Irrational Risk


There is some good research out that suggests that power actually causes physical changes to the brain.

Those who feel that they are in a powerful position lose their ability to experience empathy.  The result is that they become more willing to take risk because they don’t consider how these risks may potentially affect others.

At least one of these studies documents that CEO’s who lived through a disaster (war, famine, etc) during their childhood are far less likely to take big risks as adults.

Lord David Owen calls it “Hubris Syndrome”.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

You might be inclined to regard this as nothing new.  To some extent you’re right.  Psychopathy and hubris have been with us as long as we have had social groups.

The cautionary tale of the consequences of hubris and psychopathy, however, is a new history of WWII by Victor David Hanson.

He points out in great detail that Germany was incapable of winning WWII.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Germany never had a mass produced four engine bomber that could compete with the B-17.  They also had no aircraft carriers.  As a result, they lacked air superiority in naval battles and they could never have extended their reach across an ocean.

The Germans didn’t have much oil.  Half the world’s oil at that time came from the US.  Fuel shortages limited the number of missions the Luftwaffe could fly.

Their planes were inferior technology.  They were harder to operate which meant that their pilots required more training than the Allies.  They were more complicated to build.  Germany never figured out how to build them in high volume.  Germany didn’t build concrete runways in their forward bases like the Allies.  As a result, more of their limited supply of aircraft were damaged in take off and landings on dirt runways.

As a land-based power with a small navy, Germany depended on their Luftwaffe to make up the difference.  The disadvantages their air force faced in a long war should have been obvious.

WWII was about new mechanized mobile warfare.  The Germans introduced the blitzkrieg, but used horses to resupply their troops because of oil shortages.  The blitzkrieg depended on fast tanks.  The Russians had both a superior design and the ability to manufacture tanks in high volume.

Early on, Germany could have likely settled with the rest of the world and retained their territory gains.  Instead the Germans ignored the limitations of their air force and attempted to bomb England into submission.  Any hope of even just a European victory was lost when Germany attacked Russia in 1941.

There was good data before the war that science could produce new massively destructive weapons using the theories of Einstein and others.  The Third Reich, however, purged their universities of some of the best minds of their generation because they were Jewish.  Most of them escaped to the west where they eventually created the atomic bomb.

All of this data raises the real question of what were these people thinking?  How could they have made so many serious mistakes in the long term planning that would be required if they wanted to achieve the world domination that they claimed?

Axis leaders believed that Fascism could make up the difference by producing more fanatical soldiers with more “élan.” For a brief time at the beginning of the war, Allied countries believed this, too. (There was widespread fear, especially, of Japanese soldiers.) They soon realized that defending one’s homeland against invaders turns pretty much everyone into a fanatic.

The Axis powers fell prey to their own mythmaking: they were adept at creating narratives that made exceedingly unlikely victories seem not just plausible but inevitable.

That said, the Allies also convinced themselves that Axis leaders had successfully brainwashed their citizens.  They used that conclusion to justify unprecedented violence against civilians abroad, internment camps for Japanese citizens in the United States, and the only use of atomic weapons on civilians in history.

We face similar problems today in our country.

When countries lose track of facts and start believing their own mythology, they become vulnerable not only to delusional power-hungry leaders, but also to foolish military adventures.

We invaded Iraq because Bush II neocons thought it would be a cake walk.  There was no evidence of any connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attackers.  There was no credible evidence of a threat to the United States.  Lack of international support didn’t deter the Bush II administration either.  It turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in US history (at least so far).

Our current president has brought us closer to a nuclear confrontation with North Korea.  He has threatened to tear up the multi-national treaty with Iran that has suspended their nuclear weapons program.  He destabilized the situation in the Middle East with his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At home he has created division and broken virtually every political taboo in our shared political religion.  He has set out to destroy the credibility of the media as independent arbiters of truth.  In the face of multiple investigations into misdeeds by his campaign and his administration, he has become the sole source of truth for his followers.

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that he wasn’t interested in the job to begin with AND does not possess the temperament or the intellect to do the job that he has found himself in.  The recent interview that he gave the New York Times is shocking.  He is both delusional and incoherent.  He appears locked into an endless cycle of confrontation and misrepresentation that is the direct result of failing to deliver on his own narrative.

History tells us that this sort of “ism” does sometimes lead to violence but always ultimately collapses of its own weight.  There is already good data suggesting that Trump has suffered significant erosion in the base of those who voted for him for President.  Hopefully the next couple of elections will peacefully restore balance and confirm that there are consequences to lying to the American people.

110 Responses to “Irrational Risk”

  1. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Obama didn’t do a bad job as the economy needed to be settled, he just didn’t do a good job. The markets and GDP have certainly voted on Trumps thoughts.

