I think it was Vance Packard in his 1962 book The Pyramid Climbers where he made the case that in life and certainly in the business world, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence. This was not such a profound observation by Packard, although at the time it was seen as such. What Vance Packard was saying is that everyone has their limitations. So, for example, a young college graduate performs very well in their first entry-level job and is rewarded with a promotion to a higher level job with more responsibility. Again this person performs well and again they are promoted. This often continues until they are promoted to a job that requires competences that they don’t have, This was an empirical observation on the part of Vance Packard. Certainly my life experiences bear out what Packard observed. But, people rising to their level of incompetence is not restricted to the business world. It occurs in every walk of life. Good teachers sometimes get promoted to an administrative position for which they are not qualified. I have known brilliant research scientist that were horrible as project managers. Probably there is no area where the proof of Vance Packard’s observation is more true than in world of politics.
Politicians who are incompetent may be more the rule than the exception. Part of the reason is that there are few requisites for becoming a politician other than age and residency requirements and, of course, the gift of being a smooth talker. Sometimes not even being a smooth talker is required. Of course, this begs the question of the competence of the people, the voters, who hire (elect) these politicians. Sadly, we have to admit that most voters start out at their level of incompetence. The only qualification to be a voter is age,
A good example of what I am talking about is Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. from South Chicago and the voters of that district. The few times I have heard Jesse speak, he sounds as if he may be illiterate. He was probably elected the first time on the name of his famous father. (Famous, not competent). Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. is under congressional investigation for ethics violations. He is also under a FBI criminal investigation. Several months ago, the Congressman went AWOL from his job saying he was taking a leave of absence from his congressional duties. For weeks, no one heard from the congressman. Then a spokesperson said he was in Mayo Clinic being treated for Bi-Polar syndrome. Weeks later he left the Mayo Clinic but still he has not returned to his job. For months now, Jesse Jackson Jr. has not been representing his constituents. He has not campaigned for reelection. Yet, according to an article I read recently, polls show that the voters of South Chicago will reelect Mr. Jackson by over a thirty percent margin.
Jesse Jackson Jr. and the voters of South Chicago are but one example of many. No doubt we could add many examples of politicians and voters operating at their level of incompetence. Whatever walk of life, people operating at their level of incompetence are a danger to themselves and to the people around them. This is especially true when they are politicians. Worse yet is when an incompetent politician has an agenda.
Many of is shake our heads in amazement that our current president, Barack Obama, could be more incompetent and more dangerous than the peanut farmer from Georgia. But, he is. We voters have a chance to correct that error in judgement on November 6. I think we will. But, considering Vance Packard’s 1962 observation about human nature, will changing out a few politicians have any real long-term benefits?
Vance Packard’s theorem that people rise to their level of incompetence may explain why in human history the same mistakes get repeated. His observation may explain why mankind has done such a miserable job at self governance.
Well, now you know what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?