Michael Lewis on the US Department of Energy (highly recommended!)

Michael Lewis, the author of The Big Short, has written a great article for Vanity Fair.

Why the scariest nuclear threat may be coming from inside the White House is a fascinating portrait of the Department of Energy.

If you’re interested in politics, management, innovation, nuclear weapons or environmental pollution, you should read the article now.

I especially liked the description of how the managers appointed by the Obama administration could not transfer their knowledge to their successors. That’s because the newcomers weren’t appointed on time, or because the new political managers simply weren’t interested in learning the complexities of the DoE.

The story is a great case study that contains lessons which are relevant for all organizations. MBA students: read this instead of the Harvard Business Review!

So little time (reading list)

I have wanted to write a series on power in democracies ever since my How to win votes post from June 2016. Being elected is not enough (or necessary) to have real power. Policy need to be implemented. There can be opposition from civil servants and judges appointed by previous regimes1. The press can selectively report on what politicians are (not) doing.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found the time yet to write down my general ideas on power, as I have been too busy with my book on banking. But right now, the Trump administration is exposing the hidden assumptions many commentators have about democracy. This makes the Trump regime a great case study for anyone interested in real world politics, rather than the fantasy version2 many people desperately want to believe in.

If you’re bored with the (very annoying and unoriginal) “Waaah, Trump is a meanie” fluff you can read everywhere, here are some interesting articles:

On leadership and politics:

This is why authoritarian leaders use the Big Lie (by Xavier Marquez)

Why do rulers follow the rule of law? Thoughts on Trump, Erdogan, and history (by Jared Rubin)

On institutions and the “deep state”:

Egypt’s failed revolution (by Peter Hessler)

Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn (by Adam Kredo)

Hail to the Pencil Pusher (by Mike Konczal)

On life in non-democratic countries:

Everyday authoritarianism is boring and tolerable (by Tom Pepinsky)

On censorship and ideas:

Raining Frogs (by Isaac Simpson)3

On trade:

What exactly does Mexico export to the US? (by J. W. Mason)

On culture:

Origins of political correctness, Lugenpresse found in panics (by Brett Stevens)

On Political Correctness (by William Deresiewicz)

James Burnham’s Managerial Elite (by Julius Krein)4

What is global history now? (by Jeremy Adelman)

A Hard Future for a Soft Science (by Bradford Tuckfield)

Liturgy of liberalism (by Adrian Vermeule)

On big data and statistics:

Do You Trust Big Data? Try Googling the Holocaust (by Cathy O’Neil)

On psychology/convictions:

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds (by Elizabeth Kolbert)

Dopamine Puppets (by Scott Adams)

On sociology:

A Miscellany of Foundations and First Principles for the Study of Sociology (by “Dissenting Sociologist”)

On ethnic conflict:

The Lost World of West Philadelphia (by Devin Helton)

On monetary policy and central bank independence:

Why conservatives should fear a Trump Federal Reserve (by Peter Conti-Brown)

I’ll expand the list if I come across other good articles. Hat tip to pseudoerasmus and HappyAcres, who always share quality stuff.

Last update: July 14, 2017

Social media warriors for Trump

WARNING: This post is NOT SUITABLE FOR WORK!

Decades from now, historians will be discussing how the political outsider Donald J. Trump could win the American presidency from a career politician like Hillary Clinton.

While the memory is still fresh, I – as a foreign observer – want to highlight a part of the presidential race that has not been covered well by the press. Especially as censorship is rapidly destroying evidence of what has really happened.

This article documents an aspect of the online battle for the hearts and minds of the public that was not organized by the official Trump campaing team.

This is my report on the Meme War of 2015-2016. Continue reading “Social media warriors for Trump”

Trump predictions. Let me get some popcorn.

There is a Dutch proverb that says “een ezel stoot zich geen twee keer aan dezelfde steen”. Its literal translation is “a donkey doesn’t bump against the same stone twice”, but is usually translated as “once bitten, twice shy” or “a fox is not caught twice in the same snare”.

The proverb means that people don’t (or shouldn’t) make the same mistake twice. Even a dumb animal like the donkey is smarter than that.

Apparently, the political pundits are dumber than donkeys when it comes to Trump. For over a year, they have underestimated his chances. Here is a list of Trump predictions, in which the ‘You are now here’ marker has continuously moved down:

greentexttrumppredictions

Not having learned from their embarrassing experience, the pundits cannot help but continue their failed predictions. Continue reading “Trump predictions. Let me get some popcorn.”

Wees slimmer dan de Vlaamse “intelligentsia”

De verkiezingsoverwinning van Donald Trump heeft onze intellectuelen met verstomming geslagen.

Iedereen, van econoom Geert Noels tot filosoof Maarten Boudry, met inbegrip van Amerikakenners zoals journalist Björn Soenens en professor Bart Kerremans waren er zeker van dat Trump nooit president van de Verenigde Staten kon worden.

Waarom zijn de professoren en journalisten zo verbijsterd? Het is nota bene hun werk om op de hoogte te zijn en het publiek te informeren.

De oorzaak ligt bij het groepsdenken. Er zijn misschien een twintigtal1 commentatoren in Vlaanderen die de kans krijgen om hun mening te geven over de Amerikaanse politiek. Enkel dit klein kliekje krijgt een forum in de traditionele kranten en nieuwszenders.

