January 31, 2008

West Point's Goats

My mentioning that John McCain finished 894th out of 899 in his class at the Naval Academy has led to irate responses that most great leaders do about as well as McCain academically.

I couldn't say for sure, but I found this interesting interview in Failure Magazine with James S. Robbins, author of "Last in Their Class," about the careers of those West Point cadets who were The Goat -- the traditional moniker of those finished last in their graduating class.

The two most famous Goats were the two Georges: George Armstrong Custer of Custer's Last Stand and George Pickett of Pickett's Charge on the final day of Gettysburg, from which the Confederacy never recovered.

Q. At West Point, has there been any relationship between class rank and career success?

A. I never ran across a formal study, but there is folklore about that—that it's always the people from the middle and below who make the best officers and leaders. Now you sometimes find people who graduated at the top and went on to greatness—like Robert E. Lee was second in his class. Or Douglas MacArthur, for example. But frequently you find people like Dwight Eisenhower, who graduated somewhere in the middle of his class and said, "If anybody saw signs of greatness in me while at West Point they kept it to themselves." Or Ulysses S. Grant, who was in the middle of his class. And then all the people I profile in the book, who were from the bottom or near the bottom, who themselves did great things.

My point is the same as in 2004 when the candidates were George W. Bush (1206 SAT score [old style] and 77 / 100 GPA at Yale) versus John F. Kerry (76 / 100 GPA at Yale two years before in similar courses, and no SAT reported but a slightly lower score on the Naval officers qualifying exam than Bush got on the Air Force officers qualifying exam -- i.e., both had IQs in the 115 to 125 range): can't this country of 300,000,000 do better? Sure, being a screw-off in college and being not super-bright doesn't necessarily disqualify you from being a good President, but why do we have to take chances? We don't for jobs like captain of a Trident submarine.

Similarly, what large organizations have Obama and McCain ever managed in their lives? Is McCain going to suddenly learn the art of management at age 72?

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Some of the smartest people I know completely lack the common touch. The president has to be both social and strategic, and being too smart usually makes someone anti-social, and being too dumb, well, you know.

An IQ of 130 is perfectly acceptable for running the country. That is Mensa level. Perhaps Bush and Kerry aren't the greatest examples, but I think I'd rather have a President who skipped a few 9am math classes because he was up late practicing the art of diplomacy at a party somewhere, rather than some nerd who is unable to function in a social setting.

rightsaidfred said...

The Founding Fathers did pretty well. It doesn't seem like we have been able to replicate that intelligent bunch.

But the Presidency seems to call for more than just IQ. Aren't Grant, Wilson, and Hoover the highest IQ Presidents? And they didn't do all that well.

Ben Franklin said...

McCain’s temperament is totally unsuited for President, especially when powerful groups like the Neocons want the next President to start a war with Iran.

The fact that McCain was a reckless pilot might make him courageous, but I don’t think that kind of recklessness is a qualification for being President. For something to be a virtue it must be tempered with prudence, a characteristic that McCain appears largely if not entirely to lack.

Rosamund said...

Here's the classic by Steve:
http://www.vdare.com/sailer/041028_iq.htm

Nobody is saying we want a high functioning autistic in the White House; we want someone who is wise. A high I.Q. is optimum in the set of virtues needed to lead a country (while not nearly enough of a virtue on its own, of course) and we have evidence of this in that the early days of the Republic were the heyday for outstanding leadership.

tvoh said...

Jimmy Carter was a nuclear sub guy and that takes brains.

Late Seventies, Carter era, Golden Age. Not!

Meathead said...

Try paying your President way more. Your best and brightest leaders go into business, for obvious reasons.

Anonymous said...

McCain is not leadership material. He is a stubborn, corrupt (biggest lobbyist contributions in GOP), arrogant old fart who is not going to learn new tricks at 72.

Born with silver wings on his jump suit, his headstrong cockiness saw him through Hanoi Hilton, but that quality is dangerous now with the wrongheaded policies he has on things like amnesty, liberal social welfare ideas and ideas to conquer terrorism throughout the world.

His greatest two achievements were (a) being born as the son and grandson of admirals that launched his military career far beyond his abilities and (b) divorcing and marrying into money the 2nd time that launched his political career.

