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Category: Leadership Page 1 of 4

The Hard Problem of Leadership: Scale and Good Leaders

This Post is by Purple Library Guy, aka Rufus Polson

Ian – this is elevated from the comments on my post, “The Hard Problem of Leadership.The problems of leadership are scaling (for example, Athenian style direct democracy doesn’t scale, nor do city states), and selecting good leaders.

I have thought about this problem a lot. As a leftist, I come at it largely from noticing the two main strands of left wing thought–the relatively centralized state-oriented socialist strand, and the anarchist variety with its tendency to decentralized direct democracy. Both have fundamental problems of leadership.

But I have concluded that the distinction between the kind of leadership problem which is all about crappy leaders, and the kind of leadership problem wherein the governance doesn’t scale, are not mirror images. They are fundamentally different in kind. And what I have concluded is that the first kind of problem is insoluble: it is essential to any kind of large polity with powerful individual or small group leadership. It comes from the creation of a distinction between rulers and ruled, which results in the rulers having different interests, attitudes and culture, and information from the ruled. Almost inevitably they rule for the rulers (generally including some technocratic group that participates in rulership) rather than for the citizens. Furthermore, just because any civilization is made up mostly of the people, not the rulers, inevitably the rulers’ self-dealing and ignorance about the situation lower down are bad for the polity’s health and will pile up what Marx called “contradictions”. I could argue this at length, but for this discussion I’ll just assume it; I would like to note that individual leaders CAN occasionally resist all these factors and do good things, it’s just really bloody rare and tends to require major popular pressure to also exist. There are just mighty damn few Hugo Chaveses.

But the second kind, the problem that systems along the lines of direct democracy do not scale, is NOT insoluble. It’s a technical problem. And it’s a technical problem which has confronted hierarchical systems as well–they’ve just solved it better. This may be partly because solving this problem for direct-democratic, relatively leaderless systems is harder. It is probably also just that there has been a lot more work put into solving the problem for hierarchies. Just in the time I’ve been alive, organizations have gotten a lot better at doing hierarchy, allowing bigger transnational corporations, incredibly complex “project management” with special software assisting the processes, sophisticated communication technologies and so on. There are masses of software products for helping hierarchies organize, endless “business schools” dedicated to researching and teaching people how to effectively dominate subordinates and make large hierarchies effective, and so on and on.

But in a broad sense, many of these technologies would also be useful for creating a non-hierarchical, direct democratic organization that scaled. I have in fact figured out how to do it.

Before I describe it I’d like to talk briefly about why failing to scale is in fact a crippling problem. There are two reasons. The most important is, if you have a governance type that does not scale and you are opposed by a governance type that does scale, you lose. There’s no point in having lots of lovely little societies which then get assimilated by the Borg, or the Romans, or whoever else out-organized you. The second is that there are actually things that a large organization can do that are useful that a bunch of little ones can’t. For instance, there’s standards: Imagine you have a group of 30 anarchist towns, and they all use different railway gauges and electrical plugs and USB-like-thingies and http protocols. Besides that, there are projects that people might want to do which require mobilizing a lot of resources, like big bridges, or long railways that don’t break off at every town that decided they didn’t want to bother, or space exploration, or co-ordinated action against climate change. But really, the key problem is that decentralized small-scale organizations get eaten by large scale organizations. Anarchists know it’s true, they just can’t hack the leadership problems of centralized socialism so they pretend (centralized socialists know the anarchist critique of socialist leadership issues is true, but they want to win, dammit, so they pretend too).

So, how do you do it? How do you scale direct democracy and break the “iron law of oligarchy” and so on? Well, the fundamental problem with direct democracy as it gets larger scale is that of information/decision overload–people can’t be involved with all the decisions, there are too many. But consider that this is a problem with autocratic/oligarchic rule as well–one man at the top cannot possibly be involved in all decisions all the way to the bottom of the pyramid. There have been an amazing number of schemes dedicated to allowing the general will of rulers to be transmitted, so that all the little individual decisions follow that general will without the rulers having to pay attention to them. None have been perfect, hence the phenomenon of micromanagement and the tendency of organizations to subvert the intent of particularly annoying management decisions. But they work pretty effectively.