Ze hebben allemaal een universiteit diploma. Ze kennen elkaar persoonlijk of op zijn minst hebben ze elkaars opinies vaak gehoord. Ze lezen allemaal de zogezegde kwaliteitskranten De Morgen, De Standaard of De Tijd. Ze vonden Trump allemaal een incompetente domkop.

En toch waren zij allemaal mis. Continue reading “Wees slimmer dan de Vlaamse “intelligentsia””

Don’t be an idiot like Paul Krugman

The electoral victory of Donald Trump has dumbfounded the pundits. Nobel Prize winner and political commentator Paul Krugman was very confident prior to the election that Hillary Clinton would win.

When the election results came in, he was shocked. Krugman admitted that he didn’t know the United States as well as he thought he did.

This was not surprising. Krugman is the prototype of a sheltered elite living in a bubble. How many Trump voters do you think he personally knows? Probably none. Rather, he inhabits an echo chamber full of likeminded people. Just to give some examples, I’m talking about people like Noah Smith, Brad DeLong, Paul De Grauwe and Simon Wren-Lewis.

All have academic backgrounds, cushy jobs, and liberal technocratic preferences. They all read papers like the New York Times. They all are given a forum in the quality press. The all “know” Trump is an incompetent idiot. They all “know” that “facts have a well-known liberal bias”.

In spite of their titles and influence, they were dead wrong about Trump. Continue reading “Don’t be an idiot like Paul Krugman”

Wat hebben we geleerd uit Trumps triomf?

Er valt heel wat te leren uit de Amerikaanse presidentsverkiezingen. Hoogstwaarschijnlijk gaan de analyses in de kranten weer niet verder geraken dan enkele clichés. Domme Amerikanen hebben een racist gekozen. Trump is de schuld van de globalisering, omdat mensen hun werk kwijtraakten toen de fabrieken naar het buitenland verhuisden. Er is een moddercampagne gevoerd.

De kaste van opiniemakers heeft ook enkele simplistische “oplossingen” voor deze problemen in petto. Er moet geluisterd worden naar “het signaal van de kiezer”, iets wat we in Vlaanderen ook al 25 jaar horen. Racisme zal zichzelf oplossen wanneer de oudere blanken uitsterven en de jongere generatie een minderheid vormt tussen andere minderheden. De ongelijkheid zou opgelost worden door één of andere vorm van herverdeling van de winnaars naar de verliezers, zonder te specifiëren hoe. Voor de vuile campagnes is er niet direct een oplossing, maar we prijzen ons gelukkig dat het er in ons land beschaafder aan toe gaat.

Voor wie de moeite doet om verder te kijken dan zijn neus lang is, waren de voorbije 18 maanden echter een masterclass.

In deze post lijst ik op wat een aandachtige toeschouwer kon leren op het vlak van (1) politieke strategie, (2) de gefilterde werkelijkheid van de media, (3) inzichten in het kiespubliek, (4) de politieke gevolgen van massamigratie en tenslotte (5) van de macht die gemotiveerde individuen hebben dankzij het internet. Continue reading “Wat hebben we geleerd uit Trumps triomf?”

Van Mozes tot Trump: elites tegen het establishment

Elites kunnen toch niet tegen hun eigen belangen zijn?

Donald Trump heeft een populistische campagne gevoerd tegen het establishment. Voor veel van zijn critici is dit een absurde situatie.

Waarom zou een miljardair zich bekommeren om de werkende klasse? Hoe kan een man wiens hemden en stropdassen in China gemaakt worden tegen handelsakkoorden zijn? Hoe geloofwaardig is Trump wanneer hij een muur wil bouwen aan de grens met Mexico, wanneer hij zelf Mexicanen tewerkgesteld heeft in de VS?

Trump maakt zozeer deel uit van de elite dat zijn Democratische rivale Hillary Clinton zelfs zijn huwelijk met zijn huidige vrouw Melania bijgewoond heeft.

Het lijkt er dus op dat Trump tot het establishment behoort dat profiteert van het status quo. Waarom zou iemand die een ‘winnaar’ is binnen het systeem dat systeem willen veranderen?

Deze kritieken verliezen echter twee belangrijke zaken uit het oog.

Ten eerste gaan de critici er van uit dat leden van de elite enkel gemotiveerd zijn door hun persoonlijke financiële belangen. Dit miskent echter de menselijke aard. Mensen hebben sterke gevoelens over wat juist en rechtvaardig is. Leden van de elite hebben de middelen om zich in te zetten voor anderen waar ze zich mee verwant voelen. Continue reading “Van Mozes tot Trump: elites tegen het establishment”

From Moses to Trump: elites against the establishment

Elites cannot act against their own interests, right?

Donald Trump has been running a populist campaign against the establishment. To many of his critics, this is absurd.

Why should a billionaire care for the working class? How can a man whose shirts and ties are made in China be against trade deals? Is Trump credible when he calls for a wall at the US-Mexican border, knowing he hired Mexican workers himself?

Trump is so much part of the elite that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton even attended his wedding to Melania.

It appears that Trump belongs to the establishment which benefits from the status quo. Why would anybody who is a ‘winner’ in the system want to change it?

These critics, however, miss two important points.

First of all, the critics assume that members of the elite are only motivated by their personal financial interests. This, however, denies human nature. People have strong feelings on what is just and right. Elites have the means to become champions for others they sympathize with. Continue reading “From Moses to Trump: elites against the establishment”