Failing Upward

It’s pretty rich that a lot of business and management books tend to be written by US military leaders even as they have a well documented record of failure.

Here’s how it works.

No American general has been disciplined for overseeing the catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nor for lying to Congress about these disasters. The opposite has occurred. They have been promoted, and when they retire from the military, they tend to march into well-paid positions as board members in the weapons industry or Wall Street. The ongoing scandal has become so obscene that an Army officer who served two tours in Iraq wrote a now-famous article in 2007 that noted: “A private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.”

It’s apparent that there’s been a total lack of accountability within the senior leadership of the U.S. military for Iraq and Afghanistan, among other disasters. Indeed, the generals have, almost to a man, cashed in, none more so than General Stanley McChrystal, who actually was fired for cause. The vast majority of today’s generals retire with six-figure pensions and go immediately to work for the military-industrial complex. In place of George Washington, their role model is a hedge fund buccaneer.

And, of course, generals like McChrystal write books about model leadership. That’s right, books on management excellence are written by losers, in a society that claims to be meritocratic. What does that say about us except that we have a culture of elite unaccountability?

We should not be surprised. America in 21st century excels in elite unaccountability. Just look at the number of bank CEOs who faced criminal charges after the 2008 financial collapse (zero), or the number of Sackler family members who were criminally charged after their company, Purdue Pharma, started an opioid epidemic with OxyContin that killed hundreds of thousands of citizens (also zero), or the number of billionaires who avoid paying income taxes (lots of them). And let’s not forget the politicians and pundits who engineered the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 and suffered zero consequences. It’s not clear who takes their cues from whom, but it is obvious that all of our increasingly feral elite benefit from the con.

Most recently, Biden’s spokesperson scoffed at the idea of delivering free COVID tests to people’s homes, Biden’s consultants aided Big Pharma’s efforts to kill promised drug-pricing legislation, and Biden’s White House is promising no more stimulus legislation, no matter how much worse the pandemic gets. Meanwhile, the CEO of Delta Airlines asked the CDC to reduce the recommended quarantine time to 5 days and in an amazing coincidence the Biden Administration complied.

At this point, it’s obvious that Biden is advancing all Trump’s policies more effectively than Trump and actually doing things that Trump only talked about. But, of course, this dynamic is something that neither team red or blue will acknowledge. Instead it’s just more tribal nonsense about fascism or communism, ad nauseam.

Going further–our bi-partisan elite and their institutions, including the media are the real problem. This ongoing phenomenon bleeds into the decline not only in the performance of government but in the perception of its performance. All of the lack of accountability for our elite has had a corrosive effect of trust among Americans. Previously trusted authorities that we relied on to better understand the world are long gone. Which organization do you still trust? FBI? CIA? FEMA? DOJ? CBS? ABC? Fox? CNN? Before their behavior during the pandemic I would have said the CDC, FDA, and NIH. Now? Portions of those three should be razed.

As we navigate the Roaring 20’s the US is at real risk of becoming a failed state, largely because of the late-Soviet Union level of incompetence and venality of our elites, and the resulting failure of the government to handle crises and even operate as anything other than a vehicle for looting.

Our world is ultimately governed by physics, specifically gravity. As the old saying goes–what goes up, must come down. In other words: failing upwards won’t be an option for much longer.

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