Incentives (And Sociopaths) Rule The World

Authored by Michael Krieger via The Liberty Blitzkrieg blog,

Ryan Murphy, an economist at Southern Methodist University, recently published a working paper in which he ranked each of the states by the predominance of—there’s no nice way to put it—psychopaths. The winner? Washington in a walk. In fact, the capital scored higher on Murphy’s scale than the next two runners-up combined.

“I had previously written on politicians and psychopathy, but I had no expectation D.C. would stand out as much as it does,” Murphy wrote in an email…

On a national level, it raises the troubling question as to what it means to live in a country whose institutions are set up to reward some very dubious human traits. Like it or not, we’re more likely than not to wind up with some alarming personalities in positions of power.

– From last year’s Politico article, Washington, D.C.: the Psychopath Capital of America

One of the most frustrating aspects of modern American politics - and the culture in general - is our all encompassing fixation on the superficial. It’s also one of the main reasons I have very little interest in presidential politics, which basically consists of a bunch of billionaire friendly puppets auditioning to become the next public face of imperial oligarchy. Though I understand the desire for quick fixes, our focus on highlighting and mitigating only the symptoms of societal decay as opposed to the root causes, ensures we’ll never achieve the sort of positive paradigm-level shift necessary to bring humankind forward.

The truth of the matter is incentives rule the world, and if we look at some of the most pernicious and predatory areas of our socio-economic reality, including (but not limited to) the financial sector, the defense industry, intelligence agencies and healthcare, we find a slew of incentives that handsomely reward sociopathic behavior, while penalizing ethical, conscious action beneficial to society at large. Notice it’s always the whistleblowers who end up imprisoned or hunted down.

In the economic realm, if we think about the idea of a competitive free market, the primary reason the profit incentive exists and is widely accepted is the implicit understanding that people should be incentivized to create a product or service that benefits the public at large. While we still have remnants of this at play within the modern U.S. economy, much of the “wealth” attained these days is a direct consequence of rent-seeking, parasitic behavior and corruption of one kind or another. The reason is pretty simple. It’s incentivized.

When you have a financial fraud crime spree like the one witnessed earlier this century and your response is to bail out the criminals and ensure no executives go to jail, it’s essentially a gigantic bell ringing in the ears of every scoundrel on the planet. It’s open season for sociopaths. The Obamas weren’t super wealthy when Barack became President, yet they’re now worth an estimated $40 million (likely more given the size of their real estate purchases). The same thing happened to the Clintons. They’ve reportedly earned $240 million since Lolita express frequent flier Bill left office.

The most surefire way to succeed in America today is to be a high-functioning sociopath who scratches the backs of other high-functioning sociopaths. As such, the most pressing problem at a root level is that our economy and society incentivizes sociopathic behavior by systematically funneling sociopaths into positions of unaccountable power. If this sounds insane it’s because it is. The very structure of how our society functions is in fact insane.

These are the people running the show. They infect every country, every industry, every government. All the halls of power. Until we figure out a way to marginalize humanity’s sociopaths rather than hand them the reins of power globally, we’ll continue to repeat the current pointless, destructive cycle.

I’m certain the current mainstream political discussion in the U.S. isn’t serious because so few people are focused on the structure of society itself. There’s very little focus on incentives, on the fact that our entire economy functions as a promotion mechanism for sociopaths. No amount of tinkering around the edges is going to dramatically transform the human experience into something more positive until we figure out a way to make society itself resistant to sociopath takeover.

Significantly, one of the most in your face examples of sociopath dominance relates to imperial military policy, which has nothing to do with national defense and everything to do with national offense. It’s simply about utilizing state murder to advance power and profit for a few. The incentives are completely backwards, which is why it never gets better.

There are few things a human being can do more evil and depraved than lying a nation into war, yet that’s precisely what the proponents of the Iraq war did. More significantly, what consequences have befallen the proponents of that war? Increased fame and fortune in most cases. In fact, one of them is currently the leading contender for the Democratic Party nomination for President.

When you incentivize murderous behavior, you get more of it. Those who stand to benefit most from war should also have the most to lose, but our current system functions in the exact opposite way.

All that said, perhaps the most concerning instance of perverse incentives in society today can be found in the relationship between the national security state and average citizens. The way it works, and it’s rapidly getting worse, is you the individual have zero right to privacy while the national security state can classify what the CIA director ate for lunch. Those with the most power are subject to the least transparency, while the powerless masses are subject to mass surveillance. This unaccountable, authoritarian structure will continue to ensure the worst people alive end up in the highest echelons of power. What self-respecting sociopath wouldn’t be attracted to a system where you get to exercise total dominance over hundreds of millions of people with zero accountability? It’s like bees to honey.

If you build a house with a bad foundation you’re going to have problems. The same thing can be said about civilizations. We need to admit we live a world that incentivizes the worst amongst us to attain all meaningful positions of power.

Begging a sociopath for scraps of food might help you survive another day, but it won’t result in sustainable long-term progress. We need to see sociopaths for the societal cancer they are and completely reorient our incentive structure in order to reward conscious, cooperative behavior as opposed to ruthless parasitism. Change the incentives and you’ll change the outcome.

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