Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Accretion of Power

It seems to be a general principle of human interaction that power draws power to itself. One sees this on both small and large scales, from the level of a committee to the level of a nation or group of nations. I've been on both sides of the fence, that is, participated in the accretion and fought against it. It seems to me that accretion, like gravity, is a natural force in the affairs of man.

One of my experiences was serving on the college curriculum committee for about twenty-five years, many of which I was the chair. The committee didn't even exist when I began my thirty year stint at the University of Hawaii and our university president was a real academic. A few years later, in an attempt to become a "big time" university, the state hired a new president, an academic manager who vastly complicated the structure of his domain without actually accomplishing anything positive. One of the complexities he added was college curriculum committees that filtered program changes before they appeared at the university level committee and thence at his desk for his approval or disapproval. The engineering college created the mandated committee with no intention that it actually function as anything but a rubber stamp for the departmental curriculum committees. In fact, myself and others served in that capacity for many years. Our meetings were brief and perfunctory. However, as time went along and the curriculum grew more complex and the various departments expanded, curriculum changes grew more contentious. The college program committee meetings became the battleground upon which territoriality was played out. Having a friend on the committee became a requisite for professors trying to mark out new territory. Looking back, I don't see much that we accomplished that the departments themselves and the free market could not have accomplished. I don't know if optimal span theory takes this into account, but it is the nature of humans that when management creates a box on a chart, it will eventually fill with power.

Another of my experiences was in fighting such a power. Before World War II, a national organization (ECPD) was started to protect students and the public from fly-by-night schools claiming to offer engineering degrees. Accreditation by the Engineering Council for Professional Development carried with it some benefits for students wishing to take the certification exam in his or her state. Otherwise the organization had little impact among legitimate schools. (MIT and Stanford, for example, have never bothered to become accredited.) Student were generally oblivious to accreditation and large businesses did there own accreditation based upon experience with a school's graduates. However, after WWII engineering based experienced a large upturn and funds for the operation of the accrediting body experienced a similar surge. ECPD became more and more powerful. About twenty years ago, when two year schools of technology entered the scene, they augmented their domain by becoming ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) despite the fact that there is no point of academic contact between engineering and engineering technology. The national organization became more and more dominant in stipulating the courses and methods to be used in every school in the nation. As a consequence, creativity and innovation in the teaching of engineering now resides in the few schools of repute that refuse to submit to the accreditation process. It was never intended that accreditation be anything more than a minimal guarantee of quality, but the principle of accretion of power inevitably produced a kind of dictatorship of fear. Withholding of accreditation by the "good old boys" and their young acolytes who run the organization is a powerful weapon. At a national meeting when I seized the floor to express my thoughts and pass out revolutionary literature, not a word of encouragement came from the audience. It was not into later, in private places like the rest room, that professors screwed up enough courage to say they agreed that ABET had gotten completely out of hand. Even well-intentioned members of the board may have realized that something was amiss. At the end of the three day meeting they announced that a committee would be formed to look into the problem of too much restraint on academic creativity. Unfortunately, nothing ever came from that as far as I know. Neither power nor authority are often relinquished voluntarily.

With respect -Joel


Howard Pattee said...

Joel’s experience with academic politics reminded me of a famous essay by Cornford called Microcosmographica Academica that was recommended to me as a graduate student.

It contains the “Principle of the Dangerous Precedent” that all committee members should memorize.

“The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.”

The entire text is on line:


Howard Pattee said...

How do you make a url clickable? What happens when the url is cut off, as in the last post?



Ira Glickstein said...

Here is the URL you wanted to make clickable:


The general rule for the HTML code is as follows (NOTE: I have used "{" and "}" instead of "<" and ">" in my example to prevent automatic translation):

{a href="http://www.cs.kent.ac.uk/people/staff/iau/cornford/cornford.html"}http://www.cs.kent.ac.uk/people/staff/iau/cornford/cornford.html{/a}

If you wanted the URL to be the same, but the hypertext displayed to be different, like this Entire Text Online, use the following HTML code:

{a href="http://www.cs.kent.ac.uk/people/staff/iau/cornford/cornford.html"}Entire Text Online{/a}

That should work for any length URL, even one that gets cut off.

Please note there are two ways Google Blogger displays Comments. The first is the way you see it when you post a Comment or if you click on the "Comment" hypertext at the end of a Topic.

The second method is better, IMHO. If you click on the Title of any Topic, you will get a page displayed with that Topic alone, and, at the bottom, all the Comments for that Topic.