    I know that is how you feel. There are many economists who don’t share your view. If the stock market is able to deliver 50% gains and not suffer some huge immediate correction, then Trump has accomplished something. But as Larry Summers point out in the NYT quote above, he got a lot of help from the rest of the world.

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Least I forgot moving the embassy to Jerusalem…

    You are suggesting that is a good thing?

    Perhaps you can tell me how that is going to resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine?

    They BOTH have legitimate claims to the same territory. There are only three stable outcomes from the current situation (that’s because the current situation isn’t stable).
    1. Israel eliminates Palestine as a viable country.
    2. Palestine eliminates Israel as a viable country.
    3. They both agree to let the other country live in peace within a set of borders that they both accept.

    Supporting Israel’s claims to Jerusalem make a #3 solution more difficult because it will be that much more difficult in the future for Israel to give up claims to Jerusalem that the US has now validated.

    The problem with the current setup is that Israel claims to be a democracy, but they are in effect preventing Palestinians from having their own country or becoming citizens and having a vote in Israel. That is why it isn’t sustainable.

  3. Jeff Beamsley says:

    What about 4%?

    Didn’t we already talk about Jamie Dimon? I agree with him that growth during the summer could get to 4% since the CBO projected that the tax hike would add .8% to the annual growth rate. Jamie Dimon did not say that he expected the growth rate for the next 10 years to be 4%.

    What’s the additional tax revenue?

    The CBO included that in their calculations. Additional tax revenues from projected growth don’t make up for the cuts in revenue. Just as an aside, they never do.

    Will the additional deficit still be $1.5 trillion.

    Probably more because it is unlikely that the individual tax cuts that expire in ten years will all be allowed to lapse.

    Or maybe it was a good thing? Interested to see how CBO got this one.

    Here’s the link to report. Feel free to go read it yourself.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    This could have just as well said “Dems refusal on border wall holds up dreamers dreams”. Do you see the influence? It’s repeative and non-stop. Again 90% of all articles written about trump are negotiable.

    If you read the article, the headline was accurate. Schumer made an offer on the wall that Trump refused.

    Your headline would have been inaccurate because the Democrats did not refuse to fund the wall. Trump refused to take the Democrats offer then later denied that any offer was made. So a more accurate headline could have been, “Trump’s flip-flopping on the wall is making it difficult to do a dreamer deal”, but you wouldn’t have liked that headline either.

    The facts are the facts and the headline accurate stated the facts that were contained in the article.

    And the Russians tried to influence the election. How about the influence of our media?

    You serious?

    Russian meddling in our elections could be considered an act of war. Certainly anyone helping the Russians efforts to destabilize our country could be guilty of treason.

    The media in general and newspapers in particular are the bedrock of our democracy. A free press is specifically called out in the first amendment. One would hope that a free press WOULD print critical stuff about this president, or any president. That is one indication that the press isn’t controlled by the government. Certainly the press influence elections, but the ethical press earn the right to express their opinions because they do an unbiased job of reporting the news.

    Whatever bias you feel the press may have (and you have yet to prove that to me), is Trump’s fault. He was the one who picked a fight with the press and they have been happy to respond. Ultimately it will be the press who helps take him down. I’m proud of them.

    The right wing press vilified Obama in the worst way. Did you hear him ONCE suggest that they were an enemy of the people?

    You should honestly be ashamed of yourself to suggest that we would be better off if the press, even on their worst day did the bidding of whomever is in the White House.

  5. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I’m watching Trump in Davos. He’s a salesman, good or bad, that’s what he is. Optimism is a good thing by the way. You may choose to call it lying.

    If anyone wants to view him any differently then they should feel free to do so but they will get it wrong. When he says “I played golf today with the ambassador of Italy at his home course, the finest in the world I might add.” He means that as a compliment not necessary that the course is the finest in the world but that he was saying kind word to the ambassador….

    The issue isn’t that Trump flatters someone he is playing golf with. Nobody is going to call him out for that.

    The issue is that Trump lies every day about stuff that is important. He lies about policy. He lies about his dealings with the press. He lies about his conversations with politicians. Worse yet, he has never taken responsibility of apologized for any of his lies even after they have been pointed out to him. That’s not the mode of a salesperson. That is the actions of someone who is either delusional or feels that he is above the law.

  6. Jeff Beamsley says:

    I’m going to post something on the economy, but I want to wait until the State of Union address before I do that.

    But I wanted to provide some substance to back up my argument that it is important to tell the truth.

    The easy example is the solar panel tariff that Trump just imposed. The US isn’t a player in the global solar panel economy. If this move was intended to protect the US solar panel industry, unless it also included significant subsidies, it’s not going to result is significantly more domestically manufactured solar panels. That ship sailed when Republicans accused the Obama administration’s efforts to jump start domestic manufacturing as “picking winner and losers”. At the same time China was investing $47B to become the industry leader. The result is that they have driven down the price of solar panels 80% from 2008 – 2013.

