2004 October 12 Tuesday
Saddam Hussein Bluffed About Weapons To Deter Iran
The Los Angeles Times has an important article about how the US government so monumentally miscalculated Saddam Hussein's intentions and capabilities and why Saddam was bluffing about Iraq's nuclear and other weapons capabilities. (same article is here and here)
The former official said the CIA never understood that Hussein was bluffing about his long-abandoned weapons chiefly to deter Iran, Iraq's longtime enemy. To Hussein, Tehran's alleged push to gain the nuclear arms that he was denied posed an unacceptable danger to his country and a challenge to his rightful place in history.
Saddam Hussein had a more rational view of American national interest than the neoconservatives have.
In Hussein's view, the U.S. priority in the region was to ensure that Iran's Islamic Revolution did not spread to other nations and give radical Shiite clerics a chokehold on global oil supplies. He was convinced that Washington's national interest lay in containing Iran's suspected nuclear arms program, not in toppling his regime.
Indeed, he depended on it.
David Kay, who preceded Duelfer as the chief U.S. weapons sleuth, said he asked Tarik Aziz, Iraq's former deputy prime minister, in an interrogation last year why Hussein didn't keep his illicit weapons if he was so nervous about Iran's effort to build a nuclear bomb. "He said every time they raised it with Saddam, he said, 'Don't worry about Iran because if it turns out to be what we think, the Israelis or the Americans will take care of them,' " Kay said. "In other words, he was relying on us to deal with his enemy."
The article relays the fact that Saddam was willing to become a loyal ally of the United States and repeatedly sent out diplomatic feelers attempting to become the chief US ally. Saddam was willing to assist the US in stopping Iran from from spreading radical Islam and developing nukes. Imagine that. The irony here is that Israel would have benefitted from such an alliance since Iran's nuclear program is a far greater threat to Israel than Saddam's Iraq was.
Oh, and get this: Saddam thought the CIA was so omnipotent that the CIA must have so many spies in the Iraqi government that the CIA just had to know that Saddam was bluffing about WMDs. So Saddam figured the US couldn't really be challenging him over WMDs.
On related notes see the full text of Charles Duelfer's Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD which was produced for the CIA.
On those dangerous neoconservative fools see Steve Sailer's article on the 10th anniversary of The Bell Curve and especially points 6,7, and 8 on how the neocons came to abandon empiricism as well as Steve's post of a friend's commentary on the neocon love of theory over empiricism, Trotskyites, and fascism.
Update: Steve Sailer points out that back in October 2002 physicist and former weapons designer Gregory Cochran predicted no nuclear program would be found in Iraq and Greg explained why. Greg was right in detail. What does it say that one guy can clearly see through to the truth when government agencies and powerful leaders with billions of dollars to spend to investigate the same set of questions can't get it right?
If you want to understand the world a large part of the trick is in figuring out how to choose people to listen to. People who make wrong predictions ought to be listened to less. People who make right predictions ought to be listened to more. We need automated systems for keeping track of past predictions to hold commentators to greater account for their errors and also we need to try harder to point to those who get it right so we know to pay attention to them next time.
I'm sorry, was I was only one that read:
"If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate."
Randall, you appear convinced that race is the key to human intelligence. You certainly have given me that impression. The authors of "The Bell Curve" do not seem to share your conviction, judging from the above quote.
If environment is a factor [and the authors of the Bell Curve believe it is], then changing the environment in which people are born and raised can expand the limitations of the mind, and our attempt to reshape the world's national environments is not irrational.
What we know for a fact is that Islamic extremists have the intent to destroy us. What we know for a fact is that some of their State backers have the ability and skill to produce weapons and warriors which can reach us here, in the West.
Today, in the present, we have to decide what we want to believe, for we must act on that belief RIGHT NOW to make sure that they never harm us in the future.
If we believe that the people of Iraq, and the Middle East generally, are capable of democracy, law & order, and freedom and that they can create a society which promotes these goals, then we must attempt to do so. Reform will lead to our safety.
If we believe that reform is impossible, then we must destroy them. Some posters here at Parapundit have poo-pooed this idea as a straw man, or a cheap pedogogical trick. It is not. We can strengthen our national borders, but we cannot retreat from the world or cut off all ties. Unless we are willing to sacrfice our way of life, the borders must remain open for global commerce and movement of labor to take place. The only way we can get 100% border security is to completely shut them down. Otherwise some terrorist with his oil money is just going to bribe the right people and put a bomb on a cargo container from China. Then the bribes that allowed Beslan will be seen as foreshadowing.
