A correspondent writes to Brad DeLong, Why do the Chets of the world get on top? You know the type, she writes,
Chet is a hail-fellow-well-met sort, cracking jokes all the time… Chet is tall, probably tan, and has big white teeth like a mouthful
of chiclets…. Chet is a member of country clubs, and has a thin wife, and two
adorable kids…Chet has an incredibly high opinion of himself. He is confident to
the point of arrogance, but friendly, outgoing. There is one thing Chet is not,
ever, in my experience, and that is particularly bright.
I like Brad’s answer:
… there are four relevant human capabilities here: the ability to master
details, the ability to quickly grasp what the salient issues are and follow
them through to their conclusion, the ability to work like a dog, and the
ability to size up people–figure out quickly who will actually produce
something useful and who will not, who will hang tough and who will easily bid
more, who will soften if wooed and who will stay hard-nosed. Next to nobody has
all four or even three of these capabilities in world-class measure. Fewer
people than you think have even two. And for someone who has one of the other
three–mastery of detail or skill at analysis or the ability to work like a dog
for ungodly periods of time–mastery of Chet-hood is a very valuable and
The correspondent is asking about investment bankers but the discussion applies equally well if not better to politicians.
Pushing the model a bit further I suggest that detail mastery, analytical thinking and working like a dog are more open to meritocracy than sizing people up because to size people up it helps to get them to like you and that is more culturally bound than the other skills. Minorities may rise to the top more quickly in fields that emphasize the first sets of skills than in those that emphasize the latter. Birth in general, connections etc. are also more important for the latter set of skills. Thus in America, it’s Chet not Vijay even though Indian Chets surely exist in just as high a proportion as WASP Chets.