I have a group of ideas and principles for getting past this problem. The first is to separate the idea of any given person actually being involved in every decision from their right to be involved in that decision. In my scheme, most people aren’t involved in most decisions–but they could be if they wanted to, so if some group is making a decision that affects a lot of people and pisses them off, they can join that decision-making group and contribute to making that decision different.

The second is distributed, nested decision making and the principle that bigger groups’ decisions trump littler groups’ decisions. So, say there’s a group of people who work in a salmon hatchery on some stream. They’ve got a little decision making group for deciding how to run the salmon hatchery–but note that anyone can join it, they don’t HAVE to be working at the salmon hatchery. There is a broader group that is a decision making group about how to do things about the stream; it has sub-groups like the hatchery group, the sport fishing group, the marina association and stuff. There is a broader group than that for the whole regional watershed. OK, so, say the sport fishing group is deciding to allow some practice which is going to be a problem for the salmon spawning. The majority vote in that group is to allow that practice. But! A minority can vote to kick it upstairs; if say 30% or something think that this decision shouldn’t be made just by the sport fishing people, the proposal gets moved to the stream group–all the subgroups will now see the issue and vote on it. If the stream group think it’s too hot to handle it can get moved to the watershed group. So a vote by the stream group would overrule a vote by just the hatchery group, and a vote by the whole watershed group would overrule a vote by the stream group. Ultimately, a vote by the whole country overrules everything smaller. This turns on its head the autocratic approach in which decisions by smaller groups higher up overrule larger groups lower down.

Related to this, my approach suggests that in general, people should be expected to serve in a few decision making groups, and groups should generally have a few people randomly assigned to them by lot, like jury duty. This helps prevent little closed groups from getting insular about their decisions.

My approach requires substantial use of modern communications technology and software to help decisions get made. This allows for various factors that make even theoretically democratic organization turn oligarchic to be eliminated. Specifically, it escapes the agenda and the ability of someone to literally set the agenda, to define just what decisions get made and how they are framed. So the process at the level of a decision making group goes like this: Someone in the group identifies an issue that needs to be decided on. They submit an issue description and maybe a couple of possible decisions that could get made about it, to the group. A timer starts. There is a conversation thread about the issue, and anyone in the group can add decision options, so you end up with a few proposals of action that could be taken. When the time is up, the proposals are frozen and people can vote (also with a time limit). The vote is some kind of ranked choice setup, and the winning proposal is adopted. This avoids a problem often seen in US state-level voting on issues, where some group gets to carefully define a proposed solution, and you end up either getting their self-serving solution or you get nothing, so whatever issue isn’t dealt with at all. With this kind of software a decision making group needs no leader–anyone can initiate proposals, nobody can control an issue once it is raised. The software doesn’t currently exist, but lots of social software of equivalent or greater complexity does–it shouldn’t be that hard.

With this, it should be possible to have an organization in which small scale or specialized decisions get made at the small scale, but rarer, broader decisions to mobilize social resources on a larger scale can be made by larger groups, with no hierarchies, leadership or class structure required.


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The Hard Problem of Leadership

We have lived under representative democracy for a long time now, and while it has had its victories and there have been good leaders, it’s fair to say that most of the leadership, most of the time, has been bad or even evil, and that representative democracy has failed its biggest test—managing climate change and environmental collapse.

This is a Green Age After the Collapse Article. You can read the others (this is the fourth), here.

The other forms of leadership we’ve tried since the invention of agriculture have all, likewise, been more bad than good or have failed to scale well enough to protect themselves. Kingship, rank societies, big man societies, feudalism, imperialism, direct democracy and so on. On the economic side, when it’s not identical to the political, we’ve also tended to choose bad leaders, whether they were merchant lords, corporate CEOs and boards, guild masters or slavers. Most systems work well for a few generations, then fall apart. Seven generations when you’re lucky, more commonly three, as with neoliberalism.

