Corrections to the blogosphere, the consensus, and the world

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Power

One aspect of the way the world works seems to me to have been very much underplayed in political science and management theory.

Let us imagine you are in a position of power. A proposal comes to your desk. One of the options is obviously sensible, is supported by the data, and comes with the recommendation of your experts. One is less satisfactory. One is plainly an almost total wipeout. What do you do?

If you do the sensible thing, you are doing what anyone could do. You don't need power for that. If you want to demonstrate to others that you have power, you have to take a decision that nobody in their right mind would take and push it through against unanimous opposition.

This is in some ways in line with the present trend in evolutionary biology, which explains survival handicaps such as the peacock's tail by hypothesizing that it is a way of demonstrating to potential mates or rivals that you have such potency that you can cope successfully with enormous self-imposed handicaps.

At some point this comes up against the imperatives of simple survival, but if you are Stalin or a top manager in a large corporation you have a very wide range of action before you reach this boundary.

If accepted, this theory explains quite a lot -- perhaps too much, in fact; as in evolutionary biology, it means that any decision, good or bad, can be accounted for under one arm of the theory, making it virtually irrefutable and in Popperian terms trivial.


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