Introspection and Global Institutions


This week’s blog post is quite rambling, but so be it. What brought me to this was listening to someone I met almost 2 years ago, Heather Thorkelson. She has a couple of businesses (I have put down the links below). I originally contacted her when I was starting my blog and was thinking about somehow trying to turn it into a paying side business. She had extremely good suggestions on exactly how to do so, but with the press of the other issues and projects that I had going on, I never really was able to follow through on that particular initiative.

I was listening to her podcasts (search for Plan B on whatever podcast service you use) this morning, and I would recommend them to anybody who just likes listening to an intelligent, forthright, open person who has good things to say about life, the universe and everything (I think I just plagiarized from Douglas Adams but I’m not sure).

I was listening to her podcast titled “A fork in the road: desert + drug lords versus domestic security”. And it reminded me very much of myself when I left the military and went to Turkey to work overseas again. Except I can see that for Heather it was a real act of bravery. For me … not so much. I just did it without tremendous thought. It was only looking back that I realized what I had done 😊. I find both her writing and speaking heartfelt and genuine. This specific podcast this morning made me realize what a tremendous opportunity that I have here in Argentina for personal space, study, and introspection. And not to waste it. Thank you for that Heather. 😊

And on top of her consulting business she also runs a company that does polar expeditions. Having had one brief brush with winter warfare, I have an inkling of just what a significant logistical exercise organizing expeditions like this can be. One day, if I can divert enough of my income to be able to buy sufficient cold-weather gear 😊, I might consider going on one. However, as I am suffering in Buenos Aires simply because the weather is between 1° to 5°C, I’m not sure what a realistic goal that may be.

This week I ended up buying not only a synthetic down North Face jacket, but a couple of extra pairs of thermal underwear. And since I wear the thermal underwear just to stay comfortable inside my apartment, I suspect that pretending that I would be okay with even a summer expedition to the Arctic or Antarctic might fall under the heading of delusional thinking.

And, I am in Argentina during the World Cup in Russia. So now, almost nightly, I am kept awake by football parties in the apartments around me. You cannot even escape it in the cafés or restaurants. In many cases I have seen special televisions brought in just so that people can watch… Well, I don’t want to offend at least one of my readers 😊. Ah well, it will be over the 15th of July. Good riddance.

Educational Excerpts:

The course that I am currently pursuing is on globalism and nationalism. I am only about four lectures in, and they have been discussing the broad outlines of international economics, international institutions, and big government. I’m not sure that I have read anything more depressing for a while, but it certainly points out things that I already knew, and why the Powers That Be have such a difficult time getting anything accomplished in the world today.

When you have institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations, not to mention the WTO, there are a plethora of factors that work against those organizations being able to function effectively.


In both Product and Project Management, there is a well-known unholy Trinity; Good, Fast, and Cheap. And it is axiomatic that you can only get two of the three at the expense of the third. Well, as the professor pointed out, there is a similar Trinity when it comes to international institutions and agreements between multiple national entities; Universality, Consensus, Effectiveness.

Universality is that whatever the agreement or institution is about, applies to everyone connected to the agreement or institution. Applies equally, that is.

Consensus is that everybody agrees to the constraints, protocols, or rules.

Effectiveness, is, at the risk of being obvious, how effective the agreement and / or institution actually ends up being.

And, as I believe anybody who follows world events can see, international cooperation seems to generally do this quite poorly. To make an agreement effective, one must set a relatively high bar for what needs to be done. But in order to get consensus, the parameters generally end up being watered down to the point of almost being ineffective. And as for universality, all countries think their situation is unique and should therefore be an exception. And more powerful countries naturally tend to drive their own agendas at the expense of those that are less powerful. The tendency is to water agreements down to the lowest possible common denominator (el denominador commun más bajo). And of course, that just fails for everybody.