What I do believe is that it is better to ATTEMPT change, no matter how long the odds, than to go straight to "wiping the slate clean."
And as for Saddam, screw him. If the author of the article (or any Parapundit reader) really believes that Saddam would have been a loyal ally of anyone, they are completely deranged. Saddam was a ruthless killer, loyal to no one but himself, who was possibly seeking America's aid to advance his own interests. He would have stabbed up in the back the moment we ceased to be useful to him, just like the Kurds. NOT the kind of ally I am interested in having. Saddam's "rational" view of the world was based on his over-estimation of the CIA. It would be nice if we were that omniscient and all-seeing, but we aren't. Maybe it would have been better to go after Iran in 2003, but we thought there were TWO nations in the Middle East attempting to make WMDs, and one was an easier nut to crack.
And as for your articles accusing Neocons of 10 kinds of stupidity, when did opposing Fascism in all its forms ever become an insult? Makes the insulter look like a pansy-assed appeaser of racial genocide and institutional murder. Maybe that works for some people, but it doesn't work for me.
You ought to read The Bell Curve to find out what Herrnstein and Murray really said in detal. I've read it. I have also read what Murray has written since then.
If environment makes a difference does that mean that genetics doesn't make a difference? If genetics makes a difference does that mean that environment doesn't make a difference? Many people who deny genetic influences on intelligence attempt to argue that strawman. Are you arguing that strawman?
Race is the key to intelligence? You simplify and distort my position. Environment, whether nutritional/biochemical or cognitive stimuli/social environment, can either allow or prevent an embryo from developing to its genetic potential. Do you want to argue that environmental factors are causing the >1.2 Standard Deviation difference in IQ between blacks and whites? Go thru the psychometric research literature and show me how it supports such a contention. You'll have to deal with the results from trans-racial adoption research. It is not favorable to an environmental interpretation.
You seem to be missing the point of the neocons having fascistic tendencies in their own thinking. But, more importantly, they and you are making an obvious mistake when you look at non-Western countries and try to use Western political models to explain phenomena that are better explained using other models. To quote myself before the war from November 2002.
Racially and tribally based regimes predate the creation of modern fascism. Absent a European intellectual influence the Middle East would still have regimes that were centered around powerful families and clan loyalty with identification extending further out into ethnic group and religious identity. Consanguinity is the biggest underappreciated factor in Western analyses of Middle Eastern politics. Most Western political theorists seem blind to the importance of pre-ideological kinship-based political bonds in large part because those bonds are not derived from embrace of abstract Western ideological models of how societies and political systems should be organized. Samuel P.
Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations
argument is therefore demonstrated by the Western inability to understand societies that do not fit into any recognizeable modern
Western ideological political category.
Whoever wrote that letter to Steve Sailer about the neoconservatives obviously has no clue what he's talking about. Michael Ledeen was never a fascist or an "admirer of Mussolini." Ledeen studied fascism for many years when he was an academic, writing about attempts to create a "Fascist International." He wrote these works and studied fascism for the simple reason that he was Jewish and he wanted to know why and what caused these populations to embrace fascism in such a manner.
Ledeen need only look in the mirror to understand the embrace of fascism now. Either in the mirror or at Israel.
Just wanted to point out that is has been, for some time, fashionable to point out that Saddam was "our boy," especially since he opposed the regime in Iran which had kicked out our favored Shah and seized our citizens as hostages; the theme is favorite of those opposed to the war and, more widely, to the Left in general. Recognizing that (but not being familiar enough with any details concerning the matter), I was somewhat surprised--not more than a couple months go--to see something from the UN itself breaking down, by country and $$ amount, the known total of Iraqi expenditures on war materials between 1979 (Saddam's ascension to power) and the first Gulf War. The total contribution to that total of the US and UK combined was somewhat under 2%--not quite the impression that I think is very widely abroad and accepted by the American public. Who knew?
By the way. Why all the commotion about something Saddam says? Sure, he can tell the truth just as he can lie but the idea that he's liable to tell us something which might have value, even for understanding events of the past, must come a distant second to recognizing that the fact that he's telling us anything at all is more liable intimately connected to the fact that he's a prisoner looking at a strong likelihood of a
sudden chiropractic adjustment. And, while I'm on the subject, is anyone here aware of whether the UN or Iraq has any law (or is liable
to pass one) that would prevent Saddam from profiting on the sale of his autobiography?
