Matthew Yglesias on Wolfowitz, Plus Some Bonus Thoughts on the Corporate World

Matthew Yglesias writes:

Look, I have no doubt Wolfowitz was doomed from the state. But to comprehend his doomed-ness and what to make of it, one needs to step back. Why was he given the job in the first place? He had no obviously qualifications for it. He’s read some neoliberal political commentary about the need for international development strategies to focus more on good governance. I’ve read that stuff, too. As have a lot of people. It’s convincing stuff. But, genuinely, folks who’ve read it are a dime a dozen in this town. Do I get to run the World Bank? No. Wolfowitz had no genuine expertise in Africa, in development policy, in economics, in governance, or in any of the relevant fields.

What he did have, that I lacked, was a track-record as a high-level political employee. It was a track-record marked by . . . spectacular failure. Failure so spectacular that George W. Bush decided Wolfowitz needed to be fired from his job because he was so incredibly bad at it. In order to fire him while minimizing feather-rumpling, he was dumped on the Bank, even though he had no relevant expertise and a long track-record of failure (think Team B) in his previous work. So, yes, he was doomed from the start. Boo-hoo.

I don’t agree with Yglesias’ first and last sentence, but I agree with everything in between. And I note… when I lived in the corporate world, I saw the same sort of thing. I believe by far the most incompetent person I ever had the misfortune to do any work for was pretty high in a Fortune 500 company. He was also extremely well connected. He oversaw several spectacular and costly failures. After each one, people who worked on the projects were fired, but never him. Long story short – its been quite a few years, but he’s still there. That’s not quite true. I understand he has a lot more responsibility now. And the company seems to be doing well.