Was Vance Packard Right?

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?

18 thoughts on “Was Vance Packard Right?

  1. You reminded me of the almost senator from New York, Caroline Kennedy. It turned out she could not complete a full cogent sentence. Choosing our elected officials has everything to do with achieving entrance into the preselected political class.

  2. Reminds me of the Peter Principle.

    In a way, it doesn’t apply to politicians, because they can be dumb as a rock, but as long as they keep ladling out the goodies, they will get reelected. But I agree with you that it does explain why our nation is in such parlous circumstances.

  3. Gee, I don’t know Jim. I have to wonder about the statement, “ This often continues until they are promoted to a job that requires competences that they don’t have.” If this were true, then Obama should still be performing pedicures on Pomeranians. Wow! What a success story Obama is —but Jesse Jackson, Jr., not so much. Not to be unkind, but I think the evidence is overwhelming that even a complete idiot can become a successful politician. Exhibit B.

  4. Empty suits are rarely interesting people brimming over with competence. Politics is show business for ugly people, don’t get mad at them when their part starts to stink. Politicians are hired guns for the lobbyists that give them more than the voters ever will.

    Incompetent people getting promoted up and away from where they can do damage is a typical situation.

  5. How is this freaking election even CLOSE? Are people idiots? Maybe the american public by voting has risen to its level of incompetence.

    And as for the constituents of Jackson’s district: Screw em. if they want a crazy man as their representative, if they want no representation in Congress while Jackson gets treatment for “nervous exhaustion”, which is just a polite way of saying “cocaine addiction” then they deserve him.

  6. Very interesting post Jim, I hadn’t heard this theory before but it makes sense to me and it explains how people like Barack Obama could get elected in the first place. Let’s hope enough people realize Obama has reached his level of incompetence and decide to relieve him of his position.

  7. I think that the Peter Principle…rising to the highest level of incompetence, explains my entire local city government at the moment, save one council member. Totally on target…but still doesn’t explain Obama who isn’t competent at much of anything but fooling people. That is a different animal and describes a majority of politicians today, too. Fraud is more diabolical than just incompetence….and it is fraud we have in the WH, in my opinion.

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