Just thinking back over my life, I can’t think of a President who wasn’t doing more evil than good. This even includes Carter, who was the neoliberal leader before neoliberalism. The case for every other President is clear: Obama, for example, ramped up drone assassinations and encouraged the banks to steal people’s homes without the necessary paperwork, while massively ramping up shale oil and gas production and bragging about it.

As for corporate leadership, the idea that Musk, Bezos, Gates, and the various banking CEOs and so far are good leader is ludicrous. They are, to be sure, successful, but the society they have created is heading towards catastrophe. Even when you look at a man many worship, like Steve Jobs, you find a mixed legacy at best. Jobs opus was the smartphone. And while it’s a marvelous piece of technology, when you look at the actual literature of the effect of smart phones, it’s that the more you use one, the less real friends you have and the more unhappy you are.

And the weird thing is that Jobs didn’t even invent the underlying breakthrough, which is to say the graphical GUI, any more than Gates invented the PC (Jobs has a better shot there). And the people who make the most money out of the internet and the world wide web didn’t invent either of those things—both were invented by government supported researchers.

What Jobs and co did is bring certain ideas to scale, which is necessary if the idea should be brought to scale. But there are many different ways that an idea can be scaled and it may not require the sort of psychopathy that is common to corporations; that is, indeed, part of their DNA.

Leadership is one of the few core problems: if we can’t get it right, we can’t get anything right, because almost everything is downstream from our decisions as a species, and our leaders, whoever they are, make the most important decisions.

We have to select leaders better, or we’ll never live in good societies for any length of time, and those of us who do luck out and live in one, will indeed, just be the recipients of luck.

I’m going to write about this more, soon. The next step will be talking about Plato and the book of his everyone loves to hate, The Republic.

Because Plato’s specific solution might be repulsive to almost everyone, but he was trying to answer the right question, and we need to understand why we hate his answer, and if we’re right to do so.

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The Essential Political Skill For Ordinary People

Is knowing who to trust.

The people were right to trust FDR and probably right to trust Eisenhower, for example. (Truman was a much worse president than his reputation.)

Clinton and Obama could not be trusted, both made things considerably worse for their rank and file followers and did so deliberately.

We’re about a third of the way there: a lot of ordinary people have realized they can’t trust ordinary elites. They’re increasingly open to people who don’t feel like the normal politician.

This is behind Brexit, Trump, the rise of LaPen in France. It was behind Corbyn’s rise and how well Sanders did.

But there are large gaps. Distrusting the neoliberal technocrats who joined the EU and slowly immiserated almost all of Britain outside of parts of London made sense, but turning to Boris Johnson indicated monumental bad judgment. I think Brexit could have been a boon, but not run by Boris and the Conservatives, because what they objected to in the EU was the good stuff, not the evil.

In America, people turned to Trump, who presented himself as a right winger FDR: the class traitor who knows how the system works but is out for ordinary people. (Although religious fundamentalists who voted for him were right to trust him. He’s not Christian in any meaningful way, but he delivered for them.)

Corbyn was a good sign: but ordinary people proved susceptible to a propaganda campaign. They trusted the media, which lied about 80% of the time with respect to Corbyn, and then they trusted Starmer, who could not have been elected Labour leader if he had not embraced most of Corbyn’s policies: which he has since walked back and which a pre-schooler should have known he never believed in, nor intended to honor.

In a democracy you can’t be well led if you won’t support people who have your best interests at heart. It’s just that simple.

Now it’s true that elites have spent a lot of time and money building a media, intellectual and educational apparatus designed to make sure that people don’t learn good judgement in their childhood and if they stumble across a good judgement in their adulthood don’t stick with it. This isn’t precisely ordinary people’s “fault” but they, we, have to fix it, because sure as hell our elites won’t.

