Friday, November 12, 2010

Does quality of leadership necessarily determine a society's ability to prosper?

In the on-going debate around whether a shift in form of government will yield any significant change in our ability to prosper as a society over the foreseeable future (if there is such a thing), we have established that there is some validity in the assumption that quality of leadership has a strong causal relationship with system of governance. However, the second component that links prosperity to system of governance remains suspect; i.e. that Quality of elected leaders determines ability of a society to prosper.

The Chinese Filipinos are a case in point that illustrates how the nature of a country's politics can often have no observable bearing on the economic advancement of a community. In an article I wrote about them way back, I made this observation:
Bad governance and lack of education are the top scapegoats, for example. They simply beg the question: the Chinese community was with us through countless corrupt and inept administrations, they had to register their businesses in the same public offices, and they paid taxes to the same government. Furthermore, they landed on our shores, speaking not a word of English or Tagalog. Now, their volunteer fire brigade is far more reliable (and honest) than the government-run force.

Quality or lack of quality leaders has always been (1) a dandy accounting for success in a society and, unfortunately, (2) a convenient excuse for chronic failure as well. Indeed, I highlight this point even more in my 2006 article Fiesta Charter Change: Politicised Hope where I cited how...
No matter how much or how many instances of political change we have seen in the last 50 years, the condition of the average Filipino has not changed fundamentally. We therefore conclude that politics have failed us and that our society has failed to prosper because of politics.

This is a truism that most Filipinos are quite comfy with.

As we sit and watch the Fiesta Cha-Cha (charter change) train wreck unfold before our very eyes, one wonders how a society that fancies itself to be one that is utterly dis-illusioned with politics, once again, finds itself transfixed on this new drama which is grabbing prime media headlines and airtime. Could it be that the whole fundamental issue behind the failure of our society to move forward is our over-reliance on political solutions? We see Fiesta Cha-Cha or -- for that matter, each and any political event, whether they be elections or more fiesta revolutions -- as critical crossroads in the destiny of the nation. The whole society stops and waits to see what the next political upheaval will yield, and postpones any on-going effort to push on towards a tangible objective.

We have all but politicised our shot at prosperity.

Suffice to say, the TRUTH about Pinoys cannot be escaped. In that same article I refer to Charles Murray where in his book Human Accomplishment he showed how there seems to be no correlation between a society's environment and an inherent inclination for achievement to be observed from which I propose that...
It could imply that societies that have in them an inherent ability to overcome challenges will progress despite rather than because of its environment. It is the converse of the blame politics tenet around which Filipino cynicism towards poltics is built around.

Thus, fundamental change at the grassroots level can be achieved regardless of the foolishness going on in a country's politics.

The achievements of the Filipino-Chinese community lends some credence to this counter-intuitive idea. The conditions and status of the Filipino-Chinese community have in fact changed fundamentally in the last 50 years. Once mere taho vendors and small shopkeepers, they are now captains of Philippine industry. From Third class citizens to First class citizens. And this change happened even as Philippine politics continued to stumble along from one rut to another. The same cannot be said of the larger Filipino people. The Philippines is not only still a Third World nation, it is amongst the least-promising of the lot -- a far cry from the shining graduate of American colonialism that it was back in 1946.

Perhaps there is an entire iceberg of cultural baggage that we do indeed have to come to terms with before the tip of said proverbial iceberg (that part of it that gets the most Media spotlights) is used as a basis for any further solutioneering.


  1. Does quality of leadership necessarily determine a society's ability to prosper?

    My answer to that is NO.

    That is because of the following words:

    1. DOES

    There is a certain strawman argument aspect to how the question in the title was raised simply because the correlation between "quality of leadership" and "ability to prosper" is NOT one that is based on a NECESSARY DETERMINISTIC CAUSALITY.

    Instead, just as most medical prescriptions/solutions or diagnoses to illnesses and certain conditions work, the relationship is based on PROBABILISTIC CAUSALITY.

    Does exposure to asbestos necessarily determine getting afflicted with cancer?


    Not every single person who has ever been exposed to asbestos develops cancer. But medical science has found out that there is a *higher chance* of developing cancer when one has prolonged exposure to asbestos.

    This is exactly what PROBABILISTIC CAUSATION implies. That it is not a 100% causal relationship, yet a causal relationship does in fact exist.


    If the Question in the Title were changed to:

    "CAN the quality of leadership significantly influence a society's ability to prosper?"

    Then the answer is a resounding YES.

    In the end, this is not a NATURE versus NURTURE debate.

