Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Trump is a Crappy Principal

Some epic threads by Naunihal Singh reacting to the anonymous op-ed in the NYT and how people call it a coup.  Naunihal said (a) not a coup;

(b) members of the government not doing what the boss says is pretty normal, raising Princpal-Agency theory:
The funny thing for me is that I spent my time at UCSD and beyond trying desperately to avoid P-A theory since it was hegemonic among the Americanists (those who study American politics) and was infecting the other subfields.  I rebel against such stuff.  But 20 years later, when I was curious about why countries behaved differently in Afghanistan, I fell into the trap that is P-A. 

How do you make sure that those who are below you in the chain of command do what you want?  Tis classic question in all areas, like how do I get my research assistants to find what I want, how do I get my teaching assistants to handle the class as I want, etc.

In the Dave and Steve NATO book, we build on Feaver and Avant and other civ-mil people who use P-A theory, and focus on four key issues when one is trying to hire someone to do a job, knowing that the person or agency hired will know more about what they do than the one doing the hiring:
1) Principals should hire agents who think like them and have similar preferences, so that they do what the principal wnats
2) Principals should delegate as much discretion to the agent as required but not more than that (twin perils of micromanagement and loose agents)
3) Principals need to figure out how to provide oversight so that the agents know that they might/will get caught if they do not do what they are supposed to do.
4) Principals need to provide incentives--rewards and punishment depending on whether the agents do what they are supposed to or not.

Which gets to Trump as a lousy principal:
1) Did Trump pick people who shares his values/beliefs/views?  Well, if pure opportunism is the key characteristic, then getting people just like Trump is pretty dangerous to him.
2) Trump is lazy and incurious, so he gives everyone else responsibility without providing much in the way of clear instructions
3) Trump oversees by watching Fox.  Sure, he sets up his people as rivals so that they report on each other, but that is a reckless and unreliable form of oversight.
4) Trump doesn't keep his promises, famously so, so the incentives thing is hard to work out. People may or may not be punished or rewarded.  So, they may just tend to rake what they can while they can since this whole thing may fall apart at any moment.

So, lots of Trump's underlings don't do what he wants because he is a crappy principal. It does not make it a coup, but it does make it all very, very problematic.

Anyhow, an evening of edification thanks to Naunihal.

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