What sort of vehicle are you operating?

I think I have a decent shot at becoming a manager in the next year or two.

I can see two possible explanations for why I might attain such a position at such a young age: 1) I’m really smart or 2) I understand what government is and how it works better than any other potential candidates.

I think 2) is the answer, but 1) should stay on the table in the interests of scientific rigor. Imagine that two people are placed behind the wheel of a vehicle of some kind and told to drive. Obviously, if one person knows what sort of vehicle he’s driving, he’ll have the advantage over the other guy. The other potential candidates simply don’t understand how government works. They end up saying retarded stuff like, "The right question is what policies / programs do you think the state should provide. Then you tax at a level appropriate to cover the costs."

This thought is retarded because it assumes lots of things which are wildly at odds with reality: 1) it assumes that there is a "you"; 2) it assumes that this "you" knows what it wants; 3) it assumes that "you’s" wants are limited and rational; 4) it assumes that "you" can estimate how much these wants will cost; and 5) it assumes that once this amount is known, "you" can use taxes to obtain this amount of money. All of these assumptions are completely false.

If this is my only competition, it’s time to consider the possibility that I’m an idiot for not moving up faster.

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8 Responses to What sort of vehicle are you operating?

  1. Is there that little understanding of the macro objectives of government agencies even among its employees? It makes sense that voters don’t think deeply about how government works – rational ignorance and all that – but I figured people were pretty rational about things that actually affect them. And that therefore gov’t employees do pick up on the bunker mentality on display in Yes Minister.

    • Foseti says:

      There is some pretty lame understanding among new employees. The older ones have generally figured it out, but I think even they remain somewhat blinded by their progressive ideology to certain aspects of the functioning.

      • That’s really interesting. I’ve hung around rationality-minded circles and my general observation has been that while there are areas whree it’s easy to be more rational than average (politics, economics, other abstract stuff) there are very few cases where people are actually harmed by their own irrationality. What exactly do you do, action-wise, that others don’t because of their ideological blinders?

      • Foseti says:

        I go to a lot of meetings. Generally at these meetings, it’s my job to represent my agency’s position. Many of people we bring on have trouble understanding what the agency’s position is/should be. I’ve never had any difficulty. I’m not sure I’d say that they’re confused because of “irrationality” but I think their idea of what government should makes it tough for them to understand what government actually does.

  2. YR says:

    I guess you don’t give much credit to the idea that we may not make it 2 more years? In your eyes, this mess is relatively stable?

  3. Jehu says:

    Foseti,
    I read you as a 3 sigma with a world view that isn’t totally unmoored from reality. That’s sufficient to make proposition 1 true (most of the folks in your area are likely +1 to +2 sigmas from the mean). That proposition doesn’t typically drive advancement into management though, not even in the technology industries where I work. Item 2 is how you’ll advance, if you do so. It certainly won’t be because your family is particularly well connected or that you represent an opportunity to ‘foster diversity’.

  4. rightsaidfred says:

    The indication here is that competence is rewarded in your department. That is beyond my experience horizon. Around my parts, anyone with skill and ability gets subtle threats and intimidation until they leave or go into hibernation. GS 15s are selected on their ability to tell huge CYA lies without any visible change in their autonomic nervous system.

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