Every society has leaders. Even relatively egalitarian societies. It’s up to us to learn how to pick and support good ones.

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The Features of Good Leadership In Societies & Large Groups

Leaders have power. They often don’t have to care what happens to most people, because those people can neither help nor hurt them. As a result, most leaders act badly, and hurt great numbers of people.

There are three qualities you need in a good leader of large groups.

1) kindness to people who can never help or hurt them. This is the origin of seeing how people treat waiters or other service staff.

The problem with this test is that a lot of people want to be liked by everyone they meet and are good at making it happen. Bill Clinton was famous for making everyone he met feel important. He also signed the bill slashing Welfare and did various other things that hurt many Americans and people overseas, in particular imposing murderous sanctions on Iraq and bombing a pharmaceutical factory.

Still, it’s the first test. It’s less important than the second and third qualities.

2) concern for the affect of their actions on people they will never even meet.

Most people a leader will affect he or she will never meet. So they have to care about people they don’t know, or they won’t try and do right by them. Almost no major politician alive passes this test. Jeremy Corbyn did: he cared about everyone.

3) Willingness to take away the power of bad actors, even if that hurts them.

If you care about everyone and won’t hurt a fly, you can’t deal with people who do harm. This was Corbyn’s flaw: he wouldn’t remove staffers and MPs who stood in direct opposition to his policies and beliefs and who made it clear  they wanted to do him nothing but harm. The staffers took deliberate actions to make Labor lose the election and in 2017 the margin of loss was so small that Corbyn would probably have been Prime Minister if they hadn’t.

MPs could have been re-selected (made to undergo primaries when the majority of those voting were left-wing, to oversimplify) en-masse, but Corbyn never did that either. If he had, Labour would still be controlled by the left and would eventually back into power, whether Corbyn was leader or not. Instead Keir Starmer has done what Corbyn wouldn’t, and purged the party (of left wingers in his case) and, in fact, will probably back into power not because he is liked at all, but because people are sick of Johnson and the Tories.

The task of any form of selection of who leads is to select good leaders. It is clear that representative democracy does not do so, and so we need to find a better way. This is true of groups we don’t consider governmental, but which really are, like corporations, as well.


The Psychological Difficulty of Radicalization

“Radical” is a slur word in most of our discourse. “A radical” is someone who thinks society needs truly fundamental changes. If you are a democrat in a monarchy or a one-party state, you’re a radical. If you believe in equal rights in a state with rights based on rank, you’re a radical. If you believe in fascism in a democratic state, you are also a radical, and if you want to go back to women not having the vote and blacks only being able to vote in theory, you’re a radical, though we tend to call that style of radical a reactionary or sometimes a Republican.

Another kind of radical, perhaps the most common in our society, though still rare, is the type that believes that capitalism has to go away; that fundamental economic relationships shouldn’t be determined through markets controlled by capitalists. (You can be for markets, and against capitalism, weirdly, though it’s rare.)

It’s clear our societies have failed. We pretend they haven’t because the final collapse hasn’t happened, but that’s like saying that the Titanic hadn’t sunk after it hit the iceberg. Technically true, but believing it will get you hurt, bad. Might be good if other people believe it, though, while you sprint for the lifeboats.

The argument for this is tedious, and I’ve made it many times so I won’t bother here.

In the face of a failed society, trust in leaders is insane. Crazed. They’ve obviously run society off a cliff, and they either are okay with that or are incompetent, or both. (And the smart ones are selling you the line that everything is okay while they sprint for the lifeboats: a.k.a., New Zealand.)

For over ten years now I’ve been telling Americans to get out. Oh, it’s not that the US is the only developed nation heading for failed state status — for all intents and purposes there are no exceptions, not even Sainted New Zealand, but the US is one of the leaders in the failed-state race (Britain’s another), and I have a lot of American readers. If you’re going to have everything go sideways into a propeller, better later than sooner.