    The following:

    1. Society's Culture & Cultural Inclinations
    2. Society's Quality of Leadership
    3. Society's Leaders' Quality of Policy-Making
    4. Society's Leaders' Quality of Policy Implementation
    5. Society's members' general quality of thinking and doing

    All fall within the domain of NURTURE, that is, they are MEMETIC, rather than GENETIC, determinants.

    As we all know, while there is little one can do about a person's GENETIC MAKE-UP unless the field of genetic engineering progresses to the point exceeding the proposed ability to alter genetics of a live human being as presented in the James Bond movie "Die Another Day", things are different when MEMETICS (nurture) is the issue.

    Memetics CAN be changed. Culture CAN be reformed.

    And very often, leadership of the sort of the following:

    1. Peter the Great of Russia
    2. The Meiji Genro Élite of Japan
    3. Kemal Mustafa Atatürk of Turkey

    ...can Transform society's with a relatively backward orientation to become relatively modern.

    With Peter the Great's Westernizing transformation of Russia, Russia became the de facto Slavic and Orthodox super-power. Fellow Slavic society's looked up to Russia and it prompted many of them to design their own flags based on Russia's. It also made Eastern Orthodox Society's look up to Russia as their de facto protector. (Middle Eastern Christians from the Orthodox Faith looked up to Russia for protection)

    With the Meiji Restoration's modernization and Westernization, Japan became the envy of the rest of Asia. Most other Asian nations looked up to Japan as their model for transforming their own societies, particularly South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, whose leaders derived inspiration from the Meiji Restoration.

    With Turkey's Westernizing modernization stemming from the "Kemalist" philosophical framework of Atatürk, Turkey then became the model of success for many Muslim nations, especially for many of the ex-Soviet Union's Turkic Republics.

    In short, high quality leadership that comes up with high-quality policy-making can change and transform cultures.

  2. ...oops...

    "societies", not "society's"

    My bad... :)

  3. I'm still kind of hung up on the first assumption that a better system leads to higher-quality leadership. The assumption lacks specificity: does that mean that a better system leads to the emergence of better leaders, or does that mean that a better system creates better leaders?

    If it's the former, then that also assumes that better leaders are available, and have only been unable to emerge because of the poor system. If it's the latter, then it assumes that a better system includes universal mechanisms that produce the desired result in any circumstances.

    Your example of the Chinese-Fil community tends to point out the flaw in the second possible assumption (systems create leaders); they evidently have created good leaders despite a poor system. Since they are part of the Philippine "background context" that indicates that the cause-effect relationship is not certain -- in the terms of Probabilistic Causation, it's Simpson's Paradox: correlation of a result with one cause does not imply causation (i.e., A = B, so Not-A = Not-B) if B has more than one possible cause; the paradox is both equality and inequality may have the same result. There is a way to work around that paradox by accounting for a "background context", but only if the factors of the "background context" are held fixed (n.b. any logicians out there save your breath if you're going to counter with Cartwright and/or Skyrms -- background contexts in social or political science are notoriously hard to fix, if not impossible).

    If the assumption is that a better system will allow better leaders to emerge, it still asks us to also assume that there are, among the available pool of potential leaders, ones who are of a better quality who simply need the mechanism of a better system to exercise that potential.

    It seems to me then, given the two possibilities (creates leaders or allows them to emerge), the latter seems more likely. In which case, that puts the focus of the effort squarely back into the realm you are dealing with here, and where I think the focus should be as well, on the fundamental social and cultural problems that produce a society where almost no one has the potential to be a good leader, no matter what system.

  4. Orion, I think you implied *deterministic* causality when you first used the word "algorithmic" in one the earlier comment responses you made to me on AP.

  5. BenK,

    I'd say that in a huge pool of about 95 Million people, there are sure to be a minority of people who defy the general dysfunctional cultural tendencies found within the population sample.

    What's necessary is for a system to be set up that definitely allows those "better ones" (more competent/intellectually precocious/etc) to more easily emerge at the top of the leadership structure based on merit, thus allowing:

    1. The good ones to EMERGE on top (obviously)
    2. That good ones are CREATED: Those other people (esp. youngsters) who observe that good ones are rewarded see this relationship between competence, merit, performance, and emerging on top, to work more towards developing themselves to be competent and to work up their way meritocratically.

    Now contrast that to a system whose bias is not towards merit and competence, but rather towards popularity and name-recall.

    Ultimately, such a system causes only those people who have popularity (usually because of looks/personality) or name-recall (usually because of parentage) to more easily emerge on top. The current system which allows external meddling on the part of vested interests causes them to seek out their own "Manchurian Candidates" - people who are likely to seem docile to them, but are likely to win in popularity contests and thus groom these people for higher office.

    The end result is that such a system favors popularity and name-recall AT THE EXPENSE OF competence.

