Office Space. The "Dilbert" cartoons. At the supermarket, checkers with twenty-five years experience, personal connections to half the customers in town, and a deep, genuine commitment to their chain, are ineligible for promotion to management. At the software company, contractors who know the company's entire writing and approval and patenting process, and who have worked and partied with vendors at the same level in the company's industry partners, are passed over for promotion. In each case, corporate brings in some asshole with an MBA, puts them in charge at a higher salary, and lets them implement expensive changes that confuse existing customers, alienate staff, and are thrown out and rewritten a few years later.
Now, I ask you, why? Is it because these professional managers are skilled in some way that their underlings are not? This is the "business skills" or "intelligence" argument, which is a modern form of the merit explanation. E.g., "It is because of merit that things happen."
Experience shows us that the "merit" explanation fails. The managers generally don't even know what the hell they're doing. They don't understand how the product is created, who the people are that create it, and the relationships that get it out the door. They require a staffer or two just to get their e-mail up and running, they don't know where accounting is, they have to be trained in back-ordering and filing (and they forget it a week after they've been "trained" by someone making 1/5 their salary), and worse, their privately-felt recognition that they don't know what the hell is going on makes them insecure, causing them to lash out at people under them to project confidence and enforce their image as a leader.
We all sort of know that, and yet corporate keeps giving leadership positions to people who don't understand the business, waste incredible amounts of money, and piss off everyone else.
Anecdote? Okay, let's hypothesize that the business we're talking about is a "regional power company." Let's call it "Powerco." Powerco's President retired, leaving behind several VPs, directors, and department heads who had been with the business for decades, knew everything about it, and had been doing the President's job for him for the last few years, while his health was failing. Many (all?) of them were overpaid assholes anyway, which made them perfect for the presidency. A new president needed to be appointed swiftly so that the public did not view the lack of a formally-serving president as some sort of problem.
What was Powerco's solution? (If you're in industry, academia, or anything else, you may have a glimmering of pain as you realize where this is going.) Does Powerco's Board:
1) Swiftly hold a series of internal meetings where the most experienced VPs and other execs discuss who should take over as the next president?
2) Poll all employees on the most knowledgeable, effective leaders within the organization, and offer the position to the person with the highest reviews?
3) Announce an application period in the community paper, national papers, and industry journals, then rigorously interview everyone who applies and choose the best candidate?
4) Spend two months considering offers from various Executive Placement Firms, then pay one of them three million dollars to conduct an "executive search" that will forward fifteen candidates to the Board for review after only six months. Reorganize all of the company's divisions into review committees under the dictatorial control of existing VPs to hold several meetings apiece with each candidate, after flying the candidate into town and back again for each meeting, paying for the candidate's suite at a local resort, and wining and dining in between. Ask all the candidates to go home and wait for a few weeks while the Board holds non-binding meetings with employees and members of the community to evaluate the Board's top choices. Fly the top choices back to town again for more meals and meetings. Pay an additional $900,000 to the Executive Placement Firm for the project's time and cost overrun. Then, issue a decision based upon a series of swift internal meetings where the most experienced VPs and other execs discuss who should take over as the next president?
The correct answer, of course, is #4. This kind of crap looks inefficient, to say the least. It's also horrendously expensive, both in terms of direct outlays of organizational funds as well as loss of customer and community credibility, and the instillation of a climate of uncertainty and an expectation of duncery from employees. Yet, it's the popular answer. Even relatively small companies will spend millions more in dollars and thousands more in hours of labor trying to "recruit" executives than NBA teams do in recruiting future players.
The Old Boy Network tends to be looked to as an answer for those who have come to understand that society is not governed by merit. Very naive people, or the miniscule proportion of lucky people who succeeded due to merit, tend to stop right at "merit," assuming that the world is generally fair, or at least "sort of fair, based on luck mixed with skill." If you're too intelligent or experienced for that, you may turn to Old Boy, concluding, "The world works in this awful, stupid way, because people with family, social, or some other kind of connections are trying to trick the rest of us to make money." ("These people" are the elites, of course.)
