind his amazing success.


  1. Wow! Excellent analysis, truly a joy to read. You've really opened my eyes with this one. If you don't mind, I'm linking to this on FB and my blog, ( As a gay man, I've found myself in odd places when working for 'warlords'. I think my bosses did value my competence, and kept me close to them; but never quite let me in --- almost as if I was kept in a special/self-contained category all to my self, then discarded like so much trash once I was worn out. To quote the Roy Cohn character in Kushner's 'Angels in America', "Homosexuals have no clout".

    Again, Thank You! I am truly impressed.


  2. Amazing article.
    I now work for a start-uppy software company that has been run by the founders, mainly - until recently. The founders are real programming geeks, and they are definitely not thw warlord type. They created a company mission statement about "letting the best idea win," and creating a humanistic work environment, etc.

    Recently, they hired a new President who seems OK, and is very gung-ho. An ex-fighter pilot, no less. The culture is changing significantly, though the old-guard is still there. I can see the almost opposed, divergent worlds interacting: fighter jock vs. nerd. Sales-driven company versus geeky nerds. I am hoping, of course, that the nerds prevail, just like in the movie. But it's a great test tube.

    I think the USA varies greatly by region in terms of support for warlordism. Also by industry. Also, warlord-led companies inevitably implode, or under perform.

    But what happens when the warlords/barbarians attempt a wholesale takeover of the whole culture?
    I think there have been enough enclaves of what you call the bureaucratic mindset to at least preserve the values you espouse.

    I find it interesting that you chose the term bureaucracy as the name for one of the two types: the term has such a negative connotation to most Americans. But I dig it.

    Bureaucracies can also, of course, become feudal domains of power-hungry petty bureaucrats who completely neglect the original mission of the organization....

  3. The warlords AND the bureaucrats have taken over. Both suck. Surely there's gotta be a third way? And singing paeans for the bureaucrats, well, it rings pretty false... I am surprised you'd go for that.

  4. @ Robert: I would imagine since gays do not have the imperative to reproduce, they are much less likely to be warlords. They would be less likely, then, to be seen as a threat, but would be seen as something foreign.

    @ Publius & vera: Bureaucrat is a term of derision, true. My analysis was confined to organizations, which is why I chose the term. Now whether top-down, large scale, command-and-control organizations are good, well, that's another story outside of consideration here. I think we're stuck with some sort of leadership heirarchy for the time being, so the bureaucrat is merely the lesser of two evils. I didn't mean to lionize bureaucrats.

    I recall a story, although I've forgetten the background, about a Native American chief who was amazed that the highest-ranking people were those who had the biggest houses, most money, etc. He couldn't understand why the most admired people in white society were those who kept the most for themselves. In his culture, chiefs who were most esteemed were the poorest members of society, becaue they made sure everyone else had what they needed. They also led by talent and example; a bad chief would not be tolerated long, no matter who his parents were. That's the ideal.

  5. Congratulations, you've has stumbled over Altemyer's High Social Dominance Orientation personality type, which is one of the two types of authoritarian personalities. You can read about both in his free e-book. The High SDO type is discussed in Chapter 5, which is about Authoritarian Leaders.

    Also, you added the missing piece by adding in the fitness maximizing effect. I don't suppose you've read anything by Richard Alexander. If you haven't, you should. Full disclosure--he was on my Ph.D. committee.

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