Ira Glickstein

PS: Just remember to use "<" and :>" where I used "{" and "}" in my examples!

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks Joel for starting this new Topic and Howard for your link to a wonderful piece of advice!

I guess I was fortunate to never have to attempt to scale the ramparts of academic politics or serve on the many committees, having never been in a quest for a tenured position at a university. As an Adjunct at Binghamton U and U Maryland, I simply proposed a new course or inherited and updated an established course, and let the department chair handle the politics.

I did get involved once in an ABET evaluation of our curriculum at Binghamton U, and I contributed my share to the pile of paper they compiled. It seemed to me, at the time, that thickness was the name of the game when it came to ABET approval.

I read the delightful Microcosmographica Academica linked to by Howard. The following seems to bolster my argument in a different Topic thread that logic and reason have little applicability to politics:

"You think (do you not?) that you have only to state a reasonable case, and people must listen to reason and act upon at once. ... [B]ut has it occurred to you that nothing is ever done until every one is convinced that it ought to be done, and has been convinced for so long that it is now time to do something else? And are you not aware that conviction has never yet been produced by an appeal to reason ... you must address your arguments to prejudice and the political motive..." [Emphasis added]

Of course, I did have to negotiate corporate politics and the substantial hierarchy at IBM as well as our main customer, the US DoD. I was in the area of Independent Research and Development (IR&D) and New Business Proposals. Luckily, I had the instinct that I had to use emotional appeals in addition to technical arguments to get money for my IR&D projects and win contracts from the DoD. While other engineers used mere diagrams and equations, I always added images of people and airplanes and so on. I also used stories like the King who caught a cheating goldsmith (to push a method I came up with to find and correct a bit in computer memory that had erroneously flipped from "0" to "1") or the Lone Ranger and Tonto (for a method, later patented, to allow coordination without direct communication).

Perhaps an advantage of working against corporate politics is that the feedback is nearly immediate. You know within months if a proposal has won or lost the contract you were bidding. You know within a year or so if the project will be within or out of budget and schedule, and if the technical performance measures are being met.

Perhaps the problem with academic politics is that the feedback is absent, or well delayed.

Perhaps tenure is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it protects the "academic freedom" of professors who may have unpopular or controversial opinions. On the other hand, it protects bad or outdated professors from being fired.

In the corporate world, there is always the risk of being fired or of having your department or division or the whole company go out of business. That threat, I believe, forces everyone to perform at their best and get over personal differences of opinion and so on. My rule was that, as long as the team leader and manager listened to me and my opinions "with both ears" I would respect and follow his or her decisions even if I thought they were technically not the best.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

I would distinguish two (as a minimum) types of power. One type I’ll call power-in-itself. Many powerful leaders are turned on just by being powerful, although few will admit it. Napoleon is a perfect example because he is honest about it. He said, “I love power. But it is as an artist that I love it. I love it as a musician loves his violin, to draw out its sounds and chords and harmonies. He also compared power to a lover: “Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.”

The other type of power I’ll call power-with-a-principle. This type is characteristic of reformers or revolutionaries who are usually fighting for a principle, although it usually takes the form of a battle against established power that has become intolerably corrupt or unjust.

We tend to think of power-in-itself as bad and power-with-a-principle is good, but I don’t think this is necessarily the case. It depends on many other conditions. Power-in-itself can be fairly administered and can maintain order and keep a society strong. It can also be tyrannical. So can revolutionary power. Of course, both types of power are corruptible.

Democracy can prevent tyranny and corruption if there is only enough power to assure the right to vote but not so much power that voters can be coerced. Our founders built in all our checks and balances primarily to prevent tyranny, but they didn’t directly address the possibility that the powerful can determine how we register voters and count the votes.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard distinguishes two types of power: Power-in-itself (e.g., Napoleon) and Power-with-a-principle (e.g., reformers, revolutionaries). He makes the valid point that, although we tend to think of the former as bad and the latter as good, neither is necessarily better than the other.

I agree and would add that most people in power combine Power-in-itself and Power-with-a-principle. No one can rise to a powerful postion unless they have strong leadership capabilities, determination, and a certain amount of ruthlessness. On the other hand, even Napoleon (or Stalin or Hitler) was motivated by a "higher purpose" - the glory of French nationalism (or racial superiority or communist principles, etc.)