    The solar industry DOES employ a lot of people installing solar panels. In fact today the solar industry employs 5 times as many people as the coal industry. This tariff will not make life better for coal miners. Their industry is being displaced by cheap natural gas as well as cheap renewable sources.

    So the LIE that coal can be a competitive energy source in this country supports a tariff that will make solar energy less affordable, but it will do nothing to make coal cheaper. The result will be that coal miners will continue to lose their jobs AND the solar industry will lose about 10% of their jobs too.

    Please tell me how this makes sense?

    If the President continues to lie in his state of the union address, isn’t it the responsibility of the press to point those lies out, just as they have about the solar panel tariff?

    If the press doesn’t point those lies out, congress and the voters may be convinced to support actions that are based lies (like the solar panel tariff) which will eventually cost jobs rather than increase jobs.

    Please tell me why that doesn’t make sense.

  7. Jeff Beamsley says:

    BTW, here’s another example of a lie that is likely to come up in the State of Union address that affects policy.

    The Justice Department and Homeland Security released a report that states that of the 549 people convicted of terrorism-related charges since 2001, 402 were foreign born. The White House released a “fact sheet” along with the report claiming that it was time to end chain migration and the lottery system. It claims that the immigration system is putting our country at risk BECAUSE of this statistic.

    There are problems with both the report and the conclusions that the White House attempts to draw from the report.

    Here are the problems with the report. First it ignores terrorist acts committed by US-born citizens. 74% of the attacks in this country since 2001 have been by domestic radical right wing groups. 26% were by jihadist Islamic groups, but half of those attacks were carried out by US-born citizens. Politifact goes into much greater detail, but here is the conclusion they quote.

    “The terrorist threat in the United States is almost entirely homegrown, as no foreign terrorist organization has successfully directed and orchestrated an attack in the United States since 9/11,” said Albert Ford, a program associate with the International Security and Fellows programs at New America.

    The Wash Post did a good analysis too and stated that the Justice Department statistics include about 100 foreign born terrorists who were sent back to the US from other countries in order to be prosecuted. They did not go through the immigration system but were used to discredit the immigration system.

    Lawfare’s analysis of the previous list that runs through 2015 found, by including domestic terrorism cases and excluding individuals convicted of international terrorism after being transported to the United States, immigrants would account for 18 percent to 21 percent of total terrorism convictions.

    Also, the report’s “terrorism” convictions are mostly non-violent crimes like “fraud, immigration, firearms, drug, perjury and obstruction of justice offenses, as well as false statements and “general conspiracy charges,” according to the new report.”

    According to an analysis of separate data by the libertarian Cato Institute, “114 of the 154 foreign-born terrorists from 1975 to the end of 2015 didn’t kill anybody.”

    The Wash Post gave Trump’s claim four pinnochios

    By using the 75% number and linking it to immigration, the White House is using fear to again suggest that MOST Muslims in this country are dangerous. This isn’t “salesmanship” or a slip of the tongue. This is direct and deliberate manipulation of statistics in order to create a sense of fear in the voters.

    Here’s just one of the ways the Trump administration uses this fear.

    During the recent government shutdown, Trump released an ad promising to “fix our border and keep our families safe,” adding, “Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants.”

    The facts are that if you subtract the Orlando Pulse shooting from the “terrorist” side of the ledger where it currently resides, right-wing extremist attacks this country since 2001 have been more deadly than jihadist attacks. Tightening immigration laws won’t reduce right-wing extremism. If anything it will embolden them, since White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s also want to close the borders to people of color.

    That’s why it is important that ethical news sources continue to hold Trump and his administration accountable for their lies.

  8. Keith says:

    Enough of the above.

    Question. Why hasn’t the “memo,” that the house committee voted last night to release with White House approval, leaked?

  9. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Enough of the above.

    Question. Why hasn’t the “memo,” that the house committee voted last night to release with White House approval, leaked?

    The Dems don’t want it released at all, or if it is released, they also want to release the Democratic response. So no opponent of Trump is going to leak it.

    That leaves Trump supporters, and they have all been talking about it so much that I’m not sure there is value to leaking it (particularly if it is as flawed as the Democrats say it is). Also it supposedly contains classified information, so nobody wants to go to jail for leaking it. Instead Trump will leak it because he gets to decide what is classified and what isn’t.

    I think the REAL question is why is there a memo to begin with? Nunes has already been discredited because of his previous attempts to end-run the intelligence community. If there is something to his claims, why not use the existing congressional investigation methods to root it out?

    This really smells of a put up job to fire Rosenstein. If that’s what comes of this, it will only get worse for Trump.

  10. Keith says:

    I don’t make any predictions but I assume the republicans will over play whatever they think this is.

Leave a Reply