Back in December 2003 I posted Where Iraq Purchased Weapons 1973-2002.
As for what Saddam says: The Duelfer/CIA analysis of Saddam's motives is based on a lot more than Saddam Hussein interviews. But those interviews are consistent with what has been found. At some point you have to either accept the evidence or engage in self delusion and reject empirical arguments. The evidence for what Saddam was and was not doing is now enormous and it is not favorable to the arguments put forward by the war party in advance of the war. Since I was in that war party I am saying I was wrong then and so were all the other hawks, many of whom still can't admit to their mistakes.
to Brock: " If we believe that reform is impossible, then we must destroy them. " Gee, I can't see why. They're's about 1/100,000 the threat the old Soviets were.
Wouldn't it a lot easier and safer to destroy you? Or, better yet, just toss you in the loony bin and let you rot? That would be my choice.
gcochran - Fortunately, it's not up to you. Additionally, killing me would make you no safer, as I am not one of the Jihadista who is issuing fatwahs against the USA. Anyway, we didn't destroy the Soviets because they could destroy us right back. The jihadists have no such capability. If reform is impossible, it is better to cleanse the viper's nest now, rather than wait for the inevitable.
Environment clearly does make SOME difference, don't you agree? I ask you: Can environment make ENOUGH of a difference to transform Arabs into something other than a cesspool of terrorism and hate. If it can, we should attempt it. If it cannot, we should destroy them. We cannot just "leave them be." That brought us to 9/11. It must not be allowed to happen again.
Besides, you did not refute my central premise. Saddam was a psychopath; and "psychopath" and "loyal ally" are mutually exclusive terms. Given that, why did you BOLD it in your editorial? Saddam can say he was willing to be a loyal ally until he's blue in the fact - but that won't make it true or even worth repeating. The fact that you would even suggest it, just to make "the Bushies" look bad, paints you in a very unforgiving light. Are you that bitter about the decisions Bush has made? Get over it. Mistakes were made. No one's perfect.
And don't retreat to the "I'm trying to foster discussion between Republicans" excuse. People who are trying to have rational, adult conversations don't go around parroting the insincere assurances of deposed madmen.
And as for the Bell Curve: meh. I don't care. Even if black people or Arabs really are statistically dumber than white people, that's irrelevant to the war on terror. They're smart enough to kill me; therefore they must be treated with respect. I don't respect the Arab's current culture or pretty much anything else about them, but I respect their ability to harm me, my family, and my countrymen. It doesn't matter how many standard deviations dumber they are. If cousin-marriage is an obstacle in my path, so be it. They're smart enough to learn a lesson. Like feral dogs, they will learn to cease being violent, or they will be put down.
Randall, If Sadam's motive was to deter Iran, and we did not understand that motivation, it speaks to a shocking lack of intelligence on our part. I would want to see more evidence on this point before drawing any conclusions however. As to your presience in predicting the problems caused by consanguinity etc. to the neo-conservative project of bringing democracy to Iraq, you deserve to pat yourself on the back. Doesn't mean you ought to start quoting yourself as an authority on other matters though (smiley face).
Randall: Thanks for putting up the weaponry figures., particularly as they reinforce my point and I was offering nothing but my unsupported word about a memory.
Your point about a more rational analysis is well taken but is in no way supported by reference to Saddam's own statements, as pointed out by me first and then Brock. And don't forget something else--nothing whatever can be said to be known concretely at this time. Just as the events as developed have convinced you that earlier-held beliefs were at least partly erroneous, so might future developments affect
your future judgment of those you hold now. Error--even many errors--are frequent and not only to the ideologically blindered or the less analytical.
And I think that, with respect to Brock (on the IQ matter), you are both, to a degree, "talking past one another." As I have read your opinion
(and share it), let me state it for Brock as I understand it: Environment plays a role in the determination of the total personality of the individual. And, because environments can vary greatly, so may the contribution of environment in that development. At the present time, and under most ordinary environmental conditions encountered, such contribution appears to influence that development far less than the more rigid determinants of inherited characteristics.
