Brian Klaas (@brianklaas) is an associate professor in global politics at University College London, host of the Power Corrupts podcast, and author of Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us.
What We Discuss with Brian Klaas:
- How accurate was historian Lord Acton’s assessment that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely“?
- Why do people become corrupt? Is it the system working on them from the outside or something in human nature working on them from within?
- What kind of people become corrupt? Is everyone susceptible to corruption’s temptations?
- When it comes to corruption, should our leaders be held to higher standards than the rest of us?
- How can we create fair systems to incentivize people to resist corruption in favor of the straight and narrow?
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Are people in power more likely to succumb to the temptations of corruption, or are the people most susceptible to these temptations just more likely to seek positions of power? How do people who become leaders for the right reasons so often wind up as corrupt as the leaders they fought to replace? And why did civilization gravitate toward hierarchies that make corruption so commonplace only within the past 10,000 years of human history?
On this episode, we’re joined by Brian Klaas, an associate professor in global politics at University College London, host of the Power Corrupts podcast, and author of Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us. Here, we discuss how human nature collides with society’s guardrails; what police, college admissions officers, and cult leaders all have in common; and what it would take to eliminate (or at least minimize) the effects of corruption on the hierarchies that make civilization possible. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Jordan Harbinger Show receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you for your support!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
This Episode Is Sponsored By:
- Lectric eBikes: Go to lectricebikes.com and use code JORDAN for a free lock with any bike purchase
- BetterHelp: Get 10% off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan
- Boll & Branch: Get 15% off your first set of sheets with code JORDAN
- Peloton: Learn more at onepeloton.com
On the True Underdog podcast, entrepreneur Jayson Waller and his high-profile guests share motivational tips, inspiring stories, and business-building lessons to help each listener grow in their entrepreneurial journey. Listen here or wherever you enjoy podcasts!
Miss our conversation with world champion boxer and entrepreneur Laila Ali? Catch up with episode 309: Laila Ali | Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power here!
Thanks, Brian Klaas!
If you enjoyed this session with Brian Klaas, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- Corruptible: Who Gets Power and How It Changes Us by Brian Klaas | Amazon
- Power Corrupts Podcast
- Brian Klaas | Website
- Brian Klaas | Twitter
- Labeling Elections ‘Good Enough’ Lets African Leaders Get Away With Fraud by Brian Klaas | Foreign Policy
- Vladimir Putin Has Fallen Into the Dictator Trap by Brian Klaas | The Atlantic
- Bill Browder | Hunted by Putin | Jordan Harbinger
- Lord Acton’s Famous Remark | The New York Times
- An Economic Analysis of the Spanish Inquisition’s Motivations and Consequences | J. Vidal-Robert
- Extraordinarily, the Effects of the Spanish Inquisition Linger to This Day | The Conversation
- Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition | Monty Python
- What’s Trading on Capitol Hill? | Capitol Trades
- 59 Members of Congress Caught Violating Law on Stock Trades | Business Insider
- Here’s How to Ban Congressional Stock Trading So Politicians Can’t Cheat | The Washington Post
- Douglas Adams on Government | Goodreads
- Dark Triad | Psychology Today
- Brian Klaas on Why Your Boss May Indeed Be a Corruptible Psychopath | McKinsey
- James Fallon | How to Spot a Psychopath | Jordan Harbinger
- Thomas Erikson | How to Protect Yourself from Psychopaths | Jordan Harbinger
- Mop Boss by Brian Klaas | Harper’s Magazine
- Boris Nemtsov, Putin Foe, Is Shot Dead in Shadow of Kremlin | The New York Times
- Paul Bremer, Former Iraq Czar, is Utterly Confused How He Became an Internet Meme | The Daily Beast
- The Unthinkable Olive Branch | Power Corrupts Podcast
- How New Zealand Used Humor to Diversify Its Police by Brian Klaas | The Atlantic
- Freeze! NZ Police’s Most Entertaining Recruitment Video, Yet! | NZ Police Recruitment
- Campbell Police Chief Defends Planned BearCat Purchase | San Jose Inside
- Massachusetts Suspends Pentagon Giveaways to Local Police Departments | Reason
- Singapore Is the Least Corrupt Country in Asia, but Standards Drop When It Trades Abroad | Forbes
- In Alaska, Former Criminals Find Work as Police Officers | NPR
- Brian Klaas: “Hierarchy Is Like Fire…” | BBC Radio 5 Live, Twitter
- Queensland Councillor Has Legs Broken to Gain Height | The Sydney Morning Herald
- The Diplomat-Parking-Violation Corruption Index | The New York Times
- Turkmenistan Leader Unveils Giant Gold Dog Statue | BBC News
- Turkmenistan’s President Performs in Rap Video with His Grandson | Guardian News
- The Strange Musical World of Kim Jong Il | WQXR Editorial
- What Putin’s Nazi Talk Reveals About His Plans for Ukraine | Time
- Pyongyang Railway Museum | The Rambling Wombat
- What Turns Monkeys into Junkies? | American Psychological Association
- Dacher Keltner | The Power Paradox | Jordan Harbinger
- Why It’s Better to Be Second in Command | Fast Company
- Enron Scandal: The Fall of a Wall Street Darling | Investopedia
650: Brian Klaas | The Corruptible Influence of Power
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Brian Klaas: If a corrupt person has gotten into power and is just abusing that power, then you don't need to change the system because they already were corrupt to begin with. You just have to get better people into power. If a good person goes into a system and gets spit out as an evil monster, you have to fix the system because then it's a good person drawn into the system and power corrupted them. So the problem is in any individual case, you'll see somebody in power behaving badly, and there's two basically opposite explanations for why that happened. They were always bad or they became bad. And if you misdiagnose it, the solution is completely wrong.
[00:00:40] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional mafia, enforcer drug trafficker, or extreme athlete, maybe even neuroscientists here and there. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:01:06] If you're new to the show, or you want to tell your friends about it — and thank you so much for doing that — I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of top episodes organized by topic. That'll help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show — topics like China, North Korea, technology, futurism, crime and cults, negotiation, communication, persuasion, influence, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:31] Today, why do people become corrupt? Is it the system they're in? Is it something in their nature? What kind of people become corrupt? Does it happen to everyone or is there a special set of circumstances that breeds corruption? How can we create fair systems and incentivize people to stay on the straight and narrow?
[00:01:49] My guest today, Brian Klaas gets to the bottom of what makes people, places, governments, and other organizations corrupt and what, if anything, we can do about it. This is a fascinating episode about how human nature collides with society's guardrails and what police, college admissions officers, and cult leaders all have in common.
[00:02:08] Here we go with Brian Klaas.
[00:02:13] The beginning of the book describes the Madagascar election. It reads like a screenplay where a good hometown kid becomes like this horrible corrupt dictator person who can't keep his hands off of power and money that's not his.
[00:02:28] Brian Klaas: Yeah. I mean, this is one of the weirder things that happened to me when I was doing my PhD, where I met the yogurt kingpin of Madagascar.
[00:02:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:02:36] Brian Klaas: He grew up selling yogurt off the back of his bicycle, became the richest man in Madagascar eventually, you know, sort of fast forward a couple of decades later and decides he wants to be president. And successfully, he becomes president. And then the short version of the story is he's overthrown in a coup d'etat by a 34-year-old radio DJ. There's bloodshed.
[00:02:55] And in that sort of quick version of the story, what I'm skipping over is this sort of incremental change of becoming more corrupt over time, which is the archetypal example of power corrupting, right? So it's like he comes in as a reformer. He's got all these ideas, he sets up an anti-corruption agency. Then, you know, he starts to try to sell half of Madagascar's arable land to a company to make money. He registers Air Force 2, as he calls the Madagascar presidential jet to his name.
[00:03:23] Jordan Harbinger: That's so on-brand for an African strongman too, right? Or any strongman, but to be like corny about it is just chef's kiss.
[00:03:31] Brian Klaas: It was weird writing about him because I liked the guy on a personal level. Like I've met with him a bunch of times. There was one time I don't write about this in Corruptible, but there's one time where he wanted advice from me and his chief of staff, like texted me and says like, "President Ravalomanana will be in Paris tomorrow. You will be in Paris tomorrow." I was like, "What do you mean?" Yeah, I live in London. So it's like two and a half hours on the train, but he's just like, just get there. So like we had breakfast and he just reimbursed my train ticket and that was it. And it's the mindset of some of these people. They're just sort of—
[00:04:06] Jordan Harbinger: Everyone works for me.
[00:04:08] Brian Klaas: Yeah. And it's a really weird story because he presided over massive economic growth when he was president, basically because he wanted the yogurt to get to various places faster. So he built all these roads and it like actually unleashed growth. So it's this weird story of like a corrupt leader actually unleashing lots of economic potential.
[00:04:28] But anyway, I put them in the book at the beginning because he's this stereotypical example of like grows up humble beginnings, poor. He has his sights set on power, gets it. And overtime, the longer he's in office, the more he starts to sort of skirt the rules. And ultimately, it causes downfall. And the radio DJ, by the way, is still the president of Madagascar. So there you go.
[00:04:48] Jordan Harbinger: This type of story is extremely common. I studied a lot of Vladimir Putin over the last, probably 10 years, reading every bio and book and every documentary about him. Now, he's quite relevant, unfortunately, but back then, it was just sort of like a pet thing of mine to study Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, Turkmenbashi and all these other creeps.
[00:05:07] And a lot of them did come to power, like to use the Putin example — and again, look, it's hard to tell what's true when you're looking at like a propaganda machine, but one of the things he came in with, and I think even Bill Browder, who Putin has gone after, who was on episode number two of the show, Putin's thing was, "Hey, man, let's take down these oligarchs. These guys are buying everything up. It's really unfair. It's going to screw up the whole country." And so Vladimir Putin was like the guy who would snipe an oligarch and take their stuff and redistribute it and then...he was like, "Why am I redistributing it to anybody but myself?"
[00:05:41] Now, he's the chief oligarch of oligarchs, and he basically just replaced the guys that got there first with the guys that were friends with him. And it's hard to say if that was always the plan, but it's also possible that he went, "No, I love Russia and we're going to make this right." And then he was like, "Screw it. I also like money a lot."