Anonymous said...

Don't be too hard on General Pickett. Lee ordered the assault and Pickett was quite bitter at him for it. I have done some reading on it and I can't seem to find what Lee's objective actually was, but after the failed assault, it appears that he was made to be the "goat" for that incident as well. He certainly wasn't the worst general around, just unlucky(same thing maybe?)

Anonymous said...

With 300M+ people in the country, we shouldn't have to settle for little more than brass balls in a presidential candidate. Balls may be sufficient for a fighter pilot/POW, but it is dangerious in a POTUS who has NYTimes-like values as McCain does.

Everyone complains that Romney is too smart, polished, or too political, but that what get things done well in real-world organizations. My reservations is that Romney's letting McCain get away with lies and playing defense when he should be hammering McCain on his insincere liberal-conservative flip-flops like his love-child shamnesty with Teddy Kennedy as well as his hypocricy on campaign finance reform as the biggest lobbyist whore.

Romney is losing because he's not hammering home McCain's obvious lies and hypocracies in terms plain enough for the average joe. Take off the tie, roll up the sleeves and start pushing those famous tempermental button McCain has behind that snarky yellow grin. I want to see old man Mt McCain tell Romney to F*ck Off or call him a Sh*thead like he does Senators who get in his way.

McCain is like a older, cruder, cranky set-in-his-ways Bush. He will even more dangerious when he ignores reasons, the people's will or reality in pursuit of his ill-fated policies.

TGGP said...

I agree with Ron Paul: the President shouldn't have to manage the country.

Now, a really great President was Calvin Coolidge.

Rosamund said...

Steve,
You don't have a tip jar at this site? I went to the old one to give a small tip... I feel kind of guilty for the outrage. I've implored you many times to speak to the intelligence of these men running for president, and you finally did so in passing, and this is the thanks you get (I defended you at Captain's Quarters, even though they seemed only to focus on Derbyshire and that perhaps the smear originated with the Romney campaign! I don't know if it will be posted).

Anonymous said...

Ben Franklin you (to quote Lenin) may not be interested in War but War is interested in you. You could be on a plane, in a skyscraper, or just going about your business. Globalization + nuclear proliferation + perpetually ticked off Muslims = war.

The only question is how to manage things to the US maximum advantage (i.e. we don't lose NYC or DC because we want to be "polite" or "nice" or "loved" etc.)

Bush's fallacy of "transforming" the ME is dead as his legacy. Obama's idea of a national "surrender to Islam summit" his first day of the Presidency is also dead on arrival.

McCain is dangerous not because he is too aggressive, he's not btw. He's dangerous because he's a Press/Media/Dem bound RINO who wants to be "loved" and despite his image buys into all that transnational pseudo-religious stuff like the UN, EU, NATO, etc. McCain would sit by and focus on the "win" we already got in Iraq and ignore Pakistan or Iran. One has nukes and is riddled with AQ and Taliban, the whole country hates Westerners and gang-rapes women for "honor" and Iran is getting nukes and isn't any better -- they hang 16 year old girls for "prostitution."

Mitt is not Mr. Emotional but he's at least likely to see the value of spelling out exactly what the US's red lines are and what peoples/tribes have to do in order to avoid getting nuked (basically, abjure nukes or become modern their choice). McCain won't do that because it would upset his buddies in the Press or Teddy Kennedy.

McCain has shamefully lied about Romney on Iraq, and has portrayed himself as the only guy on the troops's side. This is why he's in the lead. But Republicans could well go for him because they want a "win" in Iraq and won't buy "defeat is good for America."

Fred said...

"can't this country of 300,000,000 do better?"

Yes. Romney is head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates in intelligence and management experience. Silicon Valley and Wall Street are probably filled with others who would make impressive candidates, but we are fortunate that Romney is running. One thing in particular that I like about Romney is that he isn't just a lawyer, but, as a private equity guy, he's probably numerate too. That would come in handy dealing with issues like entitlements.

"Try paying your President way more. Your best and brightest leaders go into business, for obvious reasons."

The total remuneration potential of being President is pretty healthy -- an ex-President is essentially guaranteed a seven-figure income making speeches -- but Congressmen and Senators should definitely be paid a lot more.

