Wholly Moises

January 21, 2013 by
Filed under: Politics, Uncategorized 


I am grateful to my friend Kirsty McNeil for recommending this impressive talk by the Venezuelan writer and commentator Moises Naim. The Senior Associate in the International Economics program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that all over the world and in every major domain of organisation – politics, military, business – leaders are losing power. Some of the statistics he cites are compelling, for example:

In only four out of the thirty four OECD countries does the party running the Government have a majority in the legislature

In contrast to the nineteenth century, in most wars in the second half of the twentieth century it was the weaker side (the one with fewer soldiers and hardware) that won

As we know, the rate at which large business corporations rise and fall has been steadily expanding

Naim argues for a goldilocks view of power – it is best when it is neither too concentrated nor too diffused and weak. He concludes by saying we need a wave of political innovation and that it is coming but, frustratingly, he doesn’t say what it will comprise.

In my annual lecture last year I too argued that hierarchical power was crumbling and, in what I would like to claim is a more sophisticated version of my version of Naim’s goldilocks thesis, that effective organisations and society need a balance of hierarchical, soldiaristic and individualist power. Perhaps Naim will address the shape of political innovation in his forthcoming book ‘The end of power’ but while he is keeping his powder dry, here are three types of innovation I predict:

Localisation: The most effective forms of power will be those which best balance necessary central authority with maximum decentralisation. For it is, generally, easier to handle complexity, be responsive and build horizontal relationships locally. Concretely, this will mean a shrinking of the central state and growing status for local leaders.

Openness: Deep and long held assumptions – the ends justify the means, organisational culture can be self-serving, communication is about spin not substance – will wither away and leaders will finally recognise that they need to behave as if they are operating in a glass box. Concretely, instead of hiding difficult choices or pretending they can be wished away, organisations will try to engage stakeholders with their dilemmas.

Normative leadership: Leaders will ask for a mandate based not on their ability to solve followers’ problems but on their ability to inspire followers to create their own answers. Concretely, leaders will be more modest in two ways: promising radical change in fewer domains (offering merely openness and good stewardship in others) and being clear that achieving change is conditional on the response of the public (see the Mayor of Oklahoma for my favourite example of this kind of leadership in practice).

All in all, the new models of power should be more humane and liberating than the old but, as Naim implies, the big question is this: how much damage will result from the decay of old power and will new power emerge in time to address a growing number of currently intractable social and economic problems?

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4 Comments on Wholly Moises

  1. Valerie McIntyre on Mon, 21st Jan 2013 10:05 pm
  2. Nice piece! Yes, localisation, openness and new leadership models will undoubtedly assist the necessary renewal.

    According to Arnold Toynbee and Fritjof Capra, the rise and fall of civilizations typically involves the established power-holders hanging on as long as possible, ignoring creative solutions for mounting challenges because embracing these solutions would undermine their power. For example: Big Oil suppresses clean energy technologies, Big Pharma suppresses natural cures.

    The breakthrough comes as more and more of the disempowered underclass realize their innate power and exercise it. Technology now allows greater transparency into high level dirty tricks e.g. false flag operations, while grassroots movements like Occupy teach consensus democracy.

    Meanwhile, we’re being genetically upgraded as described by Carl Sagan 40 years ago, by new incoming electromagnetic radiation, an alteration predicted to enhance our mental capacities and introduce other evolved attributes. The dinosaurs are on their way out … again.

    (more to the point of this discussion than my website address above is a Youtube presentation: Inevitable Enlightenment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7RoN5i3uig/)

  3. Robert Burns on Tue, 22nd Jan 2013 7:54 pm
  4. Matthew,

    globalization has resulted in the effective free transfer of experience and know-how accumulated over many generations and costing uncounted trillions of dollars/pounds/euros out of the economies of the North Atlantic zone.

    It will be remembered as the greatest suicidal giveaway in human history.

    One of the consequences of this ongoing process is that politicians, etc. have been rumbled and the only thing they seem to know how to do is increase the numbers of the economically disenfranchised within their titular electorate.

    As we look to the foreseeable future that isn’t “enlightenment” waiting over the horizon, it’s a new dark age in the West.

    Moving on to your comments about military power……

    Military power is not just a matter of which side has more hardware and manpower, it is matter of effective organization and the level of mission understanding amongst the troops.

    Hannibal proved this to the Romans in the Punic war and the Romans applied that lesson in the expansion of their empire – nearly always defeating numerically (and sometimes technologically) superior opponents.

    The idea that instances of numerically and materially inferior forces defeating forces with (at least on paper) greater numbers and more ‘stuff’ is something new is just plain false.

    Jumping forward to WW2.

    The military success of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan was more a function their opponents inferior organization than anything else.

    Once Japanese and German forces lost that advantage they were doomed at the hands of numerically and materially superior opponents with at least equal organization.

    This stuff currently on offer is as ill founded in principle as “Jock Columns”, “Task Forces” and “Battle Groups” (popular ideas in WW2 and Korea) and bear a striking resemblance to “localism”.

    That is, piecemeal attempts at organization and action against overwhelming odds in the hope that ‘something good’ might come of it.

    Well, I think we’ll leave rays from space alone…..

  5. Benjamin D on Wed, 23rd Jan 2013 2:26 am
  6. A few things strike me from this piece,

    - I wonder if history teaches us that modern capitalist elites are always rather diligent at hanging on to their power and that post the 2008 crisis, its still a case of ‘business as usual’ no new economic model has emerged. We’re not quite finished with our collective global overdraft yet – as ipad intoxication shows us.

    - David Icke can encourage many people to listen to him ramble on for 7 hours about shape shifting lizards etc, suggesting that many people fundamentally believe that there are still strong and mysterious powers in society that explain their own misgivings.

    - The decline in the power of power may in theory lead to a Chomsky kind of world – a tendency toward anarchism, where the burden of proof for one individual to have power over another is raised. Not sure I see any evidence of this occurring. Loss of faith in the state isn’t really being replaced by self-organising networks.

    - Was Plato right, that 6,000 was about right for the size of a democracy (Dunbar’s number seems to support this) – is that the size we need for your 3 areas of innovation to gain traction?

  7. Robert Burns on Wed, 23rd Jan 2013 6:53 am
  8. To Benjamin D,

    agreed on all points!

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