[00:05:57] Brian Klaas: Yeah, I think they get a taste for it. I mean, I think power is the same way. I mean the weird thing in these systems, and it's not always the case. I mean, it's certainly the case to an extent in say Western democracies, the US et cetera, but like in these systems, power and money are the same thing because economic advantages are completely correlated with how close you are to the political center. So if like, if you're the dictator's friend, you're going to get good business opportunities, you're going to be able to do well, no matter what. You can be totally incompetent, but you're going to get some state-owned enterprises and all this type of stuff.
[00:06:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Who's like the second richest man in Russia is like the conductor of the symphony orchestra who grew up with Vladimir Putin or something like that. I could be getting that wrong, but it's like, he owns like an aluminum company or something, right?
[00:06:35] Brian Klaas: Yeah. Well, there's also the really rich cellist.
[00:06:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yes. That's who I'm talking about, yeah.
[00:06:39] Brian Klaas: I think the taste they get for the trappings of power is difficult to go away from, especially when you've grown up, like Marc Ravalomanana did. Well, I mean, Madagascar was about the sixth or seventh poorest country in the world, so you have nothing. And then you're all of a sudden, extremely rich, jetting around, going to conferences, addressing the UN. I can see why psychologically that would entice people. And that's why I put them in as that — okay, here's the stereotypical power corrupts. This is what everybody thinks. And then the rest of the book is like, wait a minute. The story is way more complicated than that. And there's actually a lot of dynamics that are much more interesting than the standard script. And so that's where I go for the rest of the book.
[00:07:18] Jordan Harbinger: Did you go to Madagascar for this?
[00:07:20] Brian Klaas: Yeah, I've been to Madagascar eight times actually.
[00:07:23] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Did you try the yogurt? That's the real question.
[00:07:26] Brian Klaas: I have. Yeah, actually when I had breakfast with him in his sort of palatial home, it was like this long table. I mean, it's like the despot special. They must have it like the furniture shop.
[00:07:35] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. They love those. Did you see the photo of Macron talking to Putin. It's like 17—
[00:07:39] Brian Klaas: Exactly.
[00:07:40] Jordan Harbinger: —foot long. It's ridiculous.
[00:07:41] Brian Klaas: Yeah. So it's basically like this and he's like filled it with breakfast food, including a ton of yogurt. It's just two of us. There's like two seats. And I'm like, I felt super bad because I really wanted to interview him and like talk to him. So I wasn't planning to have like a big breakfast. So like I ate before I arrived.
[00:07:58] Jordan Harbinger: Oh no.
[00:07:58] Brian Klaas: So he's got like 10 plates of food and I'm like, "Oh my god, I don't know what I'm supposed to do." He had this like shrine to Bethlehem — the only way I can describe it as like a model train Bethlehem. So like a massive cross on the wall. And it's like Bethlehem, but there's like a train scale. And it's just like in the middle of his house. And he just like showed it to me. He was like, "This is my shrine to Bethlehem." And I was like, "Okay—"
[00:08:22] Jordan Harbinger: So weird.
[00:08:22] Brian Klaas: I don't know how to react to that.
[00:08:24] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Meanwhile, people don't have like healthcare in other parts of Madagascar, but he's got this—
[00:08:28] Brian Klaas: Yeah.
[00:08:28] Jordan Harbinger: —$58,000 or more scale model of Bethlehem in the living room to show to random dudes who don't care. Like, "I'm not here for the yogurt. I'm just here to write a book." I assume he didn't know the book was called Corruptible, and it was about this.
[00:08:43] Brian Klaas: The first time I interviewed him was like in 2012. So I was interviewing him for a variety of different things. I will say that I sent copies of the book to the people who come out a bit better. And Marc Ravalomanana did not receive a copy.
[00:08:54] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[00:08:54] Brian Klaas: I don't think he knows that he's in the book because like his chief of staff, super nice guy, but he like WhatsApp me like Happy New Year. And so he must not know.
[00:09:02] Jordan Harbinger: Or it was like, "Happy New Year. When are you coming to visit? We would love to see you."
[00:09:09] The Lord Acton quote, "The absolute power corrupts absolutely." Whenever I see quotes like that, that are spread around so much, I always have to think, "Is that really what that person said? And what was the context? What were they talking about?" Because they probably weren't like, "You know what people who run for elections in third world countries, they get a lot of corruption. This is a long time ago. What was he referring to?"
[00:09:30] Brian Klaas: So Lord Acton is writing this letter as there's a debate raging about whether the abuses of the church in things like the inquisition with loads of torture should be exposed and people shouldn't talk honestly about it. One of the guys is basically saying, no, like the duty is to protecting the faithful. So we should just basically keep covering this up and so on. And Lord Acton is trying to explain as God-fearing man, they have more of a duty to expose the abuses in the church. And his argument is that power tends to corrupt. The tends often gets dropped in the quotation, but power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
[00:10:07] And that's what he's talking about is how if you end up in a situation where church abuses or swept under the rug, it'll only get worse overtime. So what's interesting is that other people have said something like it a few different times, in fact, earlier than Lord Acton, but it just didn't catch on. And this is one of the things that happens with quotes, right? I mean, like it's an idea that isn't probably the first time some human has thought of it. It just happens the Lord Acton's letter got some attention. And now, it's the one that we turn to.
[00:10:34] Jordan Harbinger: They're talking about the Spanish inquisition.
[00:10:36] Brian Klaas: Yes. I described some of the torture that was involved, that they're basically covering up.
[00:10:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I mean, some of the torture — they've stretched people to death. They would like drop you from long distances with your arms tied with a rope. And there was like skull crushing devices. You can see these in museums, those lazy museums you see in tourist places where they're like torture museum. And there's like just three gross devices. They found in the dungeon of the castle that you're looking at. They were using that stuff back then. It's so horrific.
[00:11:03] Brian Klaas: The strappado is this horrible device where they basically raise you way up and then drop you. And then the rope bites right before you hit the ground. And they just keep doing that. It's loads of forced confessions under torture and so on. And this is why I think it's actually quite an apt quote for modern society in the sense that there is still this tendency around powerful people who are admired to sweep the cobwebs under the rug, you know, and just sort of say, "There's nothing wrong with them." We have these idols and we can't ever imagine they have blemishes.
[00:11:35] And one of the things that I tried to do in the book was show the complexity of people in power, because, you know, I sat down with some monstrous figures, I mean, war criminals, people who had ordered torture, et cetera, they're complicated individuals. And that's what I think Lord Acton is saying. He's saying like, we can be proud of the church and still acknowledge that the church made mistakes. And that doesn't mean you have to throw the entire baby out with the bath water. And I think the same is true with people in power. They're not all good or all bad. Sometimes powerful people who do awful stuff are trying their best and they end up making mistakes. Sometimes they're half awful and half good. And I think that's the complexity of leadership is you like to put everything into a moral black or white box.
[00:12:16] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[00:12:16] Brian Klaas: And in my experience, it's not that clear cut.
[00:12:19] Jordan Harbinger: Does power corrupt people or does power simply attract people who are more likely to become corrupt or some combination thereof?
[00:12:27] Brian Klaas: This is the chicken or the egg problem. That's so hard to research about power. And the reason it is is because both are true. So it's absolutely the case, the power corrupts. I detail lots of evidence that it changes, not just your psychology, but also your brain chemistry. There's a physical change that happens when you're in power. There's all sorts of things that happened to you, and so power does corrupt. We basically established that also corruptible people are more likely to seek power, especially when systems are really rotten and prone to abuse. But — and this is the important bit — you have to figure out which one is actually operating in a given instance.
[00:12:59] So if a corrupt person has gotten into power and is just abusing that power, then you don't need to change the system because they already were corrupt to begin with. You just have to get better people in the power. If a good person goes into a system and gets spit out as an evil monster, you have to fix the system because then it's a good person drawn into the system and power corrupted them.
[00:13:20] So the problem is in any individual case, you'll see somebody in power behaving badly, and there's two basically opposite explanations for why that happened. They were always bad or they became bad. And if you misdiagnosed it, the solution is completely wrong. So it's why you have to really be sure about what's actually happening to these people.
[00:13:39] Jordan Harbinger: That could be really tricky because then you end up reforming this system or something like that, that doesn't actually need reforming. And it's not going to help in this particular case anyways, or if you've got a bad system — well, actually, let's just talk about India and Denmark, because this is kind of the classic example.
[00:13:55] Brian Klaas: This is my favorite study and it's elegant simplicity that I cite in the book. These researchers took economics and they went to universities, both in India and Denmark, and they gave the students a really simple test, basically. They said, "Roll a dice 42 times. Report your scores. Every time you roll the six, we're going to pay you some money," but no one's watching them report the scores. No one's watching them roll the dice so they can report whatever they want. If they want to lie, they can. Using statistical methods of how likely it is that a six is going to be rolled in any given role, you can figure out whether they're lying or not.
[00:14:28] And one guy in India even rolled 42 sixes, he reported, I mean, serious balls on that guy. The point is when they did surveys on these people who had rolled the dice and lied about it, in India, the people who lied about their dice roll scores really wanted to go into the civil service, which is notoriously corrupt and a place where you can extract bribes and sort of get rich on the side. In Denmark, where the civil service is really clean and efficient and doesn't involve lots of grafts and bribe taking the results were completely inverted. All the honest people who rolled the dice and diligently reported their scores accurately, those are the people who wanted to go into government.
[00:15:03] Rotten systems attract rotten people and good systems attract good people. It's not just that power draws in bad people. It does at a disproportionate rate, but it's also that if you fix the system, you get a virtuous cycle because you start to get people who want to be part of a good system that ended up putting their hat in the ring, so to speak.
[00:15:21] Jordan Harbinger: It almost parallels fame in a lot of ways, maybe that's your next book. You can just reuse a bunch of stuff from this book, because I will tell you the more that I see people in, let's say a media industry, you see these people who start off wanting to talk about their ideals and things like that. And then a few years in, they're not getting enough traction or they see it being a crazy person gets you more traction and suddenly, they've become like extreme right or extreme left in their viewpoint. And you go, "Not only you, did you move further to the left or to the right? You were on the other side of the aisle two years ago. Writing an article about voting rights. And then now, you're on the extreme right talking about QAnon stuff." It's like, "Wait a minute." And if you put a couple of whiskeys in these people, you often find that they did care, but it didn't really work. And now, "Screw you, Jordan, I'm making a million dollars a year and I'm on Fox or I'm on MSNBC on my talking points all day. And it doesn't matter." You're like, "What happened to you? You were like the person who wanted to be a civil service lawyer, or like a pro bono lawyer for poor people. And now you're just a straight up grifter." And it's not just money. It's also like fame and attention and freaking likes that does it.