Old Boy beats the heck out of Merit as an explanation for large-scale human behavior. However, Old Boy is grossly, fundamentally flawed. In order for Old Boy to be accurate, it actually has to be profitable to eliminate the potential gains of human labor by eliminating humans.
Did we catch that? Yes: in order to believe that elites control the global economy and human societies for their own selfish benefit, we have to first conclude that the world actually is a zero sum game where net gains are achieved by death and suffering. Accepting the Old Boy explanation for elite behavior, even in the light most critical of elites, means that we have affirmed the tenets of Old Boy, namely that you have to screw other people over to get stuff.
Wrong, and hosanna if you prefer. Here's how.
The Failure of Old Boy
Say Dick Cheney has $50 million, and is connected to a global network of powerful, influential people who trust him (to be him) and whose actions he can, to some degree, himself influence. Say there are several people like this in a meeting, so that their influence over the outside world is magnified when they achieve consensus.
Now, say that they're deciding how they can enjoy life more--how they can squeeze more pleasure, power, and influence out of the world. More money, more mansions, more luxury cars, more escorts, et cetera. How do they do that?
Well, they could direct the spending of, ultimately, trillions of dollars of world resources toward a series of regional wars and government repressions. At their direction, millions of people would do things like run around with rifles and die; fly in planes and drop single-use bombs that blow up people who turn into corpses that need to be disposed of and buildings that may eventually get rebuilt; discuss more and better ways of running around with guns and flying around with bombs; design and develop and maintain the guns and planes and bombs...et cetera ad paene infinitum.
This would certainly make them a lot of money, right? And it has--by stopping Saddam's potential attempt to trade oil in euros, Anglo-American oil and military companies have made a large return.
The ultimate impact on, say, Dick Cheney? Negligible. He's personally less powerful, because he lost a lot of social capital, even in America, where he has managed to become less popular than before. He's made a lot of money, but in the 24 hours of each day, there are still only so many escorts he can fondle in between trips to the French countryside and meals of the finest food, and he could've bought all those things nonstop before. By carrying out those wars, he slightly increased the risk of foreign blowback that could actually harm him or his genetic kin.
Now, think about this in a business sense. "Opportunity cost"--what's it mean? It means that, by engineering the aforementioned world war, Dick Cheney lost a lot. To Dick Cheney, ten thousand dead Iraqis are worth some oil money that increases his holdings on paper. What about, instead, one thousand live Iraqis researching artificial hearts, four thousand working on the global magnetic train project, three thousand improving integrated network capability, nineteen hundred and eighty landscaping the grounds around the world's ugliest train stations and airports, and the most attractive twenty studying new ways of pleasing aging white men? Choosing the "ten thousand live Iraqis" route, Dick might've produced a tangible benefit to himself. He might live longer and in less pain; he might enjoy the first class suites on a high speed train more than the first class section on an old jetliner; he might be able to use his iPad during the entire trip, instead of having it blank out sometimes in-flight; he'd see nicer shrubbery while someone gathered his luggage; and, he'd have at least one "harem fantasy night" that he enjoyed 1% more than his usual "top me off after a shiatsu" night. Any example works; the point is, the amount of labor the average human can generate always exceeds the amount of resources necessary to sustain that human, which is why we're alive. It's always more selfish and profitable to have more living people instead of fewer.
In the short term, it's profitable to kill people and take their stuff. But in the longer term--even five or ten years--it's far less profitable.
No problem for Old Boy, though, right? Because the taxpayers are footing the bill. Yes, say the Iraq War was a tremendous waste, producing a net loss for the taxpayers and a recession that eventually reduced Dick Cheney's holdings per-share, but the corresponding increase in Exxon and BP gave Dick Cheney (and those like him) a relative gain that made the whole adventure worth it. Right?
