When recruiting people for administration, administrators very reasonably look for past experience on the administration track. To him that has shall be given, to him that has not, even what little he has shall be taken away. However success at the lowest levels of the administration track is at best a poor indicator of intelligence, and in government, and in large schlerotic organizations choked on red tape, is a strong negative indicator of intelligence. Dumb people thrive in an environment where there are lots of committees, and lots of time is spent attending meetings.
This is a big problem with businesses that are immune from market pressures, businesses that like General Motors are too big to fail, with universities, and of course, with the biggest business of them all: Government. Professors of resentment studies are stupid. Government employees in management positions in the governing apparatus are really stupid, and are even more fireproof than professors of resentment studies.
Three cases that should be studied: The Challenger disaster, Washington Mutual, and Countrywide, where demonstrably stupid people were given power, catastrophically fouled up, and got into trouble for so doing. These are not the most stupid people of course, they are just the most stupid people doing stuff where stupidity can get you into trouble. In most areas of government, stupidity, such as letting the 9/11 hijackers do obviously suspicious stuff, will get you promoted. And no one can foul up resentment studies, even when resentment coursework leads to race hate gang rapes on campus. Recall that the Major Hasan case was supposedly not a tragedy because Hasan murdered a bunch of people. It was supposedly a tragedy because it might cause people to doubt that affirmative actioning Muslims into militarily sensitive positions of power was a good idea.So in looking at these cases, keep in mind that these cases are occurring where elite stupidity is likely to be the least severe, not where it is likely to be most severe. I am relying on unsympathetic investigations of disastrous stupidity, but stupidity is likely to be most severe in those areas where no amount of stupidity, no matter how disastrous the consequences, can get you into trouble and result in unsympathetic investigation.
Some people are going to say that because Mozillo and Killinger made hundreds of millions of dollars in the course of destroying their banks, they must be really smart people. But the smart people, the ones that knew that they were robbing the banking system blind, got the hell out in 2006, leaving people like Mozilo and Killinger to take the blame. There was a massive panic stricken exodus in late 2005, early 2006. Anyone that did not get out while the getting was good is stupid.
Consensus tends to be dominated by those who will not shift their purported beliefs in the face of evidence and rational argument, thus dominated by the evil and the insane, meaning by those who lie about what their beliefs are, and thus have purported beliefs that are unaffected by reality, and those who genuinely have beliefs unaffected by reality. To fit in with such a consensus, it helps if you are stupid. See the scientific debate on linguistic deep structure for a debate dominated by the evil, dominated by those for whom scientific theory was one more club with which to destroy their enemies in academic struggles over power and funding, and the scientific debate on red meat and animal fats in the human diet for a debate dominated by the insane, dominated by those for whom health means spiritual health, which is best obtained by not exploiting or oppressing animals. In both cases, stupidity, real or feigned, helps advance one’s scientific career. Too much smarts will incur the wrath of a small but fanatical group, which no sensible person is going to provoke.
To compensate for the fact that success at low levels of management is a poor filter for people of ability, businesses look to universities to select management track people for them, so that only the very smart get started on that track. But increasingly universities accredit people in much the same way that large bureaucratic organization gives people experience on the management track. You are required to sincerely believe six impossible things before breakfast every morning, and it is a lot easier for stupid people to sincerely believe, to fit in.
Observe that one can get a computer science degree from a name university, despite total lack of ability to write a non trivial program. Course material is no longer filtering out the less clever, and political correctness and general requirements for conformity are filtering out the clever. This is a problem even with engineering courses, and it is a much bigger problem with management track postgraduate courses. If someone has a management track postgraduate degree in engineering from an elite university, he is pretty much guaranteed to be stupid, relative to an engineer from a no name university who has successfully done some actual engineering at work – which is what we saw happening in the Challenger disaster: Management track engineers not only did not want to believe the disturbing reports submitted by engineering track engineers, but were unable to understand those reports.
And that is what happened with the Challenger disaster: Murray signed off on a report by Lund that said that the Challenger was going to explode, but never understood what he was signing off on.
The lesson of the Challenger disaster is that a postgraduate engineering degree in management is like a postgraduate science degree in interdisciplinary studies: It is a degree in Stupid.
Since low level administrative experience does not select for intelligence, administrators rely on universities to filter for intelligence – but universities are not filtering for intelligence either. Increasingly, university degrees are degrees in Stupid, for example resentment studies degrees, interdisciplinary studies degrees, and even degrees in Smart, for example computer science degrees, let an alarming number of stupid people through the filter. An awful lot of Computer Science graduates just cannot write a non trivial program.
In the case of the Challenger disaster, the people who knew the Challenger was going to blow up, and wrote reports saying so, were engineers trained on the engineering track. At university they studied engineering problems. At work, they held their jobs on the ability to solve engineering problems. The people who did not know, and did not want to know, that the Challenger was going to blow up, were engineers who did postgraduate work on the business management track, trained to manage engineers, not to themselves engineer, and their careers were from the very beginning in management – they went directly from university to low level management. As managers, they were judged not on their ability to solve engineering problems, but on their ability to solve people problems – and if you are smarter than your boss, it is a problem.
If we look at Kerry Killinger, CEO of Washington Mutual, we find that Washington Mutual had reports saying that it was going to collapse, because its borrowers could only pay their mortgages by flipping their houses, so as soon as housing prices stopped rising, Washington Mutual’s mortgages would collapse, just as NASA had reports saying that the Challenger was going to explode, which reports were, of course, ignored. Let us look at Kerry Killinger’s resume, leading to his job as CEO. It is all that he served on the X committee, and was Chairman of the Y committee. Committees work by consensus, so tend to be dominated by the evil and the insane, so it helps to be stupid to fit in. His management background was a career in the track that tends to most strongly select for stupidity, conformity, and willingness to conform to what is stupid, evil and insane. Kerry Killinger came from a management track where ability to ignore reality is a major asset, and led his company to disaster by ignoring reality.
The Countrywide disaster was in large part caused by affirmative action, and by selection for true believers in affirmative action, which is to say, for stupid people. The CEO, Angelo R. Mozilo, was an affirmative action hire, and also a sincere believer in affirmative action lending. His bank became large and powerful in part by making special loans to politicians and regulators, in part by enthusiastically making loans to the supposedly oppressed, in other words, entirely by left wing politics. He made an enormous number of “VIP loans” to fellow leftists in positions of power. Since left wing politics requires sincere belief in no end of ridiculous stuff, leftists tend to be stupid, even when they do not affirmative action dimwits into power among themselves.
Angelo Mozilo is a particular case that affirmative action people in power tend to be stupid, and that leftists tend to be stupid. That leftists tend to be stupid is the most important case of the problem that those whose path to power went through committees tend to be stupid, evil, and insane.
Success in low level administration fails to filter out the stupid people, and is apt to filter out the smart people. So administrators rely on universities to filter smart people onto the administration track, and filter stupid people off that track. Unfortunately universities are no longer effectively filtering smart people in and stupid people out, as demonstrated by the fact that degrees in resentment studies, interdisciplinary studies, post graduate management studies courses for engineers, and so on and so forth are usually degrees in Stupid, are usually a reliable indicator of a stupid person, and that even among people with degrees in Smart, a substantial minority are stupid. Something like one third of Computer Science graduates just cannot write a non trivial program.