[00:16:34] Brian Klaas: I think there's incremental things that happen to people where they start to make moral compromises little by little and they add up to serious moral compromises. The other thing about this that's worth understanding is that when you design a system in which the rewards are themselves power or money, you're going to get people who are drawn to those things, right?
[00:16:52] I mean, one of the worries that I have in the US context, right? So there was a great case study of this, where there's now a discussion about banning members of Congress from like trading stocks individually.
[00:17:04] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I was thinking that too.
[00:17:05] Brian Klaas: Yeah. The thing that's amazing about this is one of the criticisms of this proposal was people said, "This will make running for office less attractive." And I was like, great. Like if the people who don't want to use Congress as a springboard to get insider information, to get rich off their stock trading, don't run for office.
[00:17:23] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:17:23] Brian Klaas: That would be good.
[00:17:24] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:17:25] Brian Klaas: So I think you have to design a system in which like you're trying to find people for whom power is itself a burden rather than a reward. You know, there's this Douglas Adams quote, one of my favorite novelists, he says, "Basically, anyone who can get themselves made president should on no account be allowed to do the job." And I think the idea is that people who don't want power are probably going to be best at wielding it.
[00:17:47] Jordan Harbinger: That's interesting. So is the opposite of that also true that people who are good at getting power are not good at wielding it or not as good?
[00:17:54] Brian Klaas: Yeah. So this is where you get into things like what's called the dark triad.
[00:17:57] Jordan Harbinger: Okay.
[00:17:57] Brian Klaas: The dark triad is a psychological cocktail of three traits, machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy, being a psychopath. These three things are disproportionately represented in the halls of power. So depending on what study you look at, psychopaths are between four times and a hundred times more represented in powerful positions than in the general public. So that's really bad news, right? It's because they're very, very good at wiggling their way into positions of power, their superficial charm. They're chameleon-like, they're very aware of what other people think of them. So they're good at sort of making people like them. And these aspects of the dark triad, even though they help you get power, almost ensure that you're going to be terrible at wielding. That's the sort of paradox.
[00:18:42] And one of the things that I often think about with this. How do we sort out who becomes powerful in much of the world? Well, mostly it's performances, right? I mean a job interview. It's like a 45-minute performance, media performance, elections performance, right?
[00:18:56] Jordan Harbinger: This job is also performance, so continue.
[00:18:58] Brian Klaas: It's true.
[00:19:00] Jordan Harbinger: I don't like where this is going, but go ahead and go there, yeah.
[00:19:03] Brian Klaas: I'm not implying you're a psychopath, Jordan, but I would say though, that if you have performative aspects for how you get into power, it is obvious that people who are very good at superficial charm are very attuned to what other people think of them, et cetera. They're going to be better at getting these positions. The fascinating thing about psychopaths is the most interesting insights that I've found in talking to researchers in this book. Psychopaths have empathy switched off by default.
[00:19:26] So they basically don't feel things. So you put them in an MRI machine. You show them images of like children being hurt, animals being hurt, their brain is basically dead. It doesn't do anything, right? Normal people are like lights up like a firework. It's a horrific experience. But if you tell the psychopath, if you say to them, "Try to imagine what it would be like to care about the kids or the animals," then their brains become normal. They actually look like everybody else's. And so the insight is that they're able to switch on empathy at times when it's strategically advantageous for them. If they're in an interpersonal relationship or they're having to manipulate a job interview panel, whatever it is, they can turn on that sort of human feeling.
[00:20:05] The fact that they can switch it on and switch it off is like really dangerous because then when they're in power, they can very easily abuse people and not think twice about it. Being a psychopath doesn't come with regrets basically. So it's a dangerous combination of being good at getting power, bad at wielding it.
[00:20:21] Jordan Harbinger: Tell me about Raucci, the maintenance psycho. That guy was quite the character.
[00:20:25] Brian Klaas: Yeah, it's one of the only things that I really lamented in writing the book during the early stages of the pandemic. I was going to get my brain scanned by one of these psychopath researchers and I was also going to go and meet Steve Raucci, the psychopathic janitor in prison. Now, Steve Raucci is a hell of a character. So he's a janitor at the high school in Schenectady, New York. And he's got his sights set on a high target for him, not perhaps a high target for the rest of us, but he wants to be a senior maintenance official in the school district.
[00:20:55] And he's going to be ruthless to get there. So this is the best bit I think is that his superior is tasked with being like the energy czar to cut costs by reducing energy costs. So they install the software that is supposed to monitor like real-time energy usage across the district. But the guy like doesn't understand how to use the software. The guy who's currently in this position. So Steve Raucci says, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it for you. You don't have to learn the software. I'll just manage it." As Steve Raucci takes over the software. He turns the lights on, on the weekends. He switched the football stadium lights on like Columbus Day to like increase energy usage.
[00:21:29] So inevitably when like the district looks at the energy usage, they're like, it went up. So his rival gets supplanted and Raucci takes his job, works his way up, ends up as like the union president, senior maintenance official. He actually starts making, I think like six figures, which, you know, for a guy who started as a janitor is obviously a major, major leg up.
[00:21:48] But as people start to whistle blow his abusive behavior because he's like intimidating rivals. He's like being extremely manipulative and abusive. One person writes a letter explaining what's going on and he figures out who it is and spray paints "rat" on their house and makes his employees like make a pilgrimage to view the fact of like, "This is what happens when you cross me."
[00:22:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. He took them in buses, right? Like during work hours to go like, "Look at this house that got spray painted from somebody who wrote that. That's interesting. We wouldn't want to be them." Like so creepy and overt.
[00:22:22] Brian Klaas: So here's what researchers will call a dysfunctional psychopath because he couldn't control his impulses. Most of the dysfunctional psychopaths end up in prison. Most of the functional psychopaths end up in business and politics.
[00:22:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:22:32] Brian Klaas: The point is that he basically then has some guy cross him and he plants and explosive on the guy's windshield wiper as a threat, right? He doesn't actually light it, but it's like tucked under the windshield wiper. So the police eventually get him. He's sentenced to like 25 years in jail. He's got explosives in the school, in his office when they actually raid it. Night vision goggles, right? I mean, it's like not a normal thing for like a maintenance officer at a school to have. So I don't know what he was plotting beyond that, but—
[00:22:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:22:58] Brian Klaas: —it's quite the backdrop for a psychopathic figure. And as I say, he's dysfunctional. If he had had maybe 10 percent more impulse control, perhaps this would have gone really differently. And he would have been able to stay in power and continue his ascent. But yeah, he couldn't dial it off when he needed to.
[00:23:13] Jordan Harbinger: It is really wild that there are people like that. And they're hard to remove. I mean, a lot of people knew he was like that, but, well, it was also like the union guy and you need to go through the union in order to get rid of this person who's got this job. So yeah, I mean, he really figured out almost how to bulletproof himself and then he shot himself in the foot over and over until he got arrested and thrown in prison.
[00:23:34] But in the meantime, I would imagine somebody like that forces really good teachers to retire, really good other people working in the school district and administration to just be like, "Screw this," and move to other places or retire. And that goes maybe to what you were saying before, which is even if you thought, "Hey, we probably shouldn't be doing this," you end up dead. I mean, there's an example, Boris Nemtsov in Russia was saying, "Hey, we should not be aggressive against Ukraine." And I think this is like 2014. He ends up getting shot in front of the Kremlin essentially. And this is probably not a guy who was like a choir boy. He was a politician in the Russian Duma.
[00:24:14] You know, this is already a corrupt system sort of from top to bottom, but he wanted to put even just a boundary that said, "Let's not kill a bunch of innocent civilians and start World War III," potentially. And that was too much. So those people get weeded out, whether it's a school district or in Indian civil service type of office, you can't be good in a corrupt system. They don't want you there. It spits you out.
[00:24:38] Brian Klaas: I sort of asked the reader to imagine, you know, being thrust into the position of being the dictator of Turkmenistan.
[00:24:44] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:24:44] Brian Klaas: Oh yes. Of course. I'd be a reformer. Oh yes. I'd be, you know, the benevolent despot, whatever it is. But like, you know, if you upset the army, they murder your family. If you don't pay your oligarchs, you get ousted from power and then you end up potentially, you know, in front of a judge somewhere. I mean, there's serious risks to power in much of the world. And I think the situational aspect is really important.
[00:25:04] I mean, one of the areas in the book that I explored this, that it's probably the weirdest thing that I did, one of the weirder things I did. I did a lot of weird stuff when I was researching the book. But one of the weird things I did was I took a ski lesson with Paul Bremer, who was the guy who ran Iraq in 2003. So Bush appoints him to be ambassador of Iraq. Now, he is a ski instructor in Vermont. I get in touch — I'm like, "Can I interview you?" He's like, "Sure. But you've got to take a ski lesson." So I paid for the full-day ski lesson. Half of the interview was on the chairlifts, half of it was back at his house.
[00:25:31] Jordan Harbinger: He charged you for the ski lessons. Sorry. I just can't get past that. Why would he charge you for the ski lessons?
[00:25:38] Brian Klaas: Well, it's because he was working that day. I mean, I can't really blame him.
[00:25:41] Jordan Harbinger: Okay. But like, let's do it on a day where you're now working. This is so weird.
[00:25:45] Brian Klaas: I was in Boston. So I only me had like one day.
[00:25:47] Jordan Harbinger: Ah, okay.
[00:25:48] Brian Klaas: And he's like, "It's like my workday." And I was like, "Well, if I hire you, is that fine?" He's like, "Yeah. Like the bosses won't care." And I love this idea of like Paul Bremer answering to like the ski bosses.
[00:25:58] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah who was like 24, who was like, "Paul, your 15-minute break is over, get back to work."