I know that you (Randall) are hopeful of technologically-derived methods for improvement of inherited characteristics in like wise to godless. I also expect significant advances in that area but am not quite as sanguine about their ability to convey the general societal benefits you might envision. The merely less bright are not the source of the world's problems. The major threats of the past 100 years
have arisen among some of the more advanced industrial nations with populations of (at least) respectable intellectual capacity: Germany, Italy, Austria, Japan in the WWs. North Korea and North Vietnam, both comprising the relatively advanced portions of their split entities and respective seats of their internationally-active economies, attacked their primarily backward, agrarian, and less-educated former complements--and not otherwise. Russia and the former Soviet bloc countries may have many dullards but it was not their activities that caused a half-century of extreme tension for almost the entire world. Most "trouble" of whatever sort in whatever place, does not originate with the ignorant dull, or downtrodden, though these may be employed by others. Raising the average IQ everywhere to 100 or 110 or even higher would not solve the world's problems and might even carry the potential to aggravate them beyond their present level.
On the other hand, there is a specific change which we do not understand or understand very well, that carries with it the potential to effect almost every melioration we might wish. That is the simple but profound change which tkes place when a person "changes his mind.' And, though the typical change is whether to have another beer or not, whether to marry and settle down or stay single a while longer, or even whether to believe Saddam ever had any WMD, etc., some similar activity takes place in choosing to participate in irregular or organized criminal activity or to "go straight" and in whether to assume certain other people to be inherently inimical to his interests and therefore worthy of killing or to see those same people as potential cooperators in his own plans for self-fulfillment. How to change that inner, mental environment is the more important question. On the one, pessimistic side, it is clear we do not know how it is done. On the other, optimistic side is the (empirical--just the way you like it!) fact that we (and others) have done it before.
You favor forced democratization in the Middle East. Then if the targetted countries fail to measure up you appear to advovcate nuking them. Is that a fair summary of your position?
We invaded Iraq. We sorta occupy it. How much have we changed their environment? Well, some. But some of what has changed has made them more and not less likely to be terrorists. They are now going to go to schools which are, on average, more Islamic. Now more of them hate us. Now there are far more Al Qaeda operating in the country than was previously the case. So you can dream about changing environments. But we do not have that much control and there are unintended consequences to attempts at social engineering.
Saddam was acting in his own interests. The article I linked to about him had comments in it that showed how amazed people were about the extent of Saddam's rationality. He's not a nut. If he would have seen alliance with the US as in his interest then he would have continued in the alliance as long as he thought it to be in his interest. Of course we would have done the same.
Mistakes were made? You sound like Clinton. The Bushies deceived us. They cooked the inteligence. If they did this due to incompetence then why weren't any of Doug Feith's OSP or Bush's White House advisors fired for incompetence? If they intentionally lied then ditto.
Retreat? Why should I retreat? You are spewing nonsense.
IQ and The Bell Curve: Let me use baby talk: Dummies can not run democracies. You embrace the strategy promoted by the neocons to spread democracy as a way to end the threat of terrorism. So apparently you are advocating the nuking of Muslim countries too dumb to run a democracy. And you tell me I'm advocating positions that paint me in an unfavorable light. You are audacious.
Major misreadings of intelligence and of the intentions of other countries is a recurring theme in modern American history. But is that surprising? What method is there for selecting CIA agents and promoting them based on the accuracy of their predictions? I doubt there is any serious mechanism to demote and fire those who make inaccurate predictions and promote those who make accurate predictions. We are talking about the government after all.
Heck, even the press doesn't seem to do much to reward the commentators who make the most accurate predictions. If they did we'd see a whole different set of people writing for the major publications.
"killing me would make you no safer" More exactly, utterly disposing of the current political tendency that you're a part of would certainly make me safer, and the world a better place. I figure that you ilk is more of a threat than Osama: he's a hunted fugitive raghead, your tendency is currently very influential in the US, an important country.
Obviously you don't know this, but suggesting that we have to exterminate countries that we can't manage to beat into our prescribed pattern - countries like Iraq in particular, that haven't done a damn thing to us - marks you out as an extremely bad person.
Randall, go look at my take on the Iraqi nuclear program two years ago versus Duelfer's final report: it's on Steve's site. I was dead on - and, I might add, made no gratuitous call for genocide - but do see you anyone beating down my door over it? Not hardly.
My guess is that Saddam assumed that George Bush the Second would eventually go have a talk with George Bush the First who would explain that the reason he left Saddam in power in 1991 is because a weak but still standing Saddam was the ideal situation from the American perspective: too weak to threaten his neighbors but still strong enough to restrain Iran. Too bad Saddam didn't understand the twisted relationship between the two Georges. Of course, I'm not sure if anybody does, including the two Georges.
" What does it say that one guy can clearly see through to the truth when government agencies and powerful leaders with billions of dollars to spend to investigate the same set of questions can't get it right?"
It means that I am way underpaid.