A good example in this particular regard is the Doha round of talks with the WTO. It began in November 2001 and the goal was a “major reform of the international trading system through the introduction of lower trade barriers and revised trade rules.” The WTO has more than 150 members. The talks broke down in 2008, although there have been intermittent efforts to get them started again. And what happened is that instead of being able to get consensus for a set of universally applied effective trading rules, a host of smaller regional agreements got penned between much smaller groups of nations. Those agreements in and of themselves, contributed to a lack of incentive to pursue the much larger Doha agreements.

It is fairly widely acknowledged that free global trade is an overall benefit to everybody. However, nobody really wants to be the politician or organization which agrees to something which may impact their home country in any negative way. And with more than 150 members, it was always highly unlikely that they were going to get universal agreement (consent). And thus, it proved to be.

My take on what causes this is as follows:

Institutions and governments consist of mainly, two kinds of people. Politicians and bureaucrats.

Politicians tend to be egomaniacal manipulators, who are interested in personal aggrandizement, power, and wealth. The very nature of politics tends to attract these kinds of people. Not the right kind of people who are genuinely interested in service and the greater good.

Bureaucrats and organizations run by bureaucrats (governments, international institutions such as the WTO and the United Nations) attract people who generally don’t have a lot of imagination, and are interested in their personal security (jobs, salaries, perks, and not losing any of the above), and are quite happy working in an organization where adherence to rules, regulations, and process are the most important things for the organization. And as such, governments and bureaucracies become the end in and of themselves for the people who run them. If they can create more rules or processes that gather more power and authority to their fiefdoms, then they do so. They very quickly, if not almost immediately lose sight of what the organization is actually supposed to be doing.

And when you have these two types of people running the very institutions that are supposed to make the world a better place, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Both these groups of people are far more interested in their own positions and perks than they are in what the greater good is for the world. They certainly don’t have any vested interest in making decisions that will make them unpopular to special interest groups. They gain longevity, power, and security simply through being ineffective. Bureaucrats are totally enamored of their own rules, processes, and regulations. They will quote them at the drop of a hat. Never in a million years would any of them ever consider asking the question, “Does this regulation make sense?”. In a very Darwinian sense, this will not help their survival.

“Politicians and bureaucrats are no different from the rest of us. They will maximize their incentives just like everybody else.”
— James M. Buchanan

Unfortunately, again, I don’t know the solution to this. I have known people that work for the United Nations, the U.S. State Department,  and the World Bank. And they do indeed live in their own little ecosystem that is extremely lucrative personally, in terms of salary and perks, and once they have those positions they become imbued with the organizational miasma. Their primary purpose for existence seems to be keeping their job and safeguarding the organization ferociously. It isn’t about maintaining free trade or forcing people to do things that are not popular, it is instead a constant round of watering down standards and increasing regulations rather than keeping the eye on what the original target was.


I am finishing off the blog post this week with a number of quotes from Albert Einstein, and James Madison (fourth president of the United States-I had to look that up). James Madison’s quotes were interesting enough that I actually did look him up because I liked the personality that they revealed. He was one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. The Federalist Papers are a series of 85 essays arguing in support of the United States Constitution. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were the authors behind the pieces, and the three men wrote collectively under the name of Publius.

He wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he was quite a man. Extremely articulate and vociferous in his fight for a balanced path for the fledgling United States. Even my basic research revealed several places where he seemingly nipped some dangerous precedents in the bud before they became part of the nation’s practices.

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." - James Madison

"It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood." - James Madison [Are we there yet? … Anthony]

"The problem to be solved is, not what form of government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect." - James Madison

"The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance" - Albert Einstein [And when you combine both you get what we have today … Anthony]

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

"Three great forces rule the world: stupidity, fear and greed." - Albert Einstein [These three factors are not subject to the Product Management rules of Good, Fast, Cheap. It is apparently possible to maximize all three of these simultaneously … Anthony]

"I live in that solitude which is painful in youth, but delicious in the years of maturity." - Albert Einstein