Posner explains CYA security theater

It’s obvious to any rational outside observer that US terrorism policy mostly revolves around making sure people think politicians are “doing something”, regardless of whether something needs to be done, or whether what they’re doing is the right thing. Explaining the work for which Williamson won the Nobel last week, Judge Posner writes:

[FBI criminal-investigation functions] lend themselves to what are called "high-powered" incentives, which are systems of compensation and promotion that are based on objective performance criteria. In the case of criminal investigation these are number of arrests weighted by convictions and sentence. Intelligence work does not lend itself to such performance criteria, because the effect of surveillance and other intelligence activities in preventing terrorism or subversion is usually very difficult to assess. Hence motivation takes the form of creating a "high commitment" environment in which the organization's leaders try to elicit good performance by getting staff to internalize the organization's goals. The problem is that the absence of objective criteria of performance opens the door to "influence activities" by which members of the organization jockey for advancement.

If both types of task are combined in the same organization--those that can be directed by high-powered incentives and those that require high commitment as their motivator, the best employees will tend to gravitate toward the first type of task because they will be confident that they will do well if their performance is judged according to objective criteria. They will be much less certain how well they will do in a job in which influence activities play a large role in determining success.

To summarize the summary, the best and the brightest will be drawn to organizations that have objective measures of success, but even more so, within a given organization, they will be drawn to these types of roles. Those who aren’t very good, and especially those who can be political hacks who shamelessly talk about how the threat level is Orange today, so put on extra sunscreen, will drawn to those roles without objective measures of success, where climbing the career ladder is based on criteria other than doing the job better than the next guy.

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