“You favor forced democratization in the Middle East. Then if the targetted countries fail to measure up you appear to advovcate nuking them. Is that a fair summary of your position?”
I think that democratization is a tool. I believe it is the best way to achieve our goals, but it isn’t necessarily the only way. What I want to is to live in a world without the threat of terrorism. Of course one way to achieve that goal would be to nuke the countries which support terrorism – but understand I mean that as an absolutely last resort. I advance democratization because I think it’s the strategy which is the best compromise of our somewhat mutually exclusive priorities: national safety, effectiveness, and preserving our own humanity. For instance, the “nuke” option fails on point #3, while the “Kerry Doctrine” fails on points #1 and #2.
Incidentally, I think that any strategy that includes leaving people like Saddam in charge probably fails #1, and definitely fails #2. Leaving Saddam in power or propping up another dictator as “our bastard” is asking for trouble later.
“We invaded Iraq ... social engineering.”
Do more of them hate us? What if more of them hate us, as a percentage, but the ones that hate us are no longer in power? I bet there are people in Britain and France who hate us too, but I’m not worried about it. They don’t have control of those nation’s nuclear arsenals.
I’m also not sure that more of them really do hate us. Life was really, really lousy under Saddam, and I’ve seen evidence that a large number of them are grateful for our disposal of him. Also, you have to ask: How much do they hate us? I mildly dislike people from Boston, but certainly not enough to do anything about it. One of my deeper and more insightful observations into human behavior is that people talk a lot of shit. This is doubly true of “face” cultures, such as Araby. People are capable of telling a pollster that they wish America would burn in hell; and then turn around and wave and smile to the US troops handing out fresh drinking water. Which of these two expressions it true? Maybe they both are on some level. What I’m getting at though is when you trot out your polls on “Iraqi opinion”, I take them with a large grain of salt. I know for a fact they are flawed, and the only question is “How flawed are they? Flawed enough to be a difference in kind?”
As for the unintended consequences of social engineering, I am sure there will be many. There are also unintended consequences of sitting on your ass and doing nothing. Running around like Chicken Little, worrying about unintended consequences is a recipe for paralysis. It’s unacceptable.
“Saddam was acting in his own interests...we would have done the same.”
Do you think that the kind of person who is willing to be a murderous dictator can really be called sane? Do you really trust a word that comes out of his mouth? I don’t. The man’s a sociopath. The most you can say about him is that he’s a relatively intelligent sociopath. He will never stop trying to manipulate the people around him. He will never stop saying what he thinks you want to hear. I do not trust a single word that comes out of his mouth – especially when its about something so subjective as his own motives or state of mind.
“Mistakes were made? You sound like Clinton. The Bushies deceived us. They cooked the intelligence. If they did this due to incompetence then why weren't any of Doug Feith's OSP or Bush's White House advisors fired for incompetence? If they intentionally lied, then ditto.”
There are mistakes you can do something about, and mistakes you can’t. There is also a thing called “An expected number of mistakes.” I (personally) don’t care that Saddam didn’t have WMDs at the time of his defeat. You and I both know he had them before, used them, wanted more of them, and wanted to use them. At some level I care that military tactical mistakes were made, but that’s going to happen. Mistakes have been made in every war, from the ancient times to today. Mistakes will be made in the future.
Also, since we need someone to be President, and there’s no credible alternative, Bush cannot be “fired.”
“Retreat? Why should I retreat? You are spewing nonsense.”
I thought you might attempt to defend your use of Saddam’s words. So far your response suggests that you think he’s a credible source, someone worth listening to. I find it disturbing that you aren’t even concerned about it.
“So apparently you are advocating the nuking of Muslim countries too dumb to run a democracy.”
I just want to live in a world without terrorism. I’ve trained both dogs and people to behave as civilized creatures using the same technique: I’ve explained to them, in words they understand, that they will cease to behave in unacceptable ways, or I will do it for them. They have no right to harm me or others; I have the power to stop them; and I am willing to use that power if they make me.
With both dogs and children I am very patient. With adults I am less so. It really depends on how dangerous they are. I always try to use the minimum amount of force required, but what the “minimum” is usually depends on them.
gcochran - I'm not really sure why I'm still speaking to you, but did it ever occur to you that Bin Laden is no more than "a hunted raghead" because people like me exist? We are the reason he has troubled us no more.
