Monday, October 20, 2008

Why 'Leaders' Aren't Smart

Tina Fey was on Letterman, and when asked about Sarah Palin, said:
I see her and think she's as smart as I am. I want someone smarter than that in the White House

I think it is very naive to see leaders as needing to be very smart: they need to be slightly above average, no more. They are good at what they do, but that necessarily does not involve smarts. How you can read Hillary Clinton's book, It Takes a Village, and think this woman is smart? A smart person couldn't have faked such patronizing banalities no matter how hard they tried.

I bet a leader's optimal IQ is about 125, dropping off at both ends rather quickly. I find it funny when all these hyper intelligent wonks who write for political punditry magazines try to delve into politician's psyche as if they are trying to decipher Fermat's margin notes. They usually paint their guy as a genius, meaning, he articulates policies they support in a way that does not generate ridicule or indifference, as when they argue them in their general columns. Morons, meanwhile, believe in policies they don't like.

Remember, Bush is widely lambasted as an idiot, but his grades were better than both Kerry and Gore's. Based on his SATs his IQ was estimated around 124, and I bet most politicians, even successful ones, are around there. Reading about George Washington or Calvin Coolidge (my political heroes), I'm not so much struck by their brilliance, but their discipline, integrity, and good judgment on important matters.

As Arnold Kling, and Jonathan Haidt have noted, smart people are merely better at rationalizing their prejudices than the average person. Whether they start with good prejudices, seems pretty much orthogonal to their education and IQ once it reaches a minimum level (I think there are big returns to education and intelligence, but just up to, say, the 60th percentile). If you have an IQ above, say, 130, you can't mouth the inconsistent platitudes with sufficient sincerity to be elected leader. That is, a really smart person can't in good conscience say that 'giving to the United Way is the most important thing we do here at Amalgamated Financial', or that you listen to each customer suggestion on various product releases. It's BS, but the troops need to hear it, so they get the only people who actually can champion such inconsistent policies. Both Obama and McCain are overselling a load of policies that won't change much, except for the new government bureacrats in charge (as opposed to the people they are supposed to help), but that 'not-so-bright' mindset was necessary to win their party's nomination. Someone with a painful sense of the obvious and inconsistent, would be seen as not sufficiently inspiring to the masses, as I'm sure he would not be. So we give the people what they want, good and hard.

Humans live in a 'reverse dominance hierarchy', so that a leader too dominant, not sufficiently deferential, will not be chosen to lead. Humans hate hubris in their leaders more than anything else, and so a smart guy, who can't fake appreciating the vastly more numerous pedestrian managers out there, will not get enough support. Anyone with a sufficiently high IQ, to be consciously faking there enthusiasm for the pap they are pushing, is so evil they are much worse. Thus, be happy with the stupid 125 IQ guys, it's as good as it's gonna get. The exceptions you see, mainly, are really smart founders who often created their product.

When you see the candidates talk as if electing them will make a huge improvement in the average person's life, you have to think, sure, give me an example? How likely is it that Obama is, as Oprah says, 'The One'? As Robert Samuelson noted, the following would be a sure ticket to a 1.3% share of the electorate:
I know you worry about the economy. So do I. But, frankly, if you elect me, I won't do much about it... 'Energy independence' is a fraud. ... Without major technological breakthroughs, making big cuts in greenhouse gases will be impossible. ... Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border ... we won't reduce [American] poverty."


Anonymous said...

heady. one of the big challenges of democracy. think we should implement somehow the athenian model, where there was democracy but decisions were taken by the wise. wish i knew how to do it.

Anonymous said...

Insightful look into politics, and the farce that most of us see it to be, even if we can't put our finger on why exactly the process defies "common sense"

Thatcher's Child said...

What a great post.
It is something I have come to realise over the past few years - although psychologists have known about it for some time.

My IQ is touching 140 and I know I can't say the daft things that politicians say with a straight face.

Maybe that is why the role of the really smart people is as advisors

Anonymous said...

politicians are not too smart because people distrust those who are too "different". People want to be reassured during a crisis that the leader is just smart enough to solve the problem: more than that just confuses them. Funny how they vote for attractive tall people because they look better in photos. Anyway, no fighting against human nature

Paul E. said...

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