Still, no: the gain is illusory. Dick Cheney has spent decades administering the worldwide waste of resources killing people. He was involved in South American slaughter in the 1980s, all the way through to Middle Eastern slaughter in the 21st century. He's maintained his wealth and power at levels where the differences only matter in terms of status-games among a small set of people he hates and fears, at the expense of the legitimate loathing of a much, much larger set of people whom he hates and fears. He's done this at the expense of millions of lives, and the expenditure of an astronomical glut of war dollars that, invested differently, could have spent thirty years remaking the world into a utopia where artificial hearts are as everyday and easy as appendix removal.
If the Pentagon hadn't been burning cash to slaughter so many people and increase the value of Cheney's shares in Wasteland, Inc., the entire world would look different--and different in a way that would benefit Dick Cheney in the most selfish way possible. How many incredible composers, exotic dancers, creative chefs, traffic engineers and city managers did Cheney's rampages kill? How much of his time was spent at the Great Game, instead of lying in pools being fanned by virgins bedecked in coconuts? Far too many, and far too much--Cheney's bullshit was not actually good for him. Whatever his money, he was rather wealthy beforehand, and the waste of human effort that he expended on war over the course of a long life stalled human progress and resources so much that it ensured he would have less leisure time and enjoy less-advanced technological toys than if he'd invested in people, rather than death. Even in the most sadistic way possible--and taking Rumsfeld into the picture--the in-fighting between different military divisions over what technologies to exclusively develop, as part of the zero-sum procurement games fostered by the evolutionarily competitive nature of military lobbying, hampers overall effectiveness, and reduces the quantity and quality of the coolest killing machines whose results Cheney could gloat over via webcam.
Over it all looms the potential of blowback actually hurting Cheney. Were he to have spent his money delivering organic food baskets to people, he'd not only be genuinely, saintly popular to billions (instead of ignorantly popular to a few million American conservatives, and vilely popular to a few hundred international elites), he also wouldn't be on the permanent shit list for many, many other Arabs.
No problem, though, because actual terrorists don't succeed, and when they do, they only really hurt the little people. What about nukes? Has Russia had enough? China? Cheney's gamesmanship has made it more likely, not less, that elites in other countries might make the decision to finally stop putting up with America's bullshit, in a way that could actually, literally, affect Dick Cheney's quality of life (say, Russia launching WW3, and Cheney ending up at Nuremberg II on his hundredth birthday, instead of relaxing on the beach).
Stupid Short Term
The savior for Old Boy here is "short term." We can assume, "Dick Cheney, and those like him, are so shortsighted that they're willing to risk these things if it makes them money now. They're aren't willing to think years ahead because they just want money and power right away."
Complete fail, and pretty obviously. The games these people play are games of decades and centuries. PNAC, right? Iraq was a field harvested in 2003 only after decades of no-fly zones, regional wars, proxy coups d'etat, and colonialism. The Old Boy Network managing this trend of history knows full well what it is doing, and it is willing to wait longer than the lifetimes of individual members to accomplish an objective.
Elites act in coordination. The false battles between Obama and Romney, followed by Obama pushing through "Romney's" health care plan, are just one of the more recent indications of the charade; if you're partial to the "elites making money" Old Boy theory, you've probably figured out long ago that elites are coordinating what they do. Obama's presidency was based upon Dubya's; every stupid thing Dubya did was carefully crafted to make Obama's genially murderous conservatism seem palatable to a bunch of loons who call themselves liberal, just as Dubya's golly-gee Christianized blundering only makes sense in light of Slick Willy's blowjob "Don't Ask" lala land. Was the Patriot Act written sometime after the 9/11 plane crashes in surprised response to said crashes, or are elites capable of looking forward?
Of course they're looking forward. Which means that they understand the incredible net loss to their own lives of what they are doing. There is no way to avoid the evidence of the twentieth century, and the elite pattern of directing almost all human effort toward creating superstates of war and misery. The hundreds of millions of people butchered in the twentieth century, and the unbelievable sums of money and capital devoted toward carving up the postcolonial world into new-and-improved security zones, could have built for elites a utopia that far exceeds the pitiful regression of now.
