Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Politicians – Personality and Problems, Part 2

What kind of person becomes a successful politician? How does that personality type affect performance in office? Last time I discussed how being an extrovert gets people leadership positions but militates against good decision-making. However there are worse problems with the personality type that often acquires political power.

Too often politicians are power seekers, seeking that power because they like to control others. That is often combined with a tendency to listen to people who tell them how wonderful they are.

If we think about it this should be no surprise. Where else but politics can a control freak acquire the power to take people's money to spend on pet projects, to order people to do or not do things etc? Even the corporate CEO cannot force people to buy his product if they don't want to – but a politician can often do just that. Don't like General Motors cars? You're free to buy from Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, or even not buy a car at all. Don't like the public school system? Sorry you have to pay for it anyway, even if you send your kids to private school.

Of course not all politicians are of that type, but a political career has to be enticing to control freaks. That type of person is unlikely to seek a career in retail sales or engineering. Instead he is likely to try to either get into management or more likely into something like politics where he has the possibility of being able to tell others what to do. That means that initially those who enter politics are disproportionately of the type of individual who want to control others.

Even those who get into politics for other reasons find themselves tempted. Power is heady stuff and such people can get caught up in the ability to control others and spend huge amounts of other people's money. Political power becomes addictive. That addiction often includes a belief that those in power know what is best for others. They often have or acquire what Sowell calls the “unconstrained vision” in that they believe they can and should fix all the world's problems. This intellectual arrogance helps them justify the belief that they can and should control everything.*

That gets exacerbated by the fact that sycophants tend to cluster around the powerful. Anyone in a position of political power will attract a following of “yes men” who attempt to advance their own ends by flattery. Such people tend to infest the staffs of congressmen, presidents, governors etc. They tell their boss or friend what he wants to hear, reinforcing his already great tendency to think of himself as all-knowledgeable. As a result we have too many politicians who want to control all aspects of our lives, being encouraged by their employees and acquaintances. That is bad for the country, and for each of us individually.

Once again a good solution to this problem is to return to the constitional principle of limited government. We must stop congress from overstepping its bounds. We should become the control freaks, controlling and limiting congress instead of allowing congress to control us.

*See for example my review of Sowell's book, “The Vision of the Anointed” posted here September 4, 2009.

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