Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gyrovagues and Why People Vote for Trump

The media in the US, but also here in Holland where I currently am, have generally been very dismissive about the Donald Trump campaign: initially they ignored Trump, then they underestimated him and now it seems they don't want to understand the reasons voters are attracted by his message. Too little has been written about why he has been able to defy the odds and is close to becoming the Republican Presidential nominee or else causing the implosion of the Republican party. At a later date, I plan to come up with my own analysis of the Trump phenomenon, but for now want to share with you a fascinating piece, How to Legally Own Another Person, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of bestseller, The Black Swan. The below excerpt will be a bit longer than usual, but I believe important enough to do so - with thanks to Mr. Taleb's work.

In this article, Mr. Taleb starts describing the Gyrovagues, who, in the early Middle Ages, were " gyrating and roaming monks without any affiliation to any institution.....The gyrovagues were unpopular with the church, banned by the council of Chalcedon in the Fifth Century, then again by the second council of Nicaea about three hundred years later..................Why were they banned?
".......They were, simply, totally free. They were financially free, and secure, not because of their means but because of their wants. Ironically by being beggars, they had the equivalent of f*** you money, the one can get more easily by being at the lowest rung than by being member of the income dependent class......

"Complete freedom is the last thing you would want if you have an organized religion to run. Total freedom is also a very, very bad thing for you if you have a firm to run, so this article is about the question of employees and the nature of the firm and other institutions."

Taleb then continues describing the development in the 20th century of the "company man", who "....is someone who feels that he has something huge to lose if he doesn’t behave as a company man –that is, he has skin in the game." By the 1990s, with the demise of long term careers with one single employer, the "company man" has morphed into a "companies man", i.e. "someone who feels that he has something huge to lose if he loses his employability –that is, he or she have skin in the game."

According to Taleb, "perhaps by definition an employable person is the one that you will never find in a history book because these people are designed to never leave their mark on the course of events. They are, by design, uninteresting to historians."

You may think what does this all have to do with people voting for Trump, but this becomes clear further down Taleb's article, when Taleb compares the current Western leaders to "companies men":

".......we are witnessing a nascent confrontation between several parties, which includes the current “heads” of state members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Russian Vladimir Putin. Clearly, except for Putin, all the others need to be elected, can come under fire by their party, and have to calibrate every single statement to how it could be misinterpreted the least by the press. I have been exposed to such an insecurity first hand. On the other hand, Putin has the equivalent of f***you money, projecting a visible “I don’t care”, which in turn brings more followers and more support among the constituents. In such a confrontation Putin looks and acts as a free citizen confronting slaves who need committees, approval, and of course feel like they have to fit their decisions to an immediate rating.

"Watching Putin against others made me realize that domesticated (and sterilized) animals don’t stand a chance against a wild predator. Not a single one. Fughedabout military capabilities: it is the trigger that counts.

"Although employees are reliable by design, it remains that they cannot be trusted in making decisions, hard decisions, anything that entails serious tradeoffs.

Taleb comes up with examples such as the Vietnam War, where continuing bad policy was easier to do than change course; also the US actions after 9/11, i.e. attacking Iraq was chosen rather than the harder choice of dealing with the cause of this attack with the U.S. ally Saudi Arabia; and finally the actions dealing with banks in 2009 was another example of following the easier route, i.e. bailing out the banks with hardly any other consequences -  rather than dealing with the root cause, whether it was systemic or managerial.

Taleb then says: "Now compare these policies with ones in which decision makers have skin in the game as a substitute for their annual “job assessment”, and you would picture a different world."

Although Taleb doesn't say this explicitly, but because leading U.S. (and other Western) politicians have been behaving like "companies men and women", rather than courageous leaders, they have created a vacuum, for "politicians" like Trump - not as poor as the Gyrovagues but equally free - to take advantage of.  It's thus that voters vote for Trump, not because they are for him but they are against the companies men, who forgot too often to support the common interest. As Abraham Lincoln said, you can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The clock is ticking for many politicians in the US and elsewhere.......

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