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March 10, 2019

Comments

JWH

"All we can look for is to put round pegs in round holes. And this requires sober analysis, not wishful thinking."

Your post is incomplete - what is the nature of today's round hole and who is the politician that would best fit it?

E Kelowna

Great speech! Loved it.

Dipper

"The three worst decisions in the UK in the last 20 years – Blair’s war in Iraq, RBS’s takeover of ABM Amro and Cameron’s calling a Brexit referendum having created the conditions in which he might lose one – were all motivated in large part by overconfidence."

well, this is obviously not up to par as a diagnosis. It may be that all big decisions are motivated by over-confidence, and many of those pay off. Also, the last two of those decisions may have come from underconfidence in the leaders' ability to navigate the alternatives.

I'm reminded of a comment on capital ratios in banks. Too low, and you risk a quick death; too high and you guarantee a slow death. Perhaps that is the logic behind some of these decisions.

I think of all the available options Jess Phillips would be quite a good PM. By good, I mean better than average.

chris

@ Dipper. You're right. In fact, I've said myself that underconfidence has its own costs: https://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2015/12/costs-of-under-confidence.html
One issue here is the payoff structure. If upside is high & downside low, overconfidence is a good thing. If the upside is limited and the downside great, it's not. The decisions to go to war in Iraq or takeover ABN Amro both had limited upside but lots of downside (a view I don't think depends upon hindsight). It's in those cases that overconfidence is dangerous.

Twat dillow

"The three worst decisions in the UK in the last 20 years – Blair’s war in Iraq, RBS’s takeover of ABM Amro and Cameron’s calling a Brexit referendum having created the conditions in which he might lose one – were all motivated in large part by overconfidence."

Really? What is your evidence?

georgesdelatour

The reasons political parties choose their leaders have almost nothing to do with competence, as conventionally understood. The process is best understood in terms of game theory.

All political parties are coalitions of different groups, many of whom strongly disagree with each other on substantive matters. A supremely competent group X candidate will usually meet more vigorous opposition from group Y than an indifferent group X candidate. What group Y usually fears the most is the party becoming group X supremacist in character. They may even prefer losing an election to that.

John Major beat Michael Heseltine for the Tory leadership essentially because he wasn’t considered too worryingly effective. The “bastard” wing of the Tories feared Heseltine would establish a permanent “wet” supremacy. Major was just as wet as Heseltine, but at the time of the leadership election he seemed less forceful and effective in his wetness. It enabled him to become the “stop Heseltine” candidate of the anti-wets.

Competition also operates at the individual level. After David Cameron resigned, the pro-Brexit faction of the Tory party basically ruled itself out of leadership because neither Johnson nor Gove was prepared to allow the other to have the top job.

There’s also the “old Pope” principle. When the college of cardinals can’t agree on a new Pope, they usually choose the most senile candidate. The different factions assume he won’t do very much, but will buy them time to prepare for the next election in a few years time. I think the election of Jeremy Corbyn had an element of this. Probably the most disastrously misjudged example of this principle was the ascent to power of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. He was then 77. The leftist secular faction of the Iranian revolution assumed that Khomeini would be a temporary figurehead. Instead he ruled Iran forcefully for 10 years, and the country today is still living under his shadow.

Ultimately the selection process, however set up, will tend to reward dissimulators: people who can appear to be one thing to group X and another to group Y. That’s why poor compromise candidates like John Major and Teresa May often win.

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