But most Americans won’t or can’t get out, and Musk and Bezo’s dreams of escape to space aren’t going to happen for humanity en-masse, not in time.

We’re all in a big ship, and it’s going down. Some areas are already underwater, others will be soon, and the entire thing is going to sink.

And we have no lifeboats. We could, perhaps, have built some, if we’d started 30 to 40 years ago with massive investments, but we didn’t, and if our leaders were that able, they’d have been able to save the ship, since that’s when they had to act.

But this article isn’t about how “we are fucked,” it’s about how “too many of us refuse to admit it and that it means we need radical change.”

And one of the big reasons for this is the need for “Daddy.” One of the big hurdles preventing radicalization is that becoming radicalized means you realize you can’t trust your leaders at all. That they have fucked up, betrayed you, or both. That they are bad, evil people who not only aren’t acting in your best interest, but are your enemies.

I’ve been pounding this issue for a couple  years, and some regular readers are probably sick of it. I am.

But it matters. If you don’t accept, psychologically and intellectually, who your enemies are, you can’t protect yourself from them. If you don’t accept, psychologically and intellectually, that your leaders are your enemies, you can’t properly take action on your own, with friends, family, and other groups — because at some level, you’re still thinking that government or corporations will come through and take care of things.

All your life, government and corporations have taken care of you. They’ve often been abusive parents, but they have made sure there’s food available to buy, streets to walk and drive on, laws, jobs, etc, etc. They run almost everything and you’re dependent on them for almost everything just like  you were dependent on your parents and teachers when you were a child.

Bad parents still feed and house you. They’re monsters, but monsters who kept you alive. Children love their abusive parents even as they fear and hate them, and the same screwed up psychology pertains to business and government leaders, and those they lead.

An entire life’s conditioning works against radicalization in anyone for whom the system has even slightly worked.

But the fact of the matter is that if we want to handle climate change, environmental collapse, or any of our other problems (“handle” doesn’t mean “stop,” but many problems are essentially trivial, and could be fixed any time our leadership wants to, like health care or spam calls), that means we need radical change. We need to change our system completely, and we need to get rid of our entire current leadership class, all of whom have proved their incompetence and ill will.

That’s radical. That’s a leap.

And that’s hard.

But acknowledging that there will be no real help from above until radical change happens is necessary, for the world, and if we can’t change them before they defenestrate themselves after trying to shove us all out the window first, to protect and care for yourselves in the face of a malign government and corporate class.

Corporate and government daddies and mommies aren’t going to save you. They’re the ones hurting you. They’re the ones making your life hell and destroying your world.

Accept that at your core.


The Art of Measurement

I want to talk a bit about management measurement. I recently spent a number of years in a good sized multinational, and I watched management trying to gain control through measurement. And mostly I watched as they gained the wrong sort of control; as they crystallized behaviour in ways that lose more from employees than they gained.

(This is an old, old piece, one of the few I saved from BOPnews. Originally written in 2004 back when I was still corporate. Since almost no one will have read it, and those who do won’t remember it, here it is again. I’m putting it back up because it relates fairly closely to the recent article on the lack of belief in good and why incentives rarely work.)

When you’re dealing with small numbers of people, simple measurements are all you need, and indeed the time spent measuring can be a simple waste of time. For larger groups, and as management becomes disassociated from the actual work of the organization, measuring is necessary so that management knows what is happening and can modify it. The old saying (which I’m sick of) is that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” It’s a statement with a lot of truth to it, but so is this – “you measure what you manage, so you’d better be sure you’re measuring what you want to manage.”