The "best" form of government would be led by a "benevolent dictator" who would have the power and judgement to force his or her people to do what is best for them. I have "scare quotes" around "best" because, as Lord Acton famously said "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."

As for democracy, Winston Churchill famously said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

I agree with Howard that "Democracy can prevent tyranny and corruption if there is only enough power to assure the right to vote but not so much power that voters can be coerced."

Absolutely true, which is why I strongly favor limiting government power to only what is essential at each level. When the federal government gets its hands too deeply into non-essential areas, special interest groups arise on all sides and corrupt our leaders with political contributions and "527" propaganda blasts. A strong argument for free enterprise is that distributing economic power to many competing interests prevents the central government from exercising monopoly power.

Howard goes on: "Our founders built in all our checks and balances primarily to prevent tyranny, but they didn’t directly address the possibility that the powerful can determine how we register voters and count the votes."

I agree and support the "checks and balances" of the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and the "fourth" - a free press (in the largest sense).

The last part of Howard's Comment is troubling to me: "...the powerful can determine how we register voters and count the votes." This appears to be a sideswipe about how votes were counted in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections and as such I think it is a "red herring".

Registering voters: It is to the advantage of one party (not the Republicans :^) to register as many people as possible, including convicted felons, patients in mental institutions, the homeless and even "undocumented workers" (otherwise known as "illegal aliens" :^)

Here in Florida we have a law requiring convicted felons who have served their prison terms to go through a formal process to get their voting rights back. Some would argue "they have paid their debt to society", so they should be allowed to vote upon release, to which I say B*LL SH*T. A convicted felon who has seriously harmed another person can never repay that debt to the victim, nor erase the fear we all have of being the victim of a crime.

As for mental patients, Joel knows a member of our local Philosophy Club named Rona who worked in a mental insitution and bragged at how she "helped" patients vote. Her politics are far to the left and I have no doubt how she helped them vote (reasoning it was to their benefit to have increased social spending).

If anything, we need measures to assure that we only register voters who have at least some minimal level of literacy (in English) and who have an established address. Oh, and they should also be citizens!

Counting the votes: In 2000 the "problem" was with the punch-card ballots and in 2004 electronic display screen voting. In both cases, some voters got confused (see above about "some minimal level of literacy") and the machines were blamed. Punch-cards were manually examined for evidence of dimples. Demands were made for a "paper trail" for electronic machines. As a result, billions were spent on new electronic voting machines. Now those are being thrown away in favor of optical scan paper ballots. No doubt if the "wrong" candidate wins in November (I can only hope :^) they will find some fault in the optical scan paper ballots (and they do have serious faults).

IMHO this is a waste of time and money. In New York I voted on mechanical lever machines that increments counters and depended on the election workers to read and record the numbers manually before the counter overflowed and reset to zero. Other jurisdictions used manually counted paper ballots.

Both the punch cards and the electronic voting machines were a major improvement in accuracy over manual counted paper ballots and lever machines.

Here in Florida I have voted on both optical scan paper ballots and electronic machines. (We have early voting at centralized locations for a couple weeks before election day and electronic machines were used for early voting because they could easily be set to the correct district and language without the need to print up and distribute specialized paper ballots.)

The electronic voting machines display each contest in large type on a separate screen. After the voter finishes all screens, a summary page is shown indicating how the votes registered and if there were any contests where no vote was case. The voter can go back to correct any mistakes.

With optical scan paper ballots the voter is given an oversize piece of paper with small type and has to fill in ovals using a pencil. There is no notice given if he or she "undervotes" (does not vote for anyone in a given contest) or "overvotes" (votes for more than one candidate in a one-winner contest).

But, there is a paper trail. Next election, if the "wrong" candidate wins, get ready for manual, microscopic examination of each paper ballot for evidence of some mark, however tiny, in a particular oval, that could be interpreted as a vote that was not counted by the optical scan device.

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

Ira, I have some questions about what troubles you. Of course I would appreciate answers from everybody ― a kind of mini-poll.

You say you are troubled by my comment “...the powerful can determine how we register voters and count the votes.” You say it “appears to be a sideswipe about how votes were counted in the 2000 and 2004 presidential” and that is a “red herring.”

(1) Would you call it a red herring if, because of Florida’s snafu, voters nationwide have lost confidence in the fairness of our vote counting systems?

(2) Without regard to the decision itself, do you think the Supreme Court should decide who is president if the vote count cannot be resolved?

(3) Do you think national law should require uniform ballot audits procedures for national elections?