    Worse, such a system sends a strong signal to everyone, esp. to youngsters, that competence and merit are not really that important: popularity and name-recall are. Hence, you end up finding more and more people looking to join showbiz or do publicity stunts to gain the necessary media mileage that would increase their chances of being viable candidates in the future.

    Such a system does NOT promote concentrating on real hard-work and intellectual analysis in order to come out with superior policies as well as proper implementation.

    Systems, after all, often involve rewards and punishment. A system that rewards popularity/name-recall will promote popularity/name-recall as opposed to competence and merit and causes the proliferation of wannabe-leaders who will primarily seek to promote themselves through showbiz or other means to gain popularity and name-recall.

    On the other hand, a system that rewards competence, merit, and performance promotes all those and causes the proliferation of more and more wannabe-leaders who compete against each other on the basis of competence, merit, and performance.

    Now that explains why some systems are more likely to cause the emergence of quality leaders than others: they reward different things.


  6. (continuation)



    Algorithms talk about the step-by-step process of how things happen or how things can happen.

    Algorithms of COMPUTER SYSTEMS or computer programs proceed from an extremely IDEAL perspective so that an IF - THEN statement within programming code is indeed *DETERMINISTIC*.

    But guess what... With ORGANIC LIVING BEINGS, the whole "deterministic causation" bit doesn't always work. When talking about microbes, viruses, animals, plants, and yes, human beings, what you get instead is a whole lot of PROBABILISTIC CAUSATION.

    Think about road rules. You can set up rules that seek to reward or punish people based on what they do. The best you can get is that "MOST PEOPLE" or "ALMOST ALL PEOPLE" will pay heed to those rewards and penalties. But humans being humans with individual will, there are those who will deviate from the norm.

    Set up severe penalties for shoplifting, many people will NOT shoplift, but you'll never know... Some people STILL WILL SHOPLIFT.

    Alas, such is the nature of human beings, and such is the nature of organic living beings. Dog trainers attest to the fact that while most dogs can somehow be trained to follow simple instructions, there are a handful of dogs that just cannot be trained.

    That's where the deviation occurs.

    Hence you have a difference between how the rules and algorithms in the ideal logical world work - as in computer code - and how rules and algorithms work in real world HUMAN SOCIETIES.

    IDEAL LOGIC/COMPUTER Algorithms: Deterministic Causation

    Real Human Society Algorithms: Probabilistic Causation

    That, my friend, is the key difference. :)

  7. Of course, Orion. Though I was referring to what you said here:

    "But with a parliamentary system, the very nature of its meritocratic intra-party competition ensures that only competent people emerge at the top leadership of the parties and hence only competent people can ever end up as prime minister. That algorithm is very clear in establishing that it is the algorithm that is associated with better governance.

    Note what I emphasised in bold.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. So whilst deterministic systems may be governed by "algorithmic" rules, probabilistic systems are governed by emergent rules. So I don't think you can use "algorithmic" in the same sentence that describe a probabilistic outcome.

  10. Well, you know, benign0, I come from an IT and Process background - and I've assumed that you do too, and my bias for IT terminology causes me to casually refer to "steps-in-a-process-that-determine-an-outcome" as being an "algorithm."

    I don't care too much about trivial details such as the specifics on whether a set of steps in a process are referred to as "emergent rules" or an "algorithm." To me, that's just irrelevant and trivial nit-picking.

    The specific processes that expect human participants to accomplish a particular resulting-goal are ideally supposed to act LIKE algorithms, and in fact they are indeed referred to as algorithms. Many times, they do (act like algorithms). But humans being the imperfect and fallible beings they are, humans can get tired and slip, humans may forget and commit errors, humans - thanks to independent will - may sometimes decide to disobey rules, or humans may simply fail in meeting expectations.

    Ideally, those human participants are supposed to produce the desired results of an "algorithm" (or a series of steps in a specific process, whatever you prefer to call them) flawlessly, but they don't always.

    Hence, even if you have an airtight algorithm with a specific airtight series of steps, the causality relationship that exists still tends to be probabilistic simply due to the fallibility of humans or any organic living being for that matter.

    Easy, right? :)

  11. @ Orion: re what you said "I don't care too much about trivial details such as the specifics on whether a set of steps in a process are referred to as "emergent rules" or an "algorithm." To me, that's just irrelevant and trivial nit-picking."

    First of all, why then did you introduce these terms into the discussion if it turns out that you had no inclination to remain consistent to the finer points that said terms imply to begin with?

    And second, it was you who went to great lengths (literally!) to expound on said terms, wasn't it?

    So now that I take you up on where you take this discussion, you then call the exercise trivial and a case of "nitpicking"?


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