Here’s an example. A friend of mine used to do customer support for laptops. He was measured on how long he was on the phone and how quickly he picked up. If he spent too long on the phone on average, then he was taken aside and reprimanded. These measurements encouraged tech support employees to get people off the phone as quickly as possible, whether their problem was solved or not. Assuming management actually wanted happy customers (ie, that they saw tech support as a way to sell the next laptop, rather than something they had to do as cheaply as possible) then the way to measure this would be to have an automatic survey at the end of the phone call, asking how satisfied the client is. Since there will always be jerks who are never happy with phone support, you set the threshold at a certain percentage of “unhappy” customers and then if someone goes over that you investigate. To keep productivity up you measure phone time and compare to satisfaction ratios and (horrors) investigate individual reps who spend more time than normal on the phone, then coach them individually on how to solve problems with less chit-chat while still keeping the customer happy.

I’m going to discuss five issues related to measurement. The first is the problem of measuring what you can easily measure. Simply put, it may be more difficult to measure some things than others. Management tends to measure those things that are easy to measure. In a call center there are plenty of systems which will allow you to track a wild variety of phone stats, but you can’t measure one CSR helping another with a call. In sales you can measure how many sales a salesman makes and how much they’re worth, but it’s more difficult to measure whether he’s made verbal promises your company will have trouble living up to. You can measure the number of code lines a programmer put out, but it’s harder to measure how easy they will be to maintain down the line.

This is often a systems issue. Whatever the system assists your employees to do, is easy to measure. So if you have a system that presents work items, and which employees close those work items, it’s easy to measure how fast they’re doing them. But what if some work items are harder than others? And what happens to those employees who are taking calls or e-mails you can’t track and are helping customers or other employees with those problems – is that behaviour you don’t want to encourage? Because if you’re measuring only processing times then those who do other things will be measured as less productive. So they stop helping customers, and soon you have a reputation as having unresponsive employees who never want to take time to help people.

And this leads to the second issue, which is what I call Putting your Fingers Down. Another way of putting it, is “you get the behaviour you measure.” If a job involves 10 activities, and you publicly measure only 5 of them, your employees will gravitate towards those activities. It often seems obvious what an employee does. Let’s say you have repair techs in a retail store and you decide to measure their productivity by measuring how many appliances they repair. Sounds good eh? Productivity increases and you’re happy.

Until you start getting complaints that the repair techs don’t want to talk to customers, and that when they do all they seem to want to do is get away from them. You also hear that some techs are taking easy repairs and leaving the hard repairs for others, who put them off, because that boosts their stats. So easy repairs are getting done fast, the hard ones are getting done slower, and customers aren’t getting individual personal attention any more, so they aren’t happy. That worked well!

Which leads to what I call the The Limits of Coercion. Public measurement is a form of coercion. The idea is to measure people and then push them to do better and get rid of the ones who don’t measure up. You put your fingers down and say, “do this!” And you can absolutely do it. Whatever behaviour you are able and willing to take the time to measure, you can and will get. But what you can’t get is positive cooperation. You can’t make people do the extra things. And people resent the wrong type of measurement. The problem is that you as management think you understand the job. Problem is, unless you still do it yourself, you probably don’t. Outside of the sort of jobs that are truly subject to Taylorization, most jobs require a myriad of little tasks and if people don’t do them, the overall job suffers. If you start measuring the wrong specific things then people’s attitude when you pull them in for a talk is “I’m doing fine on the stats you said you want, I don’t have time for the other stuff.”

The other problem is that people subvert the measurements. There are almost always ways to make the numbers come out better than they should, and people will take the time to find them and do them. Which leads to the fourth issue, the question of “Public metrics and private metrics.” Simply put, when you’re setting up metrics you should first find out which metrics track each other; figure out why they track each other; and measure both sets. But one set you keep private and the other is the public set. If the private set starts diverging from the public set then you should investigate if people are fiddling with the public set. Odds are they are.

But the real, final point is that you should be looking for your “Bottom Line Metrics”. In a call center it might be the percentage of happy callers divided by the average time per call. In a processing center I once worked in the VP (a very wise man) used to publicly (I’m sure privately he had a number of measurements which had to remain satisficed) measure only one thing – the average time from a piece of work entering the center to the time it left. He didn’t measure any specific processing times – only how well the center was working overall. If that number went up he’d want to know why, and when he wanted it to go down he let people tell him how they were going to get it down, not the other way around. The center ran very well. When he left his successor started putting his fingers down and both customer satisfaction and employee happiness declined.