I don’t meant to single out Florida, although it is a prime example of poor voting laws. Florida was required to audit only one randomly selected race on the ballot to check validity. It also calls for audits to be conducted only after an election is certified, making it almost impossible to change the outcome of the election.

The problem is nationwide. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that most of the 38 states with voter-verifiable paper trails did not even require audits after every election. The states that do have audits do them inadequately. All states should require audits of all major races before election results are certified. They should require checking a statistically significant number of the ballots.

“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything” Joseph Stalin

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard, I'm surprised you quoted Joseph Stalin on counting votes in a posting about US Presidential elections. What did he know about US elections? You should have quoted the real experts - Richard Daley and Lyndon Johnson.

This is from Wikipedia:

"Some Republicans and historians have alleged that Kennedy benefited from vote fraud, especially in Texas and Illinois, and that Nixon actually won the national popular vote ... These two states are important because if Nixon had carried both, he would have won the election in the electoral college.

"Kennedy won Illinois by a bare 9,000 votes, even though Nixon carried 92 of the state's 101 counties. Kennedy's victory in Illinois came from the city of Chicago, where Mayor Richard J. Daley held back much of Chicago's vote until the late morning hours of November 9. The efforts of Daley and the powerful Chicago Democratic organization gave Kennedy an extraordinary Cook County victory margin of 450,000 votes --- more than 10% of Chicago's 1960 population of 3.55 million -- thus (barely) overcoming the heavy Republican vote in the rest of Illinois. ...

"In Texas, some Republicans argued that the formidable political machine of Lyndon B. Johnson had stolen enough votes in counties along the Mexican border to give Kennedy the victory there."

OK, let me get to your questions:

(1) Voter Confidence: Voters lost confidence because of the photo of the Palm Beach County guy squinting at a punch card trying to see a dimple. The "butterfly" ballot was designed by a Democrat and approved by a Democrat-controlled election board because it allowed larger type for the names of the Presidential candidates to help the elderly voters in Palm Beach County. Clearly it confused many voters who inadvertently voted for Buchanan instead of Gore. However, absent partisan fraud in the design of the ballot by the Democrat-controlled election board, there was no legal way to reverse the results.

On the other side, all the major media, including FoxNews, reported that Gore won before the polls closed in the heavily Republican Florida Panhandle which is in a different time zone. That discouraged many Bush voters from going to the polls. Again, absent any evidence of partisan fraud on the part of the media, there was no legal way to reverse the results.

Ballot designers and major media learned a lesson that will be applied to make future elections more fair.

(2) Supreme Court:The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and Executive were at loggerheads with the Democrat-controlled Florida Supreme Court, so the case had to go to the US Supreme Court. The first US SC decision was 7-2, holding the Florida SC plan for recounting was unconstitutional. The second and deciding US SC decision was 5-4, ending the recounts. The US SC did not "decide who is president". They decided election law in the face of a conflict between a state Executive and Legislature vs the Judicial. A media-sponsored recount that took over six months was subsequently done and it showed that Bush would have won all legally requested recounts by Gore proponents. This is all based on Wikipedia.

(3) National Uniform Ballot Audits: I think there should be national standards for certifying voting machines and procedures for setting them up and testing them. I would prefer that a non-government, non-partisan organization, such as the League of Women Voters be responsible for the certification and that the states voluntarily decide to accept the standards and undergo and pay for certification. Absent evidence of partisan fraud in setting up the machines, or a serious breakdown of certified procedures, I think recounts should be done by machine only. I NEVER want to see that poor Palm Beach County guy squinting at a ballot again!

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...

I quoted Stalin only because I think he stated the truth about voting better than anyone else.

I have no problem with your lengthy analysis of voter fraud in general and Florida 2000 in particular. As I said, it was not my intention to single out Florida or be politically partisan. The problem of fair voting is a nationwide, all parties problem.

I know the Supreme Court actually addressed only a rather narrow legal issue. But as pointed out in Wiki the result was essentially arbitrary: “Under the recount rules initially requested by Gore, Bush would have won, and under the rules requested by Bush, Gore would have won.”

Clearly the problem is that the crucial evidence on the vote count was missing. Lacking the evidence, the Supreme Court’s decision reminded me of the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland: “Sentence first, then the evidence.”

There must be a better way.

Ira Glickstein said...

