Complementarity and Contingency

Tyler Cowen's post on Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers is fascinating. 

The main point, in economic language, is that human talent is heterogeneous and that the talent of a particular person must mesh with the capital structure of his or her time if major success is to result.
[…]
It is too easy to find contingency in the world and Gladwell doesn't begin to look for a theory of which contingencies are interesting or not.
[…]
Gladwell descends into the swamp of contingency but he is unwilling to really live in it and take it seriously or, alternatively, to find a way out. 
In reality the complementarity concept is easier to work with and also more fruitful for thinking about policy implications or for that matter the implications for management or talent training.  Success is fragile but foster competing cultures based on clusters of talent motivated by rivalry and emulation.  Don't filter out the eccentrics or the risk takers.  That's about where David Hume ended up but Gladwell never gets anywhere close.

I agree with Tyler, especially that Hume is teh awesome, but I'd like to emphasize the contingency of complementarity. Tomorrow's capital structure may be too different from today's to attempt to cultivate in young people the talents that will mesh with it. Who knows what those will be? As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, this will be an ever bigger issue. For example, nobody I knew had heard of the Internet when I was in high school. But I spent a huge amount of my time in college talking to people on the Internet. Without it, I'd probably be a high school art teacher today. With it, I'm doing everything I'm doing instead. All my best opportunities came from meeting people in online discussion groups and having a blog. That's weird!

6 Replies to “Complementarity and Contingency”

  1. On appointment, I think Pithlord’s relevantly right. Who has de jure authority matters, when push comes to shove. We say that the PM can call a new election, but de jure it’s the GG– and we’ve just seen that the difference can matter. Similarly, we say that the PM appoints (and dismisses) the GG, but in the kind of circumstance Pithlord describes (or in the ’75 Aussie crisis to which he refers) the Queen’s de jure authority matters. If Jean had been clearly opposed to proroguing, one could easily have imagined Harper seeking her dismissal– and, not yet having been voted confidence by the House, he arguably lacks the legitimacy to do so, especially if he was sacking her precisely in order to avoid a confidence vote. The various Westminster conventions work smoothly together in normal times, but in extraordinary times (precisely when reserve powers come into play) they might not.

  2. Thanks for the correction, Pithlord. I was reacting to the claim that the Queen still played an active role in our governance, when de facto that power is exercised by a political appointee of the PM (unlike, of course, in King-Byng, when the former made great sport of the fact that the latter was appointed in England).
    Jacob – could we not craft a series of statutory rules (like the ones for fixed elections) which would remove the discretion in these matters from the Crown? I have been talking to Adam Tomkins (Scotish law prof) who argues that all prerogative can and should be stripped out of the British constitution (including that of the cabinet). It struck me that all the commentary in the Canadian papers was about what the reserve powers were and whether they were democratically legitimate; and there was almost nothing on possible reforms to the system (short of republicanism).

  3. Craig, the federal government did put forward a proposal to codify the reserve power in 1978. The provinces all objected, on the grounds that there would inevitably be some discretion and it was better exercised by the GG than by the courts. Bush v. Gore convinces me they were right.

  4. However, I do think we should follow the Australian model and require the PM to make requests for prorogation/dissolution in writing, with publicly-available reasons, and have the GG make her decision with reasons as well.

  5. Thanks, Pithlord. I realize you can’t get rid of discretion entirely, but some statutory rules would be better than the status quo.

  6. I think there’s a slight overstatement by Levy of the importance of government crystallizing by being asked to form the government or first sitting in Parliament. I never heard the idea bruited that a coalition would have been more acceptable if suggested earlier in the process. While Canada itself has not done coalitions in the past, the Commonwealth Parliamentary traditions are fairly clear that if a minority government loses the confidence of Parliament early in its term, there is no precedent for the Queen’s representative denying the party (or parties) with the second-most seats an opportunity to form the government where it appears to have a viable chance. The fact is that minority Parliaments have an inherent possibility for re-forming into different permutations of power, regardless of whether the government has formally seized the reins of power.
    But otherwise, an excellent summary of the crisis, although the role of Dion’s amateur response appears overstated. I suspect that Jean’s decision to prorogue Parliament had more to do with the widely suspected personal animosity between her and Harper, leading to a need to be perceived as fair to him. If she had refused him, it would have been interpreted by the Tories as flowing from personal and perhaps political bias and threatened her credibility as GG. Indeed, the continuation of the constitutional monarchy would probably become less likely with the reaction of western Tories to the GG “taking sides” against them. The Australian example shows that republican movements take off in these sorts of circumstances, when the GG seems too active.

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