Leaders Don't Set Agendas. Bureaucrats and Lawyers Do.

In the middle of an excellent article on the nature of the “best and brightest” of American students, Heather Wilson makes this observation:

When asked what are the important things for a leader to be able to do, one young applicant described some techniques and personal characteristics to manage a group and get a job done. Nowhere in her answer did she give any hint of understanding that leaders decide what job should be done. Leaders set agendas.

One of the core problems in our society to day is that leaders, such as they are, don’t really set agendas.  We are so obsessed with the passage and enforcement of laws and regulations that leaders have surprisingly few options.  That’s especially true in the public sector, where, for example, we bemoan our inability to balance our federal and state budgets, but we either can’t or won’t control the largest portion of those budgets.  It’s also true in the private sector: the one part of same that’s relatively unfettered are those which have moved fast enough to stay a step ahead of those Lilliputians who would tie down modern day Gullivers.  (Since “Julius crossed the Rubicon” last month, that may change too.)

The narrow specialisation of the young people that former Rep. Wilson interviews may be unadmirable but it is understandable given the conditions of our society and the way in which they were raised.  It reminds me of the criticism of the examinations that budding scholars in Old China used to go through in their advancement, that they were narrow and unrelated to reality.  My challenge to our elites is simple: you wanted a mandarinate, now you’ve got one, so quit complaining about the unexpected consequences.

It’s supremely ironic that we are now faced with a serious challenge from the same country whose own mandarinate was overwhelmed by the West a century and a half ago.  The Chinese are very history conscious, we are not.

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