Martin said...

"Anonymous said...

Ben Franklin you (to quote Lenin) may not be interested in War but War is interested in you. You could be on a plane, in a skyscraper, or just going about your business. Globalization + nuclear proliferation + perpetually ticked off Muslims = war.

......etc., etc., etc., and etc."

Evil Neocon - is that you? I can tell from the breezy military-like expressions with which you salt your overly prolix prose (expressions no doubt gleened from "24", or Tom Clancy novels, or Stargate, or some such popular entertainment for armchair jingos).

The fact that you are plugging for Romney is one of the best arguments I have yet heard against him. I'll take it under advisement. Thanks.

Oh, and by the way, you hosed up the quote about "war being interested in you". It's a good quote, and I've always liked it.

However it was Trotsky's, not Lenin's. But then, history is obviously not the strong suit of you neo-cons.

Justin said...

"Yes. Romney is head and shoulders above the rest of the candidates in intelligence and management experience."

Fred, I would imagine Mr. Paul is more intelligent than Romney in many quantifiable areas. Mr. Paul's knowledge of Mises is testament to his curiosity and willingness to avoid "Group Think". Missing from this debate about what is needed in a POTUS is the ability to avoid Group Think. Mr. Paul is the only candidate to demonstrate the ability to exercise independent thought.

"Silicon Valley and Wall Street are probably filled with others who would make impressive candidates, but we are fortunate that Romney is running."

In my years in business, I have always found Wall Street types lacking in curiousity about the human animal. They are just smart salesmen. In my experience, they have not been men of truth. They are not the "farmer breed" of Washington and Jefferson.

Justin

Eric Falkenstein said...

Any info on Obama's GRE? His SAT?

Martin said...

Never having served in the military, I'm loathe to criticize combat veterans. But, hasn't our definition of war hero become somewhat debased? It used to mean someone who won battles, or who fought bravely and killed alot of the enemy, or died trying. Alvin York, Audie Murphy, Pappy Boyington. Certainly, they were heroes.

McCain served honorably, and he is certainly brave. But, hero?

A lot was made of Bob Dole being a war hero, too. He served honorably, as a leutenant in the army, and was crippled by his injuries sustained in combat. By his own admission, he also severely injured one of his own men with a hand-grenade. Hey, that happens in war, and I wouldn't blame him. But was he a hero?

It should also be noted that Adolph Hitler served honorably and bravely in the german army during WWI, receiving an iron cross. And that was for his adopted country (why, he was an immigrant success story!). Obviously, that didn't make him a good candidate for chancellor.

As to previous presidents having middling aptitude, we should remember that the job of President used to be a lot less consequential, and so required less. I think average smarts are probably best for the job. I wouldn't want an idiot for the job, because, well, we know what that's like. Nor would I want a genius. People who are smarter than you never stop looking for ways to prove it.

Anonymous said...

This is barely relevant, but it's bugging me.

West Point has the Goat.

At Navy, it's the Anchor.

McCain came a few slots shy of making Anchor, not Goat.

Mensarefugee said...

Romney might be the best of the possibilities...but, sadly, the best candidate is Ron Paul. He'll never win :/

People are too dumb :(

Udolpho said...

It is common sense that an ignorant egomaniac is the ideal person to lead a country, as being ignorant and having a huge ego allow for many opportunities to learn and acquire managerial experience.

Refer to my book on why guys who know how to backslap and tell corny jokes make the very best managers and leaders in the world. Please ignore all counter-examples as that is just nerd propaganda.

Also, did you know that politicans who flip flop and make unconvincing excuses for unpopular votes are also the most steadfast and principled men come crunch time? Seriously.

jerzy cow said...

Obama certainly has a very high IQ and strong work ethic given he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School while serving as editor and later president of Harvard Law Review.

Affirmative action might have helped him into HLS, but law school exams grades are blind, and he would have had to have beaten at least 75% of his classmates in order to gain this honor. (right now the cut-off for magna cum laude is top 10%, but was lower when Obama graduated.)