Howard did not reference his source for the supposed Joseph Stalin quote: "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”

It appears to be a bogus attribution, according to votefraud.org. The earliest published record of such a quote is dated 1996 (Stalin died in 1953). Rush Limbaugh, of all people, supposedly used that quote on Friday November 24, 2000.

I do not know if we should trust the above two websites and would appreciate it if Howard or someone else could find an authoritative source for the quote or debunking the quote. I checked Snopes, which I consider authoritative, and could find nothing on this alleged quote.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

"The ballots made no result; the counters made the result."

The above quote, from the 1877 testimony of New York City's Tammany Hall "Boss Tweed" may be the original source of the quote Howard found attributed to Joseph Stalin. Read the full account in this 2004 John Fund story.

Here are a couple more direct quotes from Boss Tweed's 1877 testimony to the NYC Board of Aldermen:

"Count the ballots in bulk, or without counting them announce the result in bulk, or change from one to the other, as the case may have been."

"I don't think there was ever a fair or honest election in the City of New York."

Some more from the linked website:

"[Apparent fraud] tipped a 1948 Senate race to Lyndon Johnson. Election officials found ballot box 13 several days after the election. It held 203 votes, all but one for LBJ. Amazingly enough, the voters had cast their ballots in alphabetical order."

"The immigrants flooding into New York were easy prey for the Tammany pols. Each state then set its own standards for naturalizing new citizens, and New York's were lax. In 1868, The Nation reported that Tammany Hall had set up a 'naturalization mill,' instantly certifying folks right off the boat as citizens—and Tammany voters. (In 1996, the Clinton administration similarly sped up the naturalization of up to 1 million new citizens so that they could vote in time for that year's election.)"

Happy reading!

Ira Glickstein

Howard Pattee said...


I got the quote from BrainyQuote. I didn’t really care who said it first because its truth is not based on authority.


Howard Pattee said...

To get back to the topic of power, I am trying to enumerate the basic ways power can be acquired and maintained. Physical force comes first to my mind, probably because in physics power is proportional to force. Unfortunately, military force usually appears to be the ultimate immediate power.

In the long run, however, natural resources are what give power to a society, and modern societies are not isolated like primitive tribes. Consequently, economic power, defined as fungible resources, is necessary to support modern military power. (Recall, Osama bin Laden said his strategy is to destroy US economic power by provoking us into a costly war.)

Economic power can manipulate and be manipulated in endlessly complex ways. That is one reason that economic theories are so numerous, and none reliable at making predictions. I see one primary difference between C-minds and L-minds is in their economic theories, and in how they value economic power, but that is a sub-topic that Joel and Ira might start commenting on.

The power of ideas is difficult to compare with military and economic powers, but they all clearly interact strongly. I would distinguish scientific and technical ideas from persuasive or rhetorical ideas. I don’t see much evidence of scientific theory having power in itself. Its power is felt indirectly through technology. Relativity and quantum theory have not changed social behavior, and cosmology and evolution apparently irritate the majority of Americans.

Persuasive ideas, on the contrary, have probably had more effect on civilization than military power, although I don’t see how their effects can be evaluated separately. Rhetoric, the study of persuasive speaking, was considered essential for the education of the Greeks and Romans. Today it is mostly fundamentalist ministers who are skilled at oration showing that many people are rhetorically persuadable. Personally, I’m more skeptical when I hear a great speaker than listening to normal discourse.

Supernatural religions have been the basis of most social power structures until naturalistic political ideas arose during the Age of Reason, eventually producing the political persuasions like democracy, fascism, socialism, Marxism, and capitalism.

What have I left out? Can anyone add another basic source of power?


joel said...

Howard said: What have I left out? Can anyone add another basic source of power?

Joel responds: It would seem that another source of power is "vacuum." Although I really know nothing about it, it would seem to me that this notion of optimum span or management complexity that Howard and Ira talk about is applicable here. If a management structure is not optimum, it should create political forces that will move the structure toward the optimum. If it arrives at the optimum, death in effect reshuffles the cards. We have many examples societies that were chaotic and moved toward a structure which very successful before coming into conflict with other societies or the death of the leader. The rise and fall of various French dynasties show oscillation in the number of people dividing the leadership position as a result of the absence of progeny and the desires of middle management (the nobles). With respect- Joel

Howard Pattee said...


I’m not sure of your thoughts here, but would you call the undirected forces in the absence of power a kind of natural competitive force, something like natural selection in evolution?

In any case, I left out evolutionary natural selection that is certainly a default or virtual force. It is a type of power that exists with or without directed or purposeful human forces.