Flying cars, moon hotels, telepathic robot sex slaves, $179.99 handheld cricimal stimulators that need self-limiting because they're so pleasurable most people happily starve instead of turning them off--the paradise elites have destroyed would have been easily attained for far less than half the effort spent killing the world, and they would have gotten to enjoy it first of all.
Our great mistake is concluding that they are benefiting themselves. They are not, and they know it. They are trying to kill us all. Wealth, power, and pleasure are not, and cannot be, their goals.
Office Space, Dilbert, and all the corporate "stupidities," right? So very consistent. Why cost the company so much money just to give the reins to some inexperienced moron with an MBA?
Business does not actually seek profit. Profit is a means to an end. You can't kill everyone by telling them, "We're going to kill you now." Instinct fights against that. Antilife must disguise itself to succeed.
If they announced, "We're going to kill you all," we would finally resist. They don't announce that. They say they're protecting us. We know it's a lie, some of us--some of us know they're just trying to make money. That keeps us calm. Our self-preservation doesn't kick in because we can understand greed.
Greed is good. Intelligent selfishness, in humans, causes the promotion of the species. Being greedy means that you help Abel in the fields, rather than slaying him, because your combined efforts will get you a lot more to eat than just clubbing him to death and eating what he has. Being greedy means that you feed poor children, because when they grow up, they will produce things of value to you, whereas their corpses will only breed illness that may consume you.
Greed and desire are the tools of life, motivating us to have fun and seek pleasure and get cool stuff. The trick of viles is to link greed so closely with death that we come to see greed as all bad--that we equate "greed" with "desire to exclude others from nice things."
That is not real greed. Real greed wants everyone to succeed, because that always gets "you" more. Effort wasted excluding others from things, theoretically to increase the relative value of your own stuff, (1) reduces what you can acquire now, (2) reduces what others can help you acquire later, and (3) increases the likelihood that others will attempt to reduce what you can acquire both now and later. Intelligent selfishness necessarily becomes, from inception, selflessness, while intelligent selflessness becomes selfishness. They're as indistinguishable, in concept, as this one from you.
Which isn't to say, in the tiniest way, that the Ayn Rand crap, or any of the other forms of advocacy for stupid greed, are right. All modern conceptions of greed are wrong: they are zero sum greed, perverting the desire to improve by associating it with the desire to immiserate others. The argument of business is the argument of caste and division, misdirecting greed into anti-greed; leading people to believe that they are helping themselves by hurting themselves. "Getting rich" in a poor world is not selfish; it's actually a counterproductive, self-harming act that limits future investment potential to just what you can come up with, instead of what a whole lot of people can. Starving Chun for your iPad now, in a macro sense, means he won't be able to cure your cancer in twenty years (or just invent your neural home, so you can run the microwave with a thought, rather than pressing the buttons or "even" integrating it with your iPad so you don't have to get off the couch).
...which is why business acts so "stupidly." It is a dampening field, trying to crush human productivity by enforcing rituals that are, in all ways, incredibly stupid and colossally wasteful, yet which appear to make "sense" because those who have more toys appear to be benefiting, in the short term, from all the waste. Despite the dampening field, people keep attempting to be productive, invent things, and acquire cool stuff, because they are driven by the power of life. The task of elites is to redirect those desires in counterproductive ways, making it seem ever more sensible to harm ourselves and limit our technological advancement.
These miseries are caused naturally, by our early grappling with consciousness, and the resultant terror at the idea of losing that consciousness. They are trying to kill themselves, and all of us, in the only way they can--slowly, while raising as little alarm as possible, and by making that death appear to be an inevitable consequence of our desire to improve ourselves. They are sick, sad, frightened minds, and the systematic, scrupulously-designed and meticulously-implemented inanities & insanities of our day-to-day lives, and of world politics, are only explainable by understanding this illness.