The average LSAT score of a Harvard Law Student is about 171. That is in the top 2% of all LSAT takers, who in turn are all college graduates. Thus it is reasonable to assume that Obama has an IQ at the 99.9th percentile. The math is top 25% (Harvard Law magna) of a pool of the top 2% (average Harvard Law Student) of the top 20% (college graduate), or .25 * .2 * .02 = .0001.

As for his work ethic, an Law Review editor spends about 20 hours a week doing extremely boring work his second year of school, and the president normally spends about 40 hours a week his third year.

This makes Obama's high grades all the more impressive since he had much less to study.

As for his "practical" intelligence, he in his 40's and on his way to being President of the United States. Not too shabby if you ask me.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks. Yes, Obama's Harvard Law School record is quite impressive. His writing skills are very strong, too.

My only concern about his intelligence would be on the quantitative side. Hopefully, his quant skills don't lag too far behind his excellent verbal skills, but I don't know anyway to find that out.

meathead said...

"The total remuneration potential of being President is pretty healthy -- an ex-President is essentially guaranteed a seven-figure income making speeches -- but Congressmen and Senators should definitely be paid a lot more."

Compared to the risks and downsides? If you want to make the position anywhere near worth the while, you need to increase the compensation dramatically. At least 10-fold. Compared to the operating budget, this is a pittance.

Haven't voters ever heard of the saying "penny wise, pound foolish"? They are saving pennies on Presidential salaries only to spend hundreds of billions on foolish governmental adventures.

Anonymous said...

Martin I'll note you can't refute my arg. If Pakistan (most people are illiterate and desperately poor) can get nukes anyone can. Not too many high IQs there. Which means either global sharia or global war. And I don't think even Obama's "Summit of Muslim Leaders" will sell America on creeping Sharia to appease Muslims.

McCain will be too passive since he's PC. That's dangerous -- it's Jimmy Carter time. Only this time a group of "students" won't just parade our Embassy people around -- something will set them off and a city goes boom! Heck Teddy Bears named Mohammed sets Muslims off. Anything can and will.

The Founding Fathers were impressive because they had ... a classical education. Even Washington could read Latin and Jefferson could read and write Latin and Greek. Having a classical education gave them an intellectual framework and understanding of humanity that today's leaders largely lack. Andrew Jackson was likely as smart as Washington but lacked the formal, classical education.

Ron Paul can't even organize his own newsletters or keep his staffers free of KKK members (the latest scandal of that doofus) -- he's not fit to organize an easter egg hunt. A typical Doctor btw. They often fail miserably when in office because they have diagnostic not organizational skills and egos the size of Mt. Rushmore. Besides Paul is an ideologue nutball out of his area of expertise -- gold standard really? Obama for all his "smarts" is no better -- the gaseous flipside of Paul complete with Nation of Islam staffers to match Ron Paul's KKK staffers. [Both those idiocies like Rudy's staffing woes ought to be a red flag disqualifying them -- as should McAmnesty and his Mexico First staffer.]

Staffing matters. How smoothly a campaign runs and how a guy assembles his team will tell you how his Administration will run. Bush was Karl Rove and that was it (against two incompetents -- Gore and Kerry, and he still nearly lost both times).

Obama has unforced errors, see McCain, Paul, Rudy. Not good. Personnel are policy.

Romney's probably the best at assembling a team, making sure his policies get implemented, and getting rid of people (something Bush lacks) and standing up to the Press (something McCain lacks). So far he's avoided the unforced errors of Paul and Obama.

Hillary is a hack but organizationally competent. She'd probably be better than McCain even with her awful policies (which come to think of it are largely McCain's).

Anonymous said...

The best way to evaluate a candidate is to look at his accomplishments in leading a large organization or how high he can rise in politics.

McCain nearly switched parties in 2001. He's been "Maverick" and unimportant in Republican politics, a swing vote to Democrats in his career.

Paul is the Republican Dennis Kucinich. A fringe office holder others laugh at.

Obama is Jimmy Carter 1976, a guy with almost no record but a "soothing manner."

Huckabee took a strong Arkansas Republican Party and destroyed it.

Romney was reasonably successful at Bain, turned around the Olympics from disaster and reasonably successful in MA.

Hillary was Bill's hatchet woman on his bimbos. She was reasonably effective.

