Links to consider, 9/22
Presidents, Narcissism, and War; Peter Thiel on the tech curse; Stephanie Slade on bipartisan illiberalism; Rob Henderson on the need for adults
Ohio State University reports on a grad student’s research.
The study, which examined the 19 presidents who served between 1897 and 2009, found that the eight leaders who scored above average on narcissism spent an average of 613 days at war – compared to 136 days for the 11 presidents who were below average on narcissism.
I like the result, but I don’t think much of the research.
Using the personality test results for the 19 presidents from 1897 to 2008, Harden analyzed five facets of the test that relate with a common measure of grandiose narcissism: high levels of assertiveness and excitement-seeking and low levels of modesty, compliance and straightforwardness.
Based on these results, Lyndon Johnson was the president who scored highest on narcissism, followed by Teddy Roosevelt and then Richard Nixon.
The president who scored lowest on narcissism was William McKinley, followed by William Howard Taft and Calvin Coolidge.
Is their measure of narcissism reliable? And what does the distribution look like? Are Johnson, Roosevelt, and Nixon outliers on the up side, or are they only a bit over the mean?
Peter Thiel claims that California has a “tech curse,” analogous to the resource curse in development economics. Another analysis which sounds good but is flimsy, in my view. Pointer from Tyler Cowen. The talk is at the National Conservative Conference. I have never attended, so you may think of this as sour grapes, but I think that National Conservatives get much more attention in the pundit class than in the public at large.
The resource curse is this: if a country’s source of wealth is highly concentrated, there is an incentive to compete for control of the resource using coercion rather than to compete in the market using better customer satisfaction.
Thiel says that for California, the concentrated source of wealth is the tech sector. Government coercion is used to allow public sector workers to live like princes while government services, such as education, are terrible.
I think California’s misgovernance and concentrated wealth are more of a coincidence than a causal story. Concentrated wealth does not corrupt everyone—look at Norway after the discovery of North Sea oil. And you can have corruption and misgovernance without concentrated wealth—look at Chicago.
The bipartisan leftward lurch on economics is perhaps most visible in the rejection of any restraint in the response to COVID-19. In 2020, the Trump administration pushed through a $2.2 trillion pandemic bill that dwarfed the Barack Obama administration's historic 2009 stimulus package. It included $1,200 payments to millions of Americans and was followed by a second round of $600 checks that Trump proceeded to denounce as too small. The Biden administration, for its part, was happy to start 2021 with a third round of checks at $1,400 apiece, among other expenditures.
More ominously, there is the paranoia on both sides.
The tropes come in escalating stages. One is that the other side is irredeemably evil and out to destroy all that is good. A second is that our side is weak and overly beholden to procedural niceties, whereas our opponents are shameless about breaking the rules in their pursuit of power. The third, following from the other two, is that whatever it takes to win is justified; any institution standing in the way can be demolished; and doing any less amounts to cowardice and surrender.
Pointer from the FAIR substack.
Remember: People score the highest on Dark Triad personality traits (psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism) when they are in their late teens and early twenties.
Older adults crave validation from the youth, which is one reason they are mocked. Young people sense their desire to be seen as cool and deprive them of this by taunting them.
The essay is difficult to excerpt. Read the whole thing. A reminder that when I post links, I recommend reading the entire essay if I excerpt part of it.
I have a conjecture on government "services" that I think is better than "tech curse" and non-coincidental. Government workers will set their salaries to what is comparable to the upper end of their constituency. They (legislators, senior civil servants, lobbyist, various politicos) have to interface with these people professionally and often socially. At least, they desire to, and there's a strong desire to get as much parity as possible. That is, politicos will pay themselves to maintain status and "equality" with their market "counterparts".
So, in a place like California, where you have a massive pod of unusual wealth, this inequality is going to fuel further inequality because it creates a lot of pressure for public servants to rob the public piggy bank to keep up.
On the narcissitic presidents- Bush Jr. spent 7 of his 8 years as president at war. Obama spent all 8 years at war. Trump spent all 4 years at war. That is a lot more than 613 days for each of the three. Or is the researcher just counting all of Obama's and Trump's war as Bush's who started them in 2001?
I also wouldn't trust the narcissism claims themselves, though I might agree with the ranking of the lowest ones based on what I know about those men. Nixon never struck me as narcissitic, nor, really Johnson. The presidents who seem the most narcissitic to me were Clinton, Obama, and Trump.