I supported crushing the Taleban. I did not support invading Iraq because it made no sense. I knew that major Administration arguments for doing so were false - you either did not know or did not care. I thought we'd be worse off for it, as we are. You, now, with your advocacy of nuking anyone who can't get with our program - I would be happy if you disappeared. On the other hand, you might be able to bring people together: I figure that I, Jefferson Davis, Francisco Franco, and Tom Paine could all agree that you were a poisonous toad that needed to be stepped on - normally, we hardly agree on anything.
Brock, very good responses. I trust many reading this blog appreciate your perspective.
Fly, someday you're going to say 'help me' in a tiny desperate voice. And I will.
Conservatives and libertarians worry about unintended consequences and accept that the unintended consequences can and often do swamp the intended consequences. People with a more ideological and left-leaning world views think they can control everything and produce the outcome they desire. But then neoconservatives are not really conservativess even though they include "conservative" in their name. It is no wonder that comrade Christopher Hitchens recognizes a kindred spirit in Paul Wolfowitz.
Trusting Saddam's statements: I have already explained that Saddam's claims are consistent with a lot of other evidence that we have at this point. The claim that Saddam was seeking alliance with the US is not a new one. It was made well before the war. Occam's Razor suggests at this point that it is reasonable to believe he really was doing exactly that.
WMDs: the only ones that matter are nukes. His chemical weapons were not a threat to us.
I do wish Greg Cochran would lighten up, and get a hold on his frustrations. Brock says he would be willing to nuke the moslem world as a last resort, if that is what it took to protect the West from (nuclear?)terrorism. Greg says he would prefer to see Brock and people like him dead as something well short of a last resort. I think he is over-reacting.
I guess advocating mass murder over an entirely hypothetical future threat is just another opinion. If I condemn them I must be intolerant, must not think that all opinions are equal, must think there is an absolute standard of right ad wrong, must for some reason think that roasting millions of civilians over nothing is 'wrong'. Yep, that's me.
The idea that we have to kill everybody we can't beat into our preferred shape is evil and stupid. Stupid - please contemplate, just for a little minute, what world reaction would be to such an attack. I don't think they'd like us.
Enough of arguing with fools. Back to work.
Almost hadn't noticed the somewhat different discussion item under "UPDATE." Randall brings up the ever-interesting topic of how
best to decide to whom to listen, which is, as well, closely related to that of who to "listen to," i.e. who shall be our experts and who shall be our leaders. Closely related, actually, is a discussion over at GNXP about lying, liars, and liar-detection.
All of these matters arise, primarily, as subsets of what might be seen as the inventory of "advantages vs. disadvantages" of social
(including occupational) specialization. And, though it is more or less axiomatic that each particular form of specialization will have both (advantages and disadvantages) and that (in a very general sense) specialization is "the way to go," (i.e., has net advantages),
there are yet "many a slip 'twixt cup and lip") in that recognition. One of those broad problems is that the very specialization providing
positive advantages to the group carries with it such intense advantages to the specialized individual that there arise problems we see as "conflicts of interest." As a very general rule, these problems are simply systemic and ineradicable; the best that can be managed is a matter of case-by case determination. "How can you tell when politician is lying? When his lips are moving." Is that funny? Only because it restates what is obvious to everyone in a novel way. In many areas areas of life, we make choices of who (or what) is "best," not on the basis of observation of qualities nor even of performance but upon what those very people (or other people) tell us about such matters. Does Greg Cochran deserve to be "listened to" by more people and with more confidence on the basis of successful predictions of the past? And, perhaps, to be more highly paid (as he himself suggests only partly in jest)? Of course, the answer is "maybe" or even "quite possibly." Of course, I could make the very same claims in connection with matters concerning myself. But both Greg and I recognize the "dime a dozen" character of such representations--no matter whether true or not. But why is it that Greg and I are ignored about such matters while Bush or Kerry (or many other public-person examples) receive
such adulation and comparative riches? Because, in very general way, society functions in a manner which is generally successful at realizing advantages while minimizing risk. It doesn't work perfectly--but well enough to have brought human society and civilization to quite an advanced state as compared to former times, though not without the potential of significant risk.
In one area of life--and one only--the process of specialization has succeeeded in the evolution of an almost perfect sysytem: one which, to the greatest extent even theoretically possible, manages to assure that the very best people are listened to on the subjects for which they are best fitted and, further, that their rewards are not only fully sufficient to compensate for their expertise by just exactly those who benefit thereby but also that, as a general matter, they not only receive no pay for their inappropriate or otherwise erroneous decisions but may also be forced to pay for at least part of any negative consequences of those decisions.
We call the system "the market" and the individuals operating in it "entrepreneurs."