In the end you should ask yourself “what are we trying to accomplish?” Then you publicly measure that, and only that. It may seem that you want to do multiple things, but in most cases you can boil it down to one thing – as with the customer service center where happiness was divided by call times. You want people to go away happy after their call with the least time necessary to make them happy. If you can’t break it down then you either don’t understand what the job actually entails (or what your division or company does) or you may need to break the work into different functional groups.

Finally, don’t fall into the MBA trap. As a manager you probably don’t really know what your employees are doing. You probably don’t really understand what is required to do the job well. However unless you’ve beaten them down too hard, or you’ve got a crew of reprobates, most people want to do a good job. Most people want to be able to say “damn, we’re good!” Don’t treat them like untrustworthy children, and you may find that they’re on your side and that measuring only the bottom line, on the minimum, is sufficient. When you go to war with your employees and try and measure every specific behaviour, generally both sides lose.

(Originally published in 2004 at BopNews. Republished April 17, 2009.)

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The Simplest Explanation for Western Decline

Is just…this:

Similar numbers can be found in most fields.

This is related to the computer productivity paradox: Computers and the telecom revolution have not noticeably increased productivity.

The reason is simple enough — they weren’t used to create productivity, they were used to create control, to allow managers to micromanage employees without actually being in the presence of the employee all the time.

No society can stay healthy with this sort of admin bloat; admin are support, meant to help the people who actually do the job. If your tooth-to-tail ratio is higher than 2:1 or 3:1, something’s probably wrong.

In my personal life, at my last megacorp job I saw multiple waves of computer “improvements.” Every single one of them increased control and reduced the workload employees could handle. I know this for a fact because I measured it, in part because it was my job, in part because management refused to admit that their shiny new programs were actually slowing productivity, and, until I forced them to admit it, they wouldn’t  hire more people.

Furthermore, each wave of “upgrade” de-skilled the job further, making the employees do what the computer said, and removing their discretion. All of this was intended to raise the bottom, but what it mostly did was lower the top; the most productive, most highly-skilled employees suffered the greatest productivity losses, were the most unhappy, and tended to leave, because the job had become semi-automated, and no longer involved actually doing the job.

As a general rule, no one should run something like a hospital who is not still involved in hands-on client care — probably a nurse or doctor. No one should run a university who is not either still teaching or an active student. This principle can be applied more generally, in that no one can properly manage anything they still don’t do. This is often recognized in the business literature, but, understandably, CEOs and executives almost never want to actually perform the real work of the business, nor will they excuse themselves from interfering with those who do and, thus, actually understand what is needed.

At most, upper management can set general goals. They should never be in charge of deciding how to achieve them. This is the opposite of how we run things, but it wasn’t always entirely so: Auto and plane companies used to be run by engineers, insurance companies by underwriters and actuaries, hospitals by nurses and doctors, and universities by Senates of Professors.

One issue is that front line workers often really want to do front line work: Professors don’t want to administer, they want to teach or do research, doctors want to treat patients, etc.

But if you give administrators power over you, you never get it back. University Senates hired administrators, and a few decades later discovered the administrators were running the show, were able to order profs around, and were the highest paid people in the university (outside of the football coach), while doing no actual teaching or research, and understanding little to nothing.

It is also important to understand that while it’s certainly better if you have done the front-line job at some point, that you lose that knowledge quickly. Ten years out, and you’re clueless — you’re just another administrator. Managers and executives have to keep their hands in, or they wind up clueless.

Bottom line: We can’t afford to let anything important be run by people who aren’t actually practitioners. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they spend most of their time building bureaucratic empires that do nothing but act as modern courtiers. In the best case, they do no harm other than sucking up resources, but in most cases they try to justify their existence by trying to tell the front lines how to do their jobs and make things worse.

