I Like the Way He Runs the Country

Long ago I asked a friend what he liked about the then President.  He replied, “I like the way he runs the country.”

At the time, I didn’t understand what was fundamentally wrong with his statement.  Now I do.  Many today make the same mistake my friend made.

The President does not run the country.   He barely runs the government.  He commands the military, approves or disapproves of legislation from Congress, makes lower level appointments and nominates people for higher level appointments such as Supreme Court Justice, with Senate approval and makes treaties, again with Senate approval.

The oath of the President is: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The fundamental mistake I encounter in conversation after conversation is this implicit idea that the President runs the country much like how a CEO runs a company.  That idea underlies such statements as: “Let’s give him a chance.  The other guy wasn’t getting things done.”  “There is no right or wrong, let’s just see if this works.”

The goal of the Office is to defend the Constitution of the United States, not to ensure that every pot has a chicken.

The goal of the Constitution of the United States is to protect citizens from the illegitimate exercise of power from others and from the government itself.

There is a right and wrong.  We shouldn’t be wondering if “this guy” will get things done.  It should be really, really clear.

The President is either preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States with the powers vested in the Executive Branch or he is not.

We should be able to trace each of his official actions, platforms, positions back to the powers enumerated to the by the Constitution or we cannot.

It’s that simple.  It’s that clear.

We can choose to learn from the billions of other humans who have lived (and still live) under kings, dictators, despots and other forms of centralized authority or we can choose not to.

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Thomas Sowell’s Brainy Bunch

Here’s a good read today from Thomas Sowell.  Some key words:

There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.

Such people have been told all their lives how brilliant they are, until finally they feel forced to admit it, with all due modesty. But they not only tend to over-estimate their own brilliance, more fundamentally they tend to over-estimate how important brilliance itself is when dealing with real world problems.

Many crucial things in life are learned from experience, rather than from clever thoughts or clever words. Indeed, a gift for the clever phrasing so much admired by the media can be a fatal talent, especially for someone chosen to lead a government.

Smarts creates a dangerous veneer of legitimacy for many.  I prefer experience, as does Sowell, but I’m also skeptical of that.  I prefer results, but take those with grain of salt.

Back in 2005, Paul Johnson wrote a column in Forbes called Five Marks of a Great Leader.  He had some things to say about smart people too.  Two of the five marks were judgment and sense of priority.

What makes a person judge wisely? It is not intelligence, as such. Clever people with enormously high IQs often show scarifyingly bad judgment. Nor is it education. When I need advice, I rarely turn to someone with first-class honors from a top university. I turn to someone who has knocked about the world and cheerfully survived “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” One man to whom I turned for his judgment was Ronald Reagan. Though not a scholar by any gauge, he almost invariably judged correctly on the few big issues that really matter.

Being able to judge well is often linked to an ability to mix with and learn from other people–not so much from experts but from common people, those who lack the arrogance of power or the desire to show off their intelligence but who nevertheless think deeply about life’s trials. A person of judgment develops the habit of asking questions of such wise people and listening to their replies.

In running a country or a vast business, one is faced with countless problems, huge and insignificant, and has to make decisions about all of them. Clever leaders (I’m thinking of Jacques Chirac) often have a habit of pouncing on minor issues and pushing them at all costs, even to the detriment of their real interests. Sorting out the truly big from the small takes an innate horse sense that’s not given to most human beings. It has little to do with intelligence, but it is nearly always the hallmark of a great leader.

Milton and Rose Friedman on Adam Smith's Key Insight

From the Introduction of Free to Choose:

One set of ideas was embodied in The Wealth of Nations, the masterpiece that established the Scotsman Adam Smith as the father of modern economics.  It analyzed the way in which a market system could combine the freedom of individuals to pursue their own objectives with the extensive cooperation and collaboration needed in the economic field to produce our food, our clothing, our housing.  Adam Smith’s key insight was that both parties to an exchange can benefit and that, so long as cooperation is strictly voluntary, no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit.  No external force, no coercion, no violation of freedom is necessary to produce cooperation among individuals all of whom can benefit.

And from  Chapter 1:

The key insight of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is misleadingly simple: if an exchange between two parties is voluntary, it will not take place unless both believe they will benefit from it.  Most economic fallacies derive from the neglect of this simple insight, from the tendency to assume that there is a fixed pie, that one party can gain only at the expense of another.

Simple, Complex, Simple

“I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Supreme Court Justice, 1902 – 1932

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.” -Albert Einstein

Oliver Wendell Holmes’s quote brings to mind a curve on a graph in the shape of a single hump, commonly referred to as the normal distribution.  To the left of the hump is the simplicity he wouldn’t trade for a fig.  The hump is complexity.  To the right of the hump is the simplicity he values.

Getting to the right side of the hump is a fine art few recognize, let alone achieve.  Holmes, Ben Franklin and Einstein were masters. Warren Buffett and Jack Welch are modern day masters.

Getting to the right side requires thorough understanding of a subject and deep reflection.  Like sculpting a human form out of a lump of rock, it takes practice, determination, refined technique, mastered use of the right tools, a feel for the material and a keen eye for achieving the desired shape.

The complexity curve explains why NFL management talent is not deep.  Over 95% of the managers operate to the left or inside the complexity hump.  Less than five percent are to the right.

The effectiveness of leadership and management strategies from the 95% of managers is random.   Some work, some don’t.  Successes aren’t consistently repeatable by this crowd.  They’re often like the one-hit wonders of the music world.

The success rate from the 5% is not perfect, but it is high and more consistent.  They’re much more like the bands that endure.

The five percenters started off as 95 percenters and moved to the right with experience and reflection.

A few things set these people apart.  They’re open to feedback.  They don’t let their egos get in the way of learning.  They distinguish root causes from symptoms.  They have a healthy skepticism of conventional wisdom.  They have a good handle on their biases.  They can see things from other points-of-view.