Thursday, 27 August 2009

Strategic incompetence

The ever-wonderful Scott McLemee today provides a wide-ranging review of Gambetta's work on signalling and crime (and academia). For the mafia, signalling incompetence at running a business credibly shows the subject of the protection racket that the mafia just wants to keep extracting money that way rather than take over the business fully. In academia, at least in Italy, something similar happens:
"Being incompetent and displaying it," he writes, "conveys the message I will not run away, for I have no strong legs to run anywhere else. In a corrupt academic market, being good at and interested in one's own research, by contrast, signal a potential for a career independent of corrupt reciprocity.... In the Italian academic world, the kakistrocrats are those who best assure others by displaying, through lack of competence and lack of interest in research, that they will comply with the pacts."
Kakistocracy: government by the worst. Love that word.

Gambetta's book has now moved onto my "must read" list.


  1. Early in my working career I got some sage advice from my boss at the time. We were both quizzing over some weird decision made by another manager at the time. The decision was so 'odd' that, for me, I was trying to figure out if this other guy was running some angle and had some alterior motive. The advice from my boss at the time was: "Never infer malice if stupidity can provide a sufficient justification"

    Turned out my boss was right. At the end of the day, the stoopid decision was just that, and without malice or subversive purpose.

    Sometimes people just make dumb decisions :D

  2. Generally good advice; I'll be interested to see what evidence Gambetta brings to bear. Will likely be a while 'till I get the book though; my last Amazon order is still being held by Customs! Very irritating.