If we want to fix our society we have to get rid of this admin bloat, along with the cluelessness it represents.

But what usually happens, instead, is some form of societal collapse, which strips out administrators in a more brutal and effective fashion.

That’s what where we’re headed.

(My writing helps pay my rent and buys me food. So please consider subscribing or donating if you like my writing.)

The Spread of New Covid Variants

There is a variant of Covid, called Lambda, which started in Peru in August, and is now showing up in multiple countries, including the UK and Canada. How dangerous it is is uncertain: It has some changes that might make it better able to avoid antibodies, but studies so far are inconclusive.

The spread of new variants beyond their initial country, however, is something which shouldn’t happen. Very few countries are quarantining properly. Where I live in Canada, quarantine is essentially voluntary: There’s a fine if you don’t, and people who can afford to travel can often afford the fine, plus not everyone gets fined.

This is ridiculous; quarantine should be mandatory, and if you break it, you get slammed back in with a guard on your door, and afterwards you get a trial and are thrown in prison. As a friend noted, if you aim a gun at someone and pull the trigger, but it turns out the gun wasn’t loaded, you still committed a crime even if you didn’t know it was loaded or not.

When the virus and virus variants spread, they have more chances to mutate further. It may be that Lambda’s changes in spike protein aren’t enough to defeat the mRNA vaccines yet, but the next variation off Lambda’s base might be.

Delta, likewise, should never have spread out of its country of origin.

We also do quarantine badly. Hotel quarantine is ridiculous in most hotels, because Covid is airborne and most hotels spread air between rooms.

This isn’t a difficult problem, however. Build a bunch of small huts in a field (you can even stack them), each with its own ventilation, and put people in there. Pre-fab companies and militaries are great for this. Build a fence around it and bring people food and have public health nurses visit every day. This is relatively cheap and keeps people from breathing each other’s germs, if set up with a bit of care. Have a few military police guard the place, that will keep most people from running.

We have a pandemic turning into a plague (in the words of Umair Haque) because we have refused to take this seriously, all the way down the line. I know someone in Canada who got Covid, was told to quarantine, and no one else in the shared house in which they lived was contacted or told to quarantine. This is kindergarten level incompetence — truly shocking.

None of this was necessary. If we had properly shut down and not reopened too early, if we had actually tracked and traced, and had supported every country in the world to do this, while spreading vaccine knowledge around (all the garbage about how long it would have taken looks stupider and stupid, now that we’re up 16 months or so), we’d probably have it down to a few pockets now, at most, and would be back to our “normal” lives.

Instead, we have a disease that looks likely to be chronic and to keep mutating, which vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna will offer expensive booster shots to for years or decades.

Back at the start of the pandemic, Moderna was worth 80 billion; it could and should have been eminent domained.

And, as I pointed out at the start of the pandemic, all loans and mortgages should have been put in abeyance, including interest growth, and everyone who wasn’t essential should have been paid to stay home. Rich companies should have subsidized poor countries to do the same.

Blah, blah, blah. We’ve fucked up everything — really simple things that are part of how to handle a disease, things which were understood 500 years ago. Well, fucked up if you aren’t in the top .1 percent and have made out like bandits.

New Covid variants are happening and spreading because, overall, and especially in the West, our leaders are acting to make them spread.

If someone you care about died in anything other than the first wave (and even that is questionable), then your leaders are almost certainly responsible for that death. They refused to take the necessary actions to stop it. There are some exceptions (outbreaks which were stomped on quickly), but basically, almost all dead people after the first wave are the result of political malfeasance, rich people’s greed, and sheer bloody incompetence.

Rich people and politicians kill and impoverish you for money and pleasure. Covid is just a particularly stark reminder.

(Virtually everyone dying due to climate change heat waves and fires is also a victim of politicians and rich people. More on that later.)

(My writing helps pay my rent and buys me food. So please consider subscribing or donating if you like my writing.)

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