These past accomplishments are more effective than IQ IMHO for judging future effectiveness. Jimmy Carter was a smart man, nuclear engineers have to be. As a leader he was a dithering disaster.

Martin said...

"Martin I'll note you can't refute my arg. If Pakistan (most people are illiterate and desperately poor) can get nukes anyone can. Not too many high IQs there. Which means either global sharia or global war. And I don't think even Obama's "Summit of Muslim Leaders" will sell America on creeping Sharia to appease Muslims."

I didn't attempt to refute your "arg." (what, you neocons are so busy that you can't be bothered to spell out the word argument), only to point out who you are, and that your judgement is not to be trusted. I agree with you that Romney is the best of the Republican candidates who has a chance of getting elected. A chance - but there's that Mormon thing. I don't think the American public would elect a Mormon, which would leave us with either Maverick, Madame Dufarge, or Neo (Whoa. I know monetary policy) as President.

And anyway, with presidential candidates this obtuse to the real problems our nation faces, it doesn't really matter who's elected. We're doomed. The American Republic is dying, irrespective of which nitwit we choose to make meaningless proclamations from the Rose Garden.

And the way to defend ourselves from Sharia is to exclude muslims from our nation and isolate them from our affairs, not by endless messing around on their home turf - people don't like that. Don't you realize that? Would you like it? And if you want endless intervention (which seems to be your bent) than why don't you go with John "we'll stay 100 years if we have to" McCain.

If Romney does drop out, it will be an interesting race, in that it will be between three sitting Senators. Sitting Congressmen, even Senators, have not fared well in Presidential elections. In the last hundred years at least, the only sitting Senator - indeed the only candidate with no executive experience - who has won was JFK. Although I suppose you could say that Hillary has as much executive experience as the average vice-president does.

Anonymous said...

Jerzy Cow,

Despite all of your knowledge about affirmative action, you think Obama has the same average LSAT (171) as other Harvard Law students? ;)

Floccina said...

The country did best under Warren G Harding and Bill Clinton. One dim one very intelligent both distracted.

Rosamund said...

"These past accomplishments are more effective than IQ IMHO for judging future effectiveness. Jimmy Carter was a smart man, nuclear engineers have to be. As a leader he was a dithering disaster."

Nobody disagrees with this, but it sounds like you're saying those accomplishments had nothing to do with I.Q.
It's frustrating to those of us who are long time readers of this site and familiar with research and theories about I.Q. when comments like this are made or Steve's comments get played in the mainstream where people aren't as versed. When I talk to people, I often forget that while I've internalized, "The Bell Curve", they are more beholden to the idea that I.Q. doesn't mean very much in the real world. Also, some believe that saying I.Q. is very important means culture and values aren't important which is nonsense. When you do compare people in the same culture, you will see the effect of I.Q. For example, American-Hispanics have a higher out of wedlock birthrate than American-Whites in the U.S., but if we compare Mexican-Hispanic birthrate to that of American-Whites, the former is lower.
Anyways, intelligence plays a large role in how successful one is, and competence at the largest endeavors can only be accomplished by the very intelligent.

jerzy cow said...

Steve, many law school classes require at one to be good at basic math and finance. These classes include accounting, corporations, trusts and estates, taxation, antitrust, corporate finance, economic analysis of the law, financial institutions law, mergers and acquisitions and securities regulation.

The layman image of lawyers may be their most important skill is giving eloquent speeches.

In fact, the most important skill is in general being very good at deductive and inductive logic, especially the ability to make very complex but logically sound arguments, and to expose the logical flaws of an opponents arguments.

People good at such skills generally aren't bad at math.

The LSAT and law school exams also reward speed of thought. For example, on the LSAT more than 95% of people fail to complete at least one section before time expires.

Law school exams too reward speed of thought, as well as rote memorization ability. Again, someone who did as well as Obama is likely very good at math. Someone with an over 99.9% IQ is unlikely to be below the 95% in math skills.

jerzy cow said...

Anon, I made no guess at what Obama's LSAT score was. I only noted that in a pool of people with an average score of 171, he got better grades than at least 75% of them.

Anonymous said...