I would call this distributed non-directed power the antithesis of the "Great Man theory" of history (See Wiki)that claims it is the power of individual leaders that shapes events.


Howard Pattee said...

Pardon my repeating the last paragraph of my last post, but I just wanted to get my clickable link to work

I would call this non-directed power the antithesis of the Great Man Theory
of history that claims it is the power of individual leaders that shapes events.


Ira Glickstein said...

Joel observed: "...it would seem to me that this notion of optimum span or management complexity that Howard and Ira talk about is applicable here. If a management structure is not optimum, it should create political forces that will move the structure toward the optimum." [Emphasis added]

Absolutely correct! Let me take us through some "vignettes" to illustrate what Howard and I are getting at.

(1) A guy starts a business, call it "Able", and, over some years, is successful. He is a real expert on the product or service but has no idea how to run a growing organization. He is the sole decision maker, working hard 24 hours a day trying to coordinate nearly fifty employees (see figure (a) in my Knol on Optimal Span).

(2) A competitor, call it "Baker", comes into town and offers a similar product or service. The owner understands management span of control and has an office manager, a sales manager, a product manager, a service manager and so on who can make decisions in their domains. (see figure (c) in my Knol on Optimal Span). The total number of employees is also around fifty, but customers get quicker, more responsive service, and the owner has the time and energy to make strategic decisions.

(3) "Able" struggles against competition from better managed "Baker". "Able" may be forced out of business, or, perhaps when the owner retires or dies from overwork, his son or daughter may reorganize into a hierarchical management structure.

(4) "Baker" meanwhile continues to grow, duplicating its business model in other cities, growing to a three-level hierarchy. The corporate model gains benefits of scale in product design and marketing and out-competes or buys out poorly organized businesses like "Able".

(5) "Baker" grows to a six- or seven-layer bureaucracy with Harvard-educated managers who "wouldn't know which end of a screwdriver to hold" if their life (or that of the business) depended upon it. (But they are very good at golf.) There is a large research department and legal department and human resources and a large union representing the employees. The entreprenaurial spirit of the founder dissipates. As the market and economic climate change, the large bureaucracy flounders, profits turn to losses, and the government has to step in to guarantee a loan or the company goes out of business. Or, best case, a new CEO or a "corporate raider" comes in and splits and reorganizes the company and it soars to greater success.


Something close to optimal span is achieved either by accident or by conscious strategic planning, or by non-optimal businesses going out of business or being split up and absorbed by better-managed corporations.

Ira Glickstein

Ira Glickstein said...

What are the real sources of power? Joel and Howard have suggested several, including the Great Leader Theory (I try to be PC :^)

I would answer "all of the above": great natural resources, great human resources, great forms of government that allow fuller participation by talented citizens, great historical accidents and opportunities, great myths and legends and religious beliefs that support nationalism, great sociobiological "natural selection" and societal evolution and ... great leaders.

Of course, I use the word "great leader" in its most general sense - having great effects on world history - not necessarily beneficial effects for those who suffered under their leadership!

Also, in the above list, not every item is necessary nor is any one sufficient. For example, the UK and Japan have far fewer natural resources than many other less successful countries. They benefitted from the historical accident of their isolation by water and need to become seafaring in the age of ships. Also, in the case of Japan (and other East Asian countries) I believe their people are, on average, slightly more intelligent than the world average, due to genetic inheritance caused by selective pressures in their histories.

As a result of Howard's invocation of Stalin in a previous Comment, I read the complete Wikipedia entry on him. He was a horrible, duplicitous, ruthless, criminal person, but he did have a large effect on the Soviet Union and the world stage, changing history in significant ways.

My maternal grandfather was from Ekaterinaslav (now Dnepropetrovsk), Ukraine and grandmather from Baku, Aserbaijan. Stalin was from Gori, Georgia, between the two. (His father an ethnic Osettian/Russian and his mother Georgian.) My grandparents came to the US around 1907 due to the riots, peasant uprisings and ethnic "pogroms" that swept the country, partly due to the revolutionary actions of Stalin and the Tsar's reaction.

My paternal grandparents came to the US at the time their fellow Austrian, Hitler, was beginning to develop his "Aryan race" ideas that would eventually tear Europe and the world apart during WWII.

So, two of the "great leaders" and their cruel and wrong-headed activities had a part in my parents and me being born in the USA. (Perhaps I should say "thank you". NOT!)

Ira Glickstein