[00:26:02] Brian Klaas: Exactly. And it was also odd because he would interact with people and introduce himself like, "Hi, I'm Paul." And they be, like, "Oh, nice to meet you." It's like, I wonder if you understood that this guy like, literally lived in like Saddam Hussein's kids' palace.
[00:26:15] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. He was peeing in a golden toilet before he was riding the chairlift with you young man.
[00:26:20] Brian Klaas: So anyway, but the reason I linked him to this idea of situations is because like he served as ambassador to like Norway with distinction. Like he didn't do anything wrong. It was great. Everybody thought he did a great job. He gets to Iraq inherits this dictatorship. And like one of his first meetings, if not the first meeting, he floats this idea of shooting looters to send the message that like order is being restored. And, you know, I challenged him on this. I'm like, "You know, you couldn't do this in the US?" And he's like, "Yeah, but this wasn't the US like I literally took over a dictatorship. Like, everything I had to consider was like, awful everything. Right? It was like, do we divert electricity from this area or that area? People will die. No matter what I do," I took that point that you have people who can be good or bad people, and in different situations will behave in good or bad ways.
[00:27:06] That lesson is one that I've really taken to heart, the more that I've interviewed people who have been in powerful positions, that like it's really, really complicated, and it's not actually that productive to just straight up condemn people as awful people. It's better to understand why they ended up doing what they did, because then you can stop it. Moral kind of nation has its place. And like, I think Paul Bremer screwed a lot of things up, but I think what's important from talking to him is understanding how someone who is seemingly a person who believed in democracy and rule of law could then contemplate shooting people who were stealing TVs.
[00:27:39] And that's a much more instructive lesson that you can get from someone like Paul Bremer than just saying, you know, Paul Bremer, bad, end of story.
[00:27:48] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Brian Klaas. We'll be right back.
[00:27:53] This episode is sponsored in part by Lectric eBikes. Don't let high gas prices get you down. There is an affordable electric bike called Lectric. That's like E-lectric, and that's clever. It starts at 799, which probably like a month's worth of gas if you're driving a truck or an SUV these days. What I like is that they fold in half. Ours fits in our sedans trunk. You don't need to have a bike rack and strap it to your car to take it with you on adventures. We live near a bunch of stuff. So it's actually faster to take our Lectric eBikes to get groceries, get a haircut, pick up takeout. It's more fun than it would be to drive and find parking, especially for errands like that. And Lectric eBikes is the fastest growing e-bike company in the US. They use brand names, Shimano shifters, a superior build, but the price is much lower than you can find pretty much anywhere else. It feels solid, like you're on a freaking motorcycle, except that it's quiet and eco-friendly. It's a lot of fun. Lectric eBikes also ship free and come fully assembled. So no screwing around with hammers and nails and whatever you use to put — you can tell I assembled bikes.
[00:28:50] Jen Harbinger: That's right, Jordan. Join us in the affordable e-bike revolution. Go to lectricebikes.com and use code JORDAN to get a free foldable mountable bike lock with any bike purchase. That's a free bike lock when you use code JORDAN at L-E-C-T-R-I-C-E-B-I-K-E-S.com.
[00:29:08] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Better Help online therapy. People often don't realize that symptoms that are physical, like headaches or teeth grinding, even digestive issues can be indicators of stress and stress shows up in all kinds of ways. When I was super stressed, I was grinding my teeth. I was making them flat. I had to get like a head guard thing. In a world, that's telling you to do more and grind all the time — no pun intended — take this as a reminder to pause and take care of yourself, maybe even try a little therapy. When I was at a low point in my life, and there have been some, a therapist's recommendations really did help me turn things around for the positive. Better Help is online therapy that offers video, phone, even live chat sessions with your therapist. You can be on your own couch, no driving, no parking. Rather than waiting weeks to get booked with a therapist, get matched with a better health therapist in under 48 hours. And if you don't jive with your therapist, which happens, get matched with another one, no additional charge. I know, crazy, they're not going to mess you around there. And it's important to have a good fit. Over two million people have used Better Help online therapy. Try it out.
[00:30:06] Jen Harbinger: Yeah, Jordan, our listeners get 10 percent off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan. That's B-E-T-T-E-R-H-E-L-P.com/jordan.
[00:30:16] Jordan Harbinger: And if you're wondering how I managed to book all these amazing folks for the show, these authors, thinkers, and creators every single week, it's all because of my network. And I'm teaching you how to build your network for free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. The course is about improving your networking and your connection skills and inspiring others to develop a personal and professional relationship with you. It'll make you a better networker, a better connector, and a better thinker. That's all free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:30:50] Now back to Brian Klaas.
[00:30:53] When I think what would I do if I were thrust in power, the first thing I would do is resign. I would never want to be in a position like that. It sort of proves your point. Somebody who is like, I can handle this, but it means while, you know, it's a lot of stress, but I'm going to have a huge yacht and I'm going to do all kinds of crazy stuff. And I'm going to stash money away and have a Swiss bank account or whatever it is they're thinking of that.
[00:31:15] And I'm thinking I do not want any part of this at all, because even if I do that, I'm looking over my shoulder for the rest of my life. You're holding a wolf by the ears, you can never let it go. You're going to end up dead probably before you want to be. And people who are around you are either going to be stabbing you in the back or getting stabbed by somebody else to get to you. It's like the worst fate you could really have in terms of being in any position.
[00:31:40] Like I would literally rather do just about anything than be the dictator of a totalitarian or authoritarian regime. It sounds horrible. And you're not going to pivot to freaking Singapore. Like it's not possible. The system is too rotten. It's set up that way and you can't change it as much power as you have.
[00:31:57] Brian Klaas: This links back to the psychopaths as well because when I crunched the numbers in African countries, 50 years, between 1960 and 2010, it was basically a coin flip. It was 43 percent of the leaders who lost power ended up dead in jail or in exile, right? So you've got a 50/50 chance almost of having something horrific happen to you. Psychopaths are notorious for discounting risk because they believe they're smarter than everybody else. So they think, "Oh, like the chump ended up executed by like an angry mob. But like, I wouldn't do that. I'm a psychopath, I'm smarter than them." And so I think that when you have particularly dangerous roles, you're going to have an extra over representation of psychopaths beyond what you already would, because they're the people who are thinking, "I'll roll the dice. I'm going to outsmart these people. They're all chumps."
[00:32:41] Jordan Harbinger: I could see that. I mean, I can see a narcissistic psychopath just decide that's never going to happen to me. I mean, that's kind of their MO, right? And if it does happen to me, "Screw it. I'm just going to do all these other bad things and get away or bribe them or something."
[00:32:55] How does the way that we hire, especially for, let's say, higher stress, power positions, do we end up selecting for psychopaths? You kind of hinted that that was the case. Obviously, not everyone in power is a psychopath. They almost seem better suited to those jobs, though if I'm honest.
[00:33:09] Brian Klaas: I think there's a few things. One is recruitment matters enormously. One of the major arguments I make in the book is that there's a self-selection effect with power. So you basically sort of say, who wants to be powerful? Well, power hungry people by definition are going to be more likely to put their hat in the ring. I mean, it's sort of like at a basketball game or a basketball tryout for a high school, like you'd find it quite weird if a bunch of sort of average height people showed up for the trial, you're expecting the tall people to show. The same is true for power, the power hungry people put their hat in the ring. Now, you can like dial that up or dial that down depending on how you set up the system. So I talk about policing in this regard.
[00:33:46] So there's a tale of two police departments that I talk about the US and New Zealand. In America, there's this police department in Doraville, Georgia, small town outside of Atlanta, 10,000 people. The video they had on their department website was like, it was a caricature. I mean, it starts with the Punisher logo. So you got like an anti-hero vigilante who tortures criminals basically as like, this is what we're studying in policing as like, this is what it is. And then like, after the Punisher logo ends, you see this literal tank onscreen and a bunch of police officers dressed as soldiers, like open the hatch of the tank, throw out some smoke grenades, shoot their guns, get back in the tank. And the tank like rolls off and they're playing this death metal music in the background. And I'm like, who applies for that job? Right? Like there's a certain type of person that thinks that's what policing should be.
[00:34:31] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:34:31] Brian Klaas: I should be that police officer and New Zealand basically had a national epiphany where they're like, we have a problem with self-selection in the police were people who want to walk around with a gun and a badge for the sake of it are more likely to apply. Now, it's not because all cops are like this. It's just disproportionately. You're going to get more applicants who sort of think, "Oh, it'd be great. If I had a gun and a badge and could walk around." What the New Zealand police did is they set up a recruitment video. A very funny video. If you Google New Zealand police ad, you'll find this and it makes policing look fun and community oriented. There's a whole bunch of gags during it. It's a very amusing video. And ultimately they're like all chasing this like unseen perpetrator that you'd like, don't know who they're chasing. And at the end, it turns out to be a border collie who has stolen like some woman's purse and they're like, "Freeze," you know?
[00:35:18] And it's like the juxtaposition between that and the Punisher logo is really the icing on the cake. The video in New Zealand ends with the slogan, "Do you care enough to be a cop?" I mean, can you imagine a more stark change between Punisher and " do you care enough to be a cop?" And so lo and behold, what happened? New Zealand got way more diverse applicants, different demographic and different personality profiles, abuse fell, relationship with the community improved. It wasn't rocket science. They put some money into a nice video that may policing look like service and more service-oriented people turned up.
[00:35:50] I don't think it's like a really difficult thing to do, but I think it's a lot of organizations don't even think carefully about how they recruit people into positions of power.
[00:35:58] Jordan Harbinger: Man, this is like a vicious cycle because now, especially in American policing, we see all of these problems that we have. And there's people saying like, "All cops are bad or whatever," and that's horrible because if you thought, "Look, I know cops have this rep, but I'm going to be a community service officer and I speak multiple languages. I'm going to be the liaison between the Vietnamese community and the police department." Now, you're like, "Well, I don't want to, I don't, I'm not signing up to be a bad guy," but the person who's like, "I don't care if they think all cops are bad, I'm going to beat their ass if they say that to my face," those people are the ones who are now. This media attention for these problems that we already have is actually growing the exact same problem by decreasing applicant quality. Right?
[00:36:37] Brian Klaas: You're exactly right about that. But on top of that, if you have existing racial biases in terms of like who is in the police — so like in Ferguson, Missouri, right? This flash point, overwhelmingly black population, overwhelmingly white police force, you try to recruit into it. What did the cops look like? They're overwhelmingly white. So black people are less likely to apply because the mystique of police in Ferguson, that sort of perception of them was that it's white people who are abusing black people there for black people weren't applying to the roles. It's a vicious circle. And that's why you have to think so carefully about trying to break that cycle with proactive recruitment.
[00:37:10] You can't just go on autopilot. And I think a lot of positions of power are sort of like, "Let's just put out like a call for applicants and see who comes back." And they're ignoring the self-selection effect, which is so, so pervasive. Everywhere that you have power politics, business, police, whatever, certain types of people for whom power is the goal, power is the reward, those people are most likely to apply. So you have to counteract that in some way with some clever efforts and strategies.
[00:37:34] Jordan Harbinger: Right. It's not just who gets the job. It's who applies to the job in the first place. Do you know what an MRAP is? It's like a mine-resistant vehicle.
[00:37:41] Brian Klaas: Yeah.
[00:37:42] Jordan Harbinger: They wanted to get an MRAP and a petition went around and it was like, "We're not getting this." The counter argument was like, "It's almost free," or, "It's like basically free or it is free. It just costs gasoline." And the argument from the person with the petition that I signed was, "This is Campbell, California. We don't need a mine resistant vehicle. This is like a calm, small suburb. There are no mines anywhere in the state of California. Why do you need this?" It's just going to encourage bad behavior. It might look cool in a parade, but also like maintenance costs went through the roof because it guzzles gas and like need special parts. It was the dumbest freaking thing in the.
[00:38:20] I wondered why a department would even have access to something like this. And it turns out that there's a ton of military surplus vehicles going to police departments that are causing increased militarization of the police. And I'm not saying police should not have riot shields and things like that. We don't need tanks. We have the national guard if we run into a really big problem with well-armed criminals or terrorists. Police that have never fired their gun ever don't need a tank.
[00:38:47] Brian Klaas: Basically, the military gear is coming from decommissioned tanks, vehicles, et cetera, from Iraq and Afghanistan that are effectively going to be junked. So instead they just give them to police departments at very, very low cost. The problem is the research shows the departments that take these vehicles first off tend to have more violence in the beginning, and they tend to get more violent after they've gotten the vehicle.
[00:39:10] You know, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you've got an MRAP, everybody looks like a potential, you know, terrorist or whatever it is. The funniest thing though — I love this when I was looking up these statistics. All these spreadsheets that are quite boring, but one of them that stood out is Boone County, Indiana. It could be, it might be township. It has one farmhouse that is on a pond and that is the entirety of water in the entire jurisdiction. And it has an amphibious assault boat. Like if that farm gets attacked, they are so set, right?
[00:39:41] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:39:41] Brian Klaas: But anywhere else, it's totally useless.
[00:39:43] Jordan Harbinger: That's so ridiculous. Look as a 12-year-old boy in the body of a 42-year-old man, that stuff is really cool. I totally get the appeal to taking it. I think it would be fun for them to sort of LARP that they might eventually need this and who knows one day it might come in handy costs aside, but it's not good for you to think, "Man, one day I'm totally going to use this," right? That's a bad idea.
[00:40:05] My community, where I grew up, they had, what I assume was a seized vehicle. I don't know. And it was a Lamborghini, like a really nice Lamborghini painted with police colors and said, police on the side and it had the lights on the top and it was like a high-speed pursuit vehicle. And they eventually got rid of it because it turns out we don't want high-speed pursuits going down Woodward Avenue in Detroit. If somebody is driving really fast, there are other ways to deal with them than sending a Lamborghini after them at 105 miles an hour. That's a bad idea. But the cop that drove that, like I've never met the guy, but I assume he longed for the day he saw a sports car going 85, 95 miles an hour down Woodward so he could take pursuit. Because, why wouldn't you? Why the hell would you want to drive a Lamborghini 25, 35 miles an hour? Like that's not what it's for.
[00:40:53] These sorts of military hardware, it seems like they just encourage that behavior. That's how I would feel. I'd be like, "I want to shoot this thing. One day, they are going to let me shoot the gun.
[00:41:03] Brian Klaas: Yeah. It's one of these things too, where like, if you're recruiting for a SWAT team, like by all means you need combat vehicles—
[00:41:09] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:41:10] Brian Klaas: You need combat personnel—
[00:41:11] Jordan Harbinger: Of course.
[00:41:11] Brian Klaas: But like a lot of policing in the United States has that sort of mentality for small town problems. I'm the same way, right? I mean, I think it would be fun to drive.
[00:41:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yes.
[00:41:23] Brian Klaas: But I also think that what the person who I talked to in New Zealand said to me is they're like, "We're not going to have a shortage of people with like combat experience or sort of this militarized mentality. They're going to apply no matter how we recruit. If we recruit this way or that way they're going to come. But what we're going to lose out if we recruit in the wrong way, if we sort of make policing look like an occupying army is all the people who actually would make really good be cops. But don't see themselves as the person who drives around in a tank." So, you know, it's about sort of the balance of understanding.
[00:41:52] Like what are you going to lose out? You're not going to lose out on the people who actually would make it SWAT leaders because they're actually going to apply no matter what you do, but you do want to portray the people who look at this and say, "Nah, it's not my thing. It doesn't look like me." You know, this lesson is not just for policing, it's for business, for politics. Like if politics looks like a corrupt cesspool, where you get death threats and people harass you and you have to lie all the time and you see that people are fundraising constantly, the people who are willing to accept that are going to run for office. And the reason they're going to do that is because the payoff is power.
[00:42:25] So you've basically engineered a system where there's so many downsides to running for office. There's one really big upside and that's power. Who runs? The people who care exclusively about power. I mean, it's just about engineering systems that make it more attractive to ordinary, decent people to actually throw their hat in the ring for these posts.
[00:42:41] Jordan Harbinger: Did you research Singapore at all when you were doing this? Because that seems to be like the good example of like, they pay their civil servants ridiculous amounts of money. I say ridiculous, but it's effective. The best student in your class is like, "I'm going to go work for the government because that's where it's at," whereas like the worst student in Serbia is the guy who wants to be the police chief.
[00:42:59] Brian Klaas: Yeah. So Singapore turned itself around in a very short period of time. I mean, it was like a very corrupt backwater in the 1950s and you're right to point to it. This thought occurred to me. That's why I had a plane ticket booked for April of 2020 to fly to Singapore, which didn't happen.
[00:43:14] Jordan Harbinger: Good timing.
[00:43:14] Brian Klaas: So yeah, it didn't end up going in the book. There was a guy I was going to interview who was at the airports commission and he is a government official and it's like zero corruption in this organization because it's like absolutely stamped out. And so I was going to ask him the recipe for how he did this and so on.
[00:43:29] But I think it's this aspect where in Singapore, you have an anti-corruption president come to power and sort of lead the country into a much more clean style of governance. But my point is like, that was sort of lucky. Like you had a bad system and you had a reformer come in and turn things around. That's great. Like, it's wonderful, but like, do you want to bank your future on luck? So some places are occasionally going to get those reformers.
[00:43:55] My argument is rather than waiting for like the perfect leader to emerge, who's actually going to turn things around, try to engineer the system, so that better leaders come in the first place. The reason we talk about Singapore is precisely because it's such an outlier, right? Like it's so unusual that this corrupt spot just became uncorrupt very, very quickly.
[00:44:14] Jordan Harbinger: I think if we had a close look, there's some dirty laundry in how that probably happened, right? That you don't want—
[00:44:21] Brian Klaas: I'm sure a lot of eggs were broken.
[00:44:22] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:44:22] Brian Klaas: It's like you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. I'm pretty sure they broke a lot of eggs.
[00:44:25] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. Speaking of police though, this Alaska anecdote, I don't want to belabor the point, but this was extra special. Tell us about the Alaska problem.
[00:44:33] Brian Klaas: Yeah. So I'm trying to make the argument that one of the big issues with abuse of power is that if your recruitment is too shallow, in other words, if you've got five jobs and only five people apply, you can't exactly call the bad apples. So in Stebbins, Alaska, they had this problem on steroids. What happened was basically the small little township needs police officers, and they're constantly recruiting and no one's applying. So what's happened now, is that until recently 100 percent of their police officers are felons who have committed domestic abuse.
[00:45:04] Jordan Harbinger: A hundred percent.
[00:45:05] Brian Klaas: Yeah. And like serious crimes. I mean, the police chief had like, I think abused minors. I mean, there's like 17 convictions for the police chief, I believe, if not, the top of my head is 17 arrests, anyway.
[00:45:15] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my go.
[00:45:16] Brian Klaas: So I tell this story of this woman who is being beat up by this abusive man. And she calls the cops who comes, I mean, a domestic abuser—
[00:45:25] Jordan Harbinger: Sure, every time.
[00:45:26] Brian Klaas: If you don't recruit for numbers, you're going to have real problems with abuse because the odds that one of those people is a rotten apple is so much higher than if you get a hundred applicants and you pick five out of them. And yet, you know, like Stebbins probably could've done more to incentivize becoming a police officer to try to proactively talk to people who might make good cops. They just sort of said, you know, "Anyone who wants to apply, here's the uniform." That's literally what happened. Like there's a guy named Nimeron Mike who talked to a reporter about this. And he's like, "I was sort of surprised because I was just in prison and then I went and they said, 'Here's the uniform. Congratulations.'" You know, so it's like quite an extreme example, but it illustrates that point of how much depth of recruiting is essential to reducing abuse of power.
[00:46:10] Jordan Harbinger: In the book, you discuss some of these old humiliation rituals for hunting and hunter-gatherer societies. And you note that humans spent 95 percent plus of our history and a flat hierarchy. So having the despotism/the type of hierarchy that we have now, this is the abnormality, not the flat structure that we had prior. So why do we need a hierarchy that obviously in larger numbers of people they start to become important, right?
[00:46:36] Brian Klaas: The conventional wisdom is that most of human history, we lived in bands up to about 80 people of hunter-gatherers and that there was this sort of ruthless attempt to cut people down to size whenever they tried to become like the leader of the band, because they didn't want to have hierarchy. And that was possible because everybody knew everybody else. So you could work in collaborative settings and so on.
[00:46:56] The two main hypotheses about why this change or what I call pivotally the war and peas hypothesis, P-E-A-S, it's either warfare or agriculture. So warfare is eventually the bands realized they could conquer and steal each other's stuff. So you eventually figure out that if you have 150 guys attacking 80, it's actually really helpful. So you start to conquer societies, the numbers grow, et cetera. That's the war hypothesis for hierarchy, larger groups of humans via conquest.
[00:47:24] The peas hypothesis is agriculture, and it's tied to this idea of the agricultural revolution. And all of a sudden you could get your food while staying in the same place, the size of the group, wasn't the constraining factor. Like you didn't have to worry about everybody moving across the savanna while you're hunting instead, you just sort of make a city. In a sort of blink of human history, you go from very little hierarchy to extremely hierarchal, mega empires in the form of like the Roman empire, the Greek empire, et cetera. The short answer is that anytime you get into large groups, you probably need hierarchy.
[00:47:58] One of the guys I interviewed, Peter Turchin, he said to me, you know, we're not ants. Like ants regulate the pheromones and so on. So like they can have a large number of ants and they have the sense and pheromones that can tell them what to do. I mean, they obviously have like the queen and so on, but it's not a situation where you necessarily need that in humans because we don't regulate that same way. So we need bosses.
[00:48:18] The point that I'm trying to make is like, that's not the problem. Right? A lot of people are like, "Oh, hierarchy is the problem." It's like, no, you can make systems that are super hierarchical, but are also just, and like also fair and also attract better people. It's just that the current way that we've created hierarchy has been, I think, highly destructive and we need to re-engineer power to make it work much better.
[00:48:38] Jordan Harbinger: So we're not hardwired to select the wrong type of leader. You know, we're hardwired to eat sugar, fat, salt, as much as we can because we have stone-age brains. Is our stone-age brain attracted to some element of a leader? Like, are we attracted to the top warrior dog, so to speak? Is that a thing?
[00:48:54] Brian Klaas: The best evidence we have is that we live in these sort of egalitarian bands for a lot of human history. But when there's a crisis, like when a rival band attacks you, it still makes sense to turn to like the big warrior, right? Like the physically strong man who can protect the group. The argument that evolutionary psychologists make this sort of stone-age mismatch hypothesis is basically saying, "Look, it's 50,000 years since these hunter-gatherer societies to now, that's not enough time for evolution to have actually changed our brains.
[00:49:21] So we've got the same brain we're functionally working with the same exact brain as like the hunter-gatherers. But back then, when that brain evolved, it made a lot of sense to turn to the physically large male in a time of crisis. And because we have the same brain, it makes sense that we still have that template within us when we select leaders. And lo and behold, when they do psychology research about leadership selection, there's not a very strong effect for strong males, except for when you prime people with the idea of there's a war on or a famine or some sort of crisis, and then the effect of strong males, tall males as well is much more pronounced. What's interesting about this is like this sort of explains why Vladimir Putin poses shirtless. He's not tall. He's short.
[00:50:02] Jordan Harbinger: I'm just going to say Vladimir Putin shirtless on a horse like that's—
[00:50:06] Brian Klaas: Well, and also the war in Ukraine, right? Like you've manufactured a crisis. Now, the strong man persona becomes much more important. He was less popular before the war. So if his popularity slipping and he's now got a crisis and he's trying to create this strong man persona, I mean, I can understand the logic that he may have been going forth.
[00:50:23] One of the details that I love and researching this is like, there's these articles that show that height is correlated with like electoral victory, but they show that the effect is most pronounced on men. And this politician in Australia, like read this research apparently and got her legs broken and stretched by three inches.
[00:50:39] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my god.
[00:50:40] Brian Klaas: She had read like the footnote, which is like, "This only applies to men." So like she won her election, but the evidence suggests that she didn't win it because you got her legs broken and stretched out.
[00:50:50] Jordan Harbinger: Oh god. Speaking to the sign, the wrong people in power. How bad do you want power? Where you're like, "You know what, I'm just not going to walk for eight months or however long that takes," there's no way that's a fast process. There's just no way.
[00:51:03] Brian Klaas: And it wasn't even like, I mean, she's not the prime minister. It was like, I think it was a local position in the regional government she was running for. It's like, there's something wrong with this person. It's one of those great anecdotes.
[00:51:12] Jordan Harbinger: How bad did you want to be the treasurer of New South Wales? Like what are you doing, for God's sake? So what molds behavior? Is it culture or is it consequences? You have the sort of UN parking ticket story that discusses these principles.
[00:51:29] Brian Klaas: Yeah. I love this part of the book. So it's both, right? It's culture and consequences, but the UN parking ticket study is like one of these most elegant studies and the most banal of locations. So like, what they do is they look at what diplomats of the United Nations are getting in terms of parking fines. So they all have diplomatic immunity. They're not prosecutable because they are diplomats and that extends to parking violation so that they get these fines for illegally parking in Manhattan. And the city can't collect. So they rack up — I'm not joking — 150,000 parking tickets to the tune of $18 million. And the city is like—
[00:52:02] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:52:02] Brian Klaas: "We want this money," right? Like this isn't cool. And also blocking up our streets. So we have to do something about it. So Mike Bloomberg decides to crack down on this and says, "We're going to impound your cars. We might not be able to force you to pay, but we're going to take your car away." So you have this like accidental experiment because before Bloomberg cracks down, it's the Wild West. Everybody can do what they want and they can park illegally and get away with it. After the crackdown there's consequences across the board. And what do you find? Lo and behold in the pre-enforcement period, there's very little illegal parking from the countries that have low levels of corruption. So the Norwegians, the Germans, the Japanese all park like angels, right? In the less clean countries, the more corrupt countries, we're talking Yemen and Egypt and so on, we're talking like 190 parking tickets per diplomat. They really went to town.
[00:52:51] Jordan Harbinger: That's like every day, multiple times a day, just leaving the car in the road. That's ridiculous. Because that's how many times you get caught, by the way.
[00:52:57] Brian Klaas: Right.
[00:52:57] Jordan Harbinger: Like not how many times you did it. That's how many times you got caught doing it. And I've probably parked poorly a bunch of times. And I have like two tickets in my life. So if you're getting 190 tickets yourself, you, everyday, all day, are just doing whatever the hell you want, and maybe even just trying to make it illegal because you can.
[00:53:14] Brian Klaas: It's the average too, right?
[00:53:15] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:53:15] Brian Klaas: So like, there must be some people who are parking, like normally, or didn't have a car. So it's like, some of these guys probably had like—
[00:53:21] Jordan Harbinger: Don't even drive.
[00:53:22] Brian Klaas: Yeah. But the kicker on this story is that the Yemenis and the Egyptians and the countries where the cultures of corruption were prominent, who were parking illegally, all of a sudden, as soon as the consequences come in, they start parking like the Norwegians and the Germans and the Japanese like overnight, right? Like zero parking tickets per diplomat, basically. The other really interesting wrinkle is that if you look at like longevity, the time that a diplomat spent in New York, in the pre-enforcement period and the sort of Wild West period where you could get away with it, the Norwegians and Germans and Japanese that were there longer started parking illegally more.
[00:53:54] So it's a combination of culture and consequence. So you start with this idea that you shouldn't break the rules because you're from this sort of uncorrupt country. But then the more that you start to think, like, "Eh, I'm sort of a chump for not taking advantage of this. Like, I really want a park next to the restaurant, even though I shouldn't," you start to sort of make, as I was talking about before these little ratcheting effects of like moral compromises. And this is where even in the, quote-unquote, clean countries, you have bad behavior accumulate the longer you're able to get away with something. So accountability really, really matters.
[00:54:27] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Brian Klaas. We'll be right back.
[00:54:32] This episode is sponsored in part by Boll & Branch. Lots of things get better with age. I've got a horsehide jacket I used to wear while sleeping. Jen loved that. I had to do that to break it in, by the way. Our cast iron skillet gets more seasoned the more we use them. And our Boll & Branch sheets, they actually get softer with every wash. With two grubby kids, they are constantly in the wash. So we've put Boll & Branch sheets to the ultimate test via the old barf test. And it truly gets buttery soft. Forget that thread count, Boll & Branch gives you thread quality because it doesn't matter how many threads your sheets have if they aren't the best threads possible, which makes sense. We fitted all the beds in the house with Boll & Branch's White Signature Hemmed Sheets, because they are extremely high quality breathable for any season and feel luxurious to the touch. It's funny when guests visiting us, where we get our sheets from, and we're like, "Have you been listening to the show? It's Boll & Branch." I feel like we should stock these in our guest room closet. There are over 10,000 stellar reviews and even three US presidents sleep on Boll & Branch sheets. And I'm not sure how they know that, but it's probably a disturbing answer.
[00:55:26] Jen Harbinger: I wonder how they know that? Get 20 percent off site-wide April 11th through 17th only at bollandbranch.com. That's boll and branch, B-O-L-L-A-N-D-branch.com for 20 percent off site-wide April 11th through the 17th.
[00:55:40] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored by Peloton. I like to add new things to my workout routine, to keep it fresh. It keeps me motivated. Keep my fitness up day after day. Peloton is great at pushing you further with so much new on the Peloton bike and Peloton bike plus. They've got new classes. They've got new music to jam to, a lot of ways to keep your workouts fun. Peloton has got boxing now, so you can step into the old ring with no gloves needed to aka my den. I used to box in college and the class got me dripping sweat while I learned some or re-learn some of the fundamentals of form footwork and combos. Also, they got great music going on through Peloton. You can turn your workout and do a little concert or in my case, a little EDM rave. I'm a '90s kid. It's way easier to stick to your goals when you keep your workouts fun and interesting. So I highly recommend that. If you're busy, Peloton also has quick workout options. If you just need like a quick 15-minute total body class before work, or you want to de-stress from a long day/Zoom call with 30 minutes of strength and 20 minutes of cardio.
[00:56:34] Jen Harbinger: Visit one peloton.com to learn more. That's O-N-E-P-E-L-O-T-O-N.com.
[00:56:40] Jordan Harbinger: This episode is also sponsored in part by True Underdog. Here's another podcast you should check out, it's True Underdog. It's aptly named because the host, Jayson Waller is the definition of a true underdog. He's the CEO of PowerHome Solar, on track to become a billion dollar company. So you'd never guess that he got kicked out of high school, never went to college, grew up in a trailer park, poor, even became a teen father. So, you know, not a lot of great, amazing choices in the early days, turned out pretty good. On the True Underdog podcast, you'll hear an uncut and uncensored podcast entrepreneurship, where you can build the mindset of a winner. You'll hear the uncut details of the world's most influential people and their upbringings. And as Waller will tell you, there's no elevator to success that climb only happens one step at a time. You'll learn how to turn excuses into results by doing.
[00:57:23] Jen Harbinger: Subscribe to True Underdog podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform to level up your life. That's True Underdog podcast, hosted by Jayson Waller to learn from the best underdog come-up stories. It's right here right now, bam!
[00:57:36] Jordan Harbinger: Thank you so much for listening to the show, for supporting the show. I know there's a lot of codes and URLs and they're all kind of complicated. We put all those on one page and we made it so that page, ideally in theory, works on your phone. jordanharbinger.com/deals is where you'll find everything in one place, jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please do consider supporting those who support us.
[00:57:57] Now, for the rest of my conversation with Brian Klaas, what's up with the cults of personality? You know, why do they make up Kim Jong-un doesn't have a butt hole or Kim Jong-il got 18 holes in one the first time he played golf, like why? What is that all about? I always wondered about that because it's not just unique to North Korea having weird quirky, nonsense. Turkmenistan has it. Every sort of country that I've been to that had a dictator, like Slobodan Milošević had stuff like this. You know, it was just a thing they do. I don't understand what's going on there.
[00:58:30] Brian Klaas: Took medicine is a great example, too. I write mostly about North Korea and the book, but in Turkmenistan, they have this golden statue that rotates to always face the sun. They have these like golden statues of like the dictator's dog and a whole series of other things. There's lots of also music videos involving the dictator, which are quite exceptional. But the reason for these lies that are invented by these regimes about this sort of cults of personality to sort of, as you say, you know, Kim Jong-il composed a 10,000 operas is because they're loyalty tests. And this is what people get often very wrong about dictators. They're actually acting extremely rationally a lot of the time, even though they seem like insane megalomaniacs.
[00:59:07] And what I mean by that is like, okay, so let's say that you tell people that the dictator can fly. Everybody knows it's not true, but if all the people around the dictator are like, "Oh yes, of course the dictator can fly," it's a proxy for being able to figure out who is loyal to you and is trustworthy. You don't need to execute them because they're willing to lie for you. They're willing to obviously say something that is untrue, even though it will embarrass them. The problem is that eventually, like let's say you're in North Korea and it becomes the accepted wisdom that the dictator can fly. There's a problem because now everybody is saying it, so it's not a loyalty test anymore.
[00:59:42] So now you need to be able to say the dictator can fly to the moon. And all of a sudden the people who can say that, they're like, "Okay, they're the loyal ones," right? So it's a ratcheting effect. It gets more extreme overtime. So these cults of personality start out with small lies, like, "Oh, it's the father of the nation." Like, you know, in North Korea, there's this Mount Paektu and this sort of bloodline is descended from it. I mean, it gets more and more extreme overtime. And I think that's because the more accepted lie is the more that it doesn't function as a loyalty test.
[01:00:10] Tthis came up by the way, with the invasion of Ukraine, because like one of the pretexts that Vladimir Putin said is, he's like, "We're getting rid of like the Neo-Nazi regime in Ukraine." It's like, the president is Jewish.
[01:00:20] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:00:21] Brian Klaas: Everybody knows, this is a crazy thing to say. And yet if your propaganda minister goes on TV and he's like, "Oh yes, of course, like it's the Neo-Nazi regime led by the Jewish president." He's loyal. You know, I think this is happening in a lot of places with authoritarianism where lying on behalf of the leader is a strategic choice to sort of vet people, especially in an environment where you can't actually speak your mind.
[01:00:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:00:43] Brian Klaas: Right. So you don't actually know who's loyal because everybody who's actually plotting against you. It's going to be very, very quiet because it's so scary to stand up to a dictator.
[01:00:51] Jordan Harbinger: There's so many ridiculous North Korea stories that I've told them to show, but one of them is, we were at something called the train museum. Have you been in North Korea?
[01:00:58] Brian Klaas: I have not. You have, haven't you?
[01:01:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah. I've been there four times.
[01:01:02] Brian Klaas: Wow.
[01:01:02] Jordan Harbinger: So the train museum sounds really boring, but it is actually hilarious. And there's a lot, a lot, a lot of propaganda in there. Like there is in every museum, but there's a special, interesting stuff in the train museum. And there's a painting of Mount Paektu. It's Kim Il-sung, so the first sort of father of the nation of North Korea holding baby Kim Jong-il, but he's shooting two Japanese soldiers at the same time or something like that. Like he's got, you know, shooting one and then the other or whatever the painting was.
[01:01:33] And I asked, I said, "Why did they bring the baby into the battle? That doesn't seem like good parenting." And so the guide that was with us, who's North Korean started laughing involuntarily and then immediately caught herself because it's ridiculous. The museum guide mildly, but not very amused, and then they talked about it. We paused the tour for a good two or three minutes. And then they turned around and they said, "The reason is because they wanted to show General Kim Jong-il how battle was. So he would have early experience," and they were dead, freaking serious, even though it was so obvious, they had just made the answer up out of their total wazoo.
[01:02:11] And I was like, you could have left it, but they were like, "Nope, we need to make this make sense, because if we don't, we could get in trouble for this." So that seems how these things form, right? It's like everyone just knows they got to make it work. And if it means, "Yeah. He rides around on a flying horse," which is what they say about Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un because they have a flying horse in North Korean in Korean mythology. They will just straight face say that even if two minutes ago they had no answer to your question at all for how he gets from one place to another quickly.
[01:02:43] Brian Klaas: Well, and it makes sense. It's survival, right? I mean, this goes back to the point about how the context dictates behavior. Like it's not like these people are just liars are insane people. I mean—
[01:02:51] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[01:02:51] Brian Klaas: They're not submissive or docile. It's just like, if you understand that you might die if you don't make up a lie about a baby, you're going to make up a lie about a baby. I mean, that's the thing that's also so corrosive about power is that when we talk about power corrupting, we're really talking about the individual, but there's a much more profound effect. That's like the people around them also get corrupted because they have to make all of these little sacrifices or transgressions in order to survive in the world around that person.
[01:03:18] You know, If you've got a psychopathic mid-level manager, the team is going to be screwed, right? Because either you have to conform to that person's leadership style or you get ousted. And I think this is the same sort of dynamic as you would have in positions of power and around dictators, or it's just like, you're winging it because it's survival and you've got to make it up if you want to make it.
[01:03:37] Jordan Harbinger: You talked about your brain changing or having physical changes, which I assume is also, or mostly in your brain. Let's talk about monkeys on cocaine, which by the way, sounds like a punk band from the early 2000s, so tell me about this experiment, this study.
[01:03:52] Brian Klaas: Yeah. There's this guy named Dr. Michael Nader who's at Wake Forest and he has like a Class II drug license because he has pure cut cocaine in like this — it's sort of funny because apparently in this safe, then there's like two keys that have to be turned at the same time, like access the pure cut cocaine but—
[01:04:07] Jordan Harbinger: I was going to say, sure, it's in the safe.
[01:04:09] Brian Klaas: Yeah.
[01:04:10] Jordan Harbinger: Look, the safe is empty. Where did it go? I have no idea.
[01:04:14] Brian Klaas: So what they do though, is they try to test like how hierarchy affects behavior and dopamine receptors in the brain. And basically, the point is they take these four macaques monkeys and they're individually housed, which means that they don't have any interaction with any other monkeys. So it's like, you know, they're all alone. And then they raise the barriers and all of a sudden these four monkeys are together. And like in 10 minutes, they set up a hierarchy and like the researchers can very clearly see the pecking order. Like 1, 2, 3, 4, it's done.
[01:04:39] Then what they do is they put each of the monkeys after they've experienced this hierarchy for a bit in a chair and the monkeys have been trained to use this chair. It's got two levers. You pull one lever, banana pellets, come out. You pull the other lever, intravenous cocaine gets injected into your bloodstream. What's amazing about this is that the submissive monkeys, the ones who end up in three and four, always take the cocaine. The one and two always take the banana pellets. But if you take the monkeys who are like the one and two in one group, and you rehouse them in a different group and through misfortune, they end up as monkey three or monkey four in the new group, cocaine. And then when you open up their brains and you look at the sort of chemical structures within them, they physically change. Their dopamine receptors have shifted.
[01:05:21] And this is what I think is truly amazing where we have to think so carefully about stuff that's really odd, but it's like empirically proven happens to people in positions of power. So we need to understand that better if we want to stop abuse, because it's not just some like mild psychological effect. There's actually, I think a brain chemistry change that's happening. And we can't do this in humans because you can't slice open someone's brain after they become like a CEO of like, "Oh yeah, the dopamine did change. Too bad, we killed them," you know? So there's problems with this, obviously at an ethical point of view for doing the research on humans but the evidence does seem to suggest with things like stress levels, that there are also physical changes in humans that we can document.
[01:05:59] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. I've spoke actually with Dacher Keltner episode 519 of the show. I'm sure you came across his research, speaking about what power or a lack of power can do to make people even physically sick. So the idea that the lower monkeys in the hierarchy decided to take drugs, maybe brings up some uncomfortable questions about our own society and what we think of people who are impoverished and lack power, and maybe use substances in greater numbers, right? Or potentially supposedly in greater numbers. I'd love to see more data on that. That's probably not as super popular set of questions to be asking maybe in Berkeley or something like that were Dacher is, but in a lot of places, we don't really want to look into that closet for those skeletons, so to speak.
[01:06:44] Brian Klaas: Yeah. I mean, so I flew out to Berkeley and I interviewed Dacher and he's this quintessential, he looks like a guy, who's a — he's a psychologist, but he's like on a pro-surfer tour on the weekends. He's got like this long blonde hair and he's super chilled out.
[01:06:57] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[01:06:57] Brian Klaas: I walked into his house and he's like, "First I have to ask you a question. Have you had a snack?" You know? So anyway, he's studied some really, really interesting stuff about power. And I think you're right to point out this idea of. We don't do enough to understand that there are actual effects of powerlessness. And I think this is something where, you know, when I've done the research on issues related to stress and so on, like there's evidence that people who are powerless die faster because their body is stressed more.
[01:07:26] The evidence for this, we can see this in CEOs with where people at the pinnacle of power age faster, I'll talk about that in a second, but there's a study with baboons where they can actually study the genetic aging rate of an individual. They use the thing called DNA methylation to figure out how genetically quickly your aging relative to the calendar. So like, you know, it could be six months of a lapse, but you've actually aged nine months or it could be that you've aged three months.
[01:07:48] And what they found is like, as they expected, as you go down the hierarchy in the baboons group, you have more stress at the bottom because you don't have access to food. You don't have access to mates, you know, it just sucks basically. It makes sense. As you go up, it gets better up until the very top of the alpha is extremely stressed and aging very quickly. And it's because there's a target on their back all the time. So they've got all the resources, they got all the mates, but they're constantly looking over their shoulder.
[01:08:12] The lesson here is it's good to be in the courts may or may not be good to be the king. In human society, there's evidence for this as well, where one of the best studies that I came across, it looks at like presidents versus runner-ups in elections over 17 countries, 200 years. Right? So like a long sweep of history. And what they found is that the runner ups, the people who lost lived 4.4 years longer on average than the people who won. So the consolation prize of losing an election and not becoming president might be a four and a half years more life.
[01:08:42] Jordan Harbinger: Wow. Yeah. That's not a bad deal. Other than again, you're talking about people who had their legs broken and stretched to gain three inches so they could win a local election. So I don't know, I don't know about the calculations going on over there sometimes.
[01:08:54] Not that I'm dwelling on this, but how does that guy get pure cocaine? Is that made like in a pharmaceutical lab? I'm asking for a friend. He probably has great parties by the way.
[01:09:03] Brian Klaas: Yeah, I think it's related to the DEA.
[01:09:06] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:09:06] Brian Klaas: So I think it seized and then they purify it. Yeah, he has this license where he's given this, like, I mean the street value it'd be like off the charts because it is completely pure because I think the in a scientific lab, as far as I understand it, they take a street cocaine that they've seized and then they purify it up to like medical grade and then he gets it.
[01:09:24] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[01:09:25] Brian Klaas: Yeah. I guess it's a perk of being out of Wake Forest.
[01:09:27] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, I guess so. I mean, what if you want to do your own research right for science and all that.
[01:09:32] Norman Osborn (Spider-Man): Harry, tells me you're quite the science whiz. You know, I'm something of a scientist myself.
[01:09:37] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, I'm something of a scientist myself. One section of the book that I loved and in closing here, I know you got to go, but these ancient ordeals like trial by fire or holding a piping hot piece of metal, shoving your hand in boiling water, what does this have to do with power and oversight?
[01:09:54] Brian Klaas: Yeah. So these ancient ordeals they're things that you might've come across, like in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, they have like the witch trial and they try to weigh the witch and figure out if she's really a witch. They have ordeals that also existed when you were accused of a crime where you'd be given a boiling cauldron of water. And they'd say, "Well, you know, if you're innocent, stick your hand in the boiling cauldron of water. And you will prove that you have nothing to hide because God will spare you," right? So God will intervene. For a long time, you know, people are still like, "Well, this was insane," right? Like this is not a good way of like meeting our criminal punishment and determining justice.
[01:10:27] But there's an economist named Peter Leeson who's argued that this is actually a highly rational mechanism, because what would happen is the priests who are overseeing these ordeals would say, "Okay, here's your choice. We think you're a murderer. You can either like, stick your hand in a boiling cauldron of water, or we can just condemn you. You know, it's up to you. Now, if you're innocent, we know that God will intervene and protect you." So what would happen according to Leeson's research is the person who actually was innocent would believe this, right? Because they would believe that God would intervene to protect them based on their religious teachings. So they'd say, "Okay, I'll stick my hand in." And at that point, the monks would like provide a less boiling cauldron of water that they could then stick their hand in and be like, "Oh, miraculously, my skin is not burned." You must have been innocent because the very act of accepting the challenge, the ordeal show that you were willing to go through it. Whereas the guilty person was like, "Yeah, I don't want to do that."
[01:11:21] So his argument is that it's a sorting mechanism and what's interesting in this, where I use it for the book, as I say, in the past, because of this sort of ubiquitous belief in God, everybody rich and powerful, poor, and weak believed that there was going to be divine punishment if they broke the rules. Right? So like you had potentially something that was the glue that held society together because there was no police, there was no real accountability, but if you murdered someone, you believed you had burned in hell. So it provided this sort of social function that over time might have been really, really good for our species.
[01:11:53] What's happened now is the state has largely supplanted that particularly as religious beliefs have declined. So rather than believing that you'll face eternal damnation. I mean, certainly some people still think that, but a significant chunk of the population in modern times worries more about the police and jail than they do about, you know, a cauldron at an ordeal and God's punishment.
[01:12:14] So the point that I'm trying to make is that oversight really is important because this sort of risk of accountability for abusive behavior is what deters it. And my worry, and this is something I try to explain, but I think it's exacerbated by the pandemic is like a lot of the surveillance that exists in modern times is geared towards the people who are low down the pecking order. So like in the pandemic, these new devices were created from work-from-home people where some businesses have like sensors on people's chairs in their office. They're like shows if you're sitting at your desk. And like, Enron wasn't brought down by somebody who took a lunch break. That was five minutes too long. It was brought down by people at the top. And all of the sort of surveillance that exists in modern society is looking downward. Whereas like most of the harm is produced by the people who are in like the opaque corner office or in positions of high political power.
[01:13:03] So what I'm sort of arguing is like taking the logic of the ordeals to its modern day equivalent, you need to have oversight, but you need to put it in the right places. You need to put it looking at the people who are most prone to abusive. And I don't think this means that we like try to constantly make a surveillance society, but for certain jobs that are extremely prone to abuse and embezzlement, high-level politicians, police officers who may be involved in violent incidents, I think a bit of oversight makes a lot of sense. And I think that's the readjustment that we have to have in modern society.
[01:13:36] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It seems like powerful or corrupt people can work their way around watched people behave better, right? But who's watching the watchers? That's the question. So if I'm the guy in charge, it's like, "Well, no, no, no point the cameras at the open floor plan, I'll be here in the corner office embezzling or cooking the books or whatever." It is like we need to be watching the Chinese Communist Party, not the jaywalkers in Beijing. We need to watch Congress, not the Amazon delivery guy, or maybe a little bit of both.
[01:14:04] Brian Klaas: No, I think you're right. I mean, it's funny that you mentioned the open plan office, right? Because like that's a perfect little example of how we conceptualize this. The open plan office is a surveillance office. It's like everybody is watching everybody, where is most of the abuse happening? Where is most of the embezzlement happening? Where is most of the stuff that can take down the company happening? In the opaque windows of the corner office, right? And I think that's indicative of a mentality shift, but you have to get these people to accept it. I mean, one of the problems — I talk about solutions and sort of the last third of the book, and I'm trying to engineer things that can fix this, but there is a dilemma, which is how do you get people who like abusing power to accept significantly more scrutiny?
[01:14:40] And I have a few proposals for that, but I think it's one of the big challenges of cleaning these systems up is you have to fundamentally get people to accept a significantly greater levels of oversight as they're currently in power potentially abusing it.
[01:14:54] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Some of the solutions are interesting. I'm going to go over some of these in the show close so that you don't have to sort of reiterate everything that you'd said. I think really interesting studies, really interesting conversation. Thank you very much for doing the show, man. I know we went a little long, but I think it was worth it.
[01:15:10] Brian Klaas: It was awesome. And you're so well-prepared for this, it really shows. I appreciate you took so much time to prep for it.
[01:15:17] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this episode, but before I get into that, here's a trailer from my interview with Laila Ali, daughter of legendary boxer, Muhammad Ali. She's got a great story about how she ended up the only other boxer in her family and how she carries her father's legacy. Whether you're into sports or not, I think you're really going to dig it.
[01:15:36] Laila Ali: You've have to have it in you to want to be a fighter. It's not something that you just go, "Oh, I think I'll just try boxing," you know? Because you're going to get your ass beaten. If you don't have it in you, when you get that opportunity, it was a brawl. I mean, it was bloody. It was like crazy. And I was like, "I want to do that."
[01:15:49] You would think anyone punching you would hurt, right?
[01:15:51] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, sure.
[01:15:52] Laila Ali: But as fighters it's like, oh, that person could punch. That person can't. Tap and you tap, tap, tap, and every once in a while there's bam. That's hard. When you're like, "Oh I felt that." If you're listening to your camp saying she's nothing and she this and she that, and then you have to get your ass in there and then you feel that punch like, "No, she can punch. No, she's not just a pretty face." You'd see me across that ring, looking at you. Like you remember all that stuff you talk. Now, it's about to happen, just me and you. Nobody else can get in there with you, you know? And it's like, "I'm going to remind you of all the things you said." They didn't know that street side of me. Not everyone has that. You don't have to.
[01:16:18] Jordan Harbinger: Sure.
[01:16:18] Laila Ali: But I do. Now, you get to meet someone, just to see how they walk, see how they hold stuff and see if there's any fear in their eyes.
[01:16:24] Jordan Harbinger: What was your father's reaction to you wanting to box?
[01:16:27] Laila Ali: He didn't like it.
[01:16:27] Jordan Harbinger: No.
[01:16:28] Laila Ali: No.
[01:16:28] Jordan Harbinger: You guys were sparring before you even put the gloves on.
[01:16:31] Laila Ali: Yeah, he supported me though. He came to a lot of my fights. He couldn't be in all of them. I could always see that glare in his eyes, him of being proud and just to come into that arena and having everyone chanting, "Ali, Ali," and you just see him light up to see me in that ring and him just remembering himself. Our boxing styles are similar. The way I'm shaped, my body shape, so just seeing all of that had to be a super crazy experience for him.
[01:16:54] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Layla Ali, check out episode number 309 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:17:00] Such an interesting conversation. I could've gone another hour here. Bad actors, like they made apply to your job no matter what