I think people exaggerate how awful
Carter was. He was far more unlucky than he was bad, though he was bad. More than that, the events that effect whether a president is judged as good or bad are mostly things that are totally beyond the control of any single person. The presidents with the grand ideas tend to be the biggest disasters. To quote a Sailerism, it's simply better to be right than it is to be smart. How many great Swiss leaders can you name, yet how many centuries has it been now that the Swiss have have been chugging along in peace and prosperity. It's the unlucky countries around the world that tend to have the famous, brilliant leaders.

"Ron Paul can't even organize his own newsletters or keep his staffers free of KKK members "

Derbyshire got a funny article out of those newsletters. I have no idea how factual the claims that Paul's ghostwriter makes are, but they sound about right. At worst his statements were selectively uncharitable. Also, the "staffer" you mention was just a volunteer in his 20's who was going door to door for Paul. You make it sound like he was some kind of high level adviser.

meathead said...

"How many great Swiss leaders can you name, yet how many centuries has it been now that the Swiss have have been chugging along in peace and prosperity. It's the unlucky countries around the world that tend to have the famous, brilliant leaders."

Good point mysterious anonymous person.

Cf. Sun Tzu. :)

neil craig said...

If you have never read it I reccommend Lee Kuan Yew's From Third World to First about the growth of Singapore. Near the end he explains how he introduced a system of selection into party & Ministerial ranks derived from the one BP used to select executives for fast tracking. This effectively turned the counrty form a democracy to a managerial aristocracy. They seem to have done well on it & I am sure they are good people but I must admit to a fondness for seeing politics kept in the gutter.

McCain during the NATO bombing introduced a resolution in the Senate to invade Yugoslavia with US ground troops. He said, “Avoiding casualties theirs and ours is not our primary objective. Winning is.”

You don't have to think that particular war criminal & pointless (as I do) to see that that sort of macho death or glory attitude will cause trouble. Maybe you need a self concious hero to get you through a fight to the death but somebody like that is much more likely to get you into such a fight needlessly.

As regards payment for Presidents. I don't think, at that level it matters much. None of them are going to go short or have to have Andrew Carnegie giving their wife a pension. A much greater disincentive is that you live your life in a goldfish bowl as President whereas, unless you are a publicity seeking billionaire like Gates or Branson nobody will care who you have sex with or what you say about asparagus.

Truth said...

President James Garfield was the first (and only) US president to campaign fluently in two languages (English and German) He also had the ability to write a paragraph in Latin with his left hand and Greek with his right, simultaneously. Is he considered one of our transcendent presidents?

Zimri said...

re, Grant mentioned in the same breath as the disastrous Hoover - a reference to the Panic of 1873 perhaps?

I am not convinced that the problems which beset Grant's presidency were his fault.

With regards to economics, I doubt that Horace Greeley would have been any better. It just wasn't well understood in those days how to respond to a panic.

As for scandal, I agree he should have cleaned up his own cabinet quite a bit. But who was he going to nominate instead with a Congress aligned against him? Congress might have impeached him for mucking with the cabinet. Look at Andrew Johnson.

Grant also had to deal with a terrorist campaign in the South, whose aim was to replace legal racial slavery with semi-legal racial serfdom. He made some effort to beat this insurgency, but his fellow Republicans up North had largely decided to reconcile with Southern whites and to chase the rabbit called "Reform".

At the end, in the election of 1876, the terrorists had succeeded in stealing numerous elections in the South. I suppose he *could* have declared those elections as frauds and retroactively kicked the offending States from status as States. But, he chose to pretend that enough of those states were actually won for Republicans to clinch Hayes's accession.

William said...

In fact, the most important skill is in general being very good at deductive and inductive logic, especially the ability to make very complex but logically sound arguments, and to expose the logical flaws of an opponents arguments.

I'm sorry, but when did Obama prove he was a good lawyer? Not "great," just merely good?

Never, to my knowledge. Sure, the guy did great in school, using measurement criteria none of us know. So what did he do with that magne cum laude Harvard degree? Street organizing and Illnois state legislature? Grand!

Now mind you I have no particular disrespect for state legislators, but I've never known of too many who were top-flight leaders, and even in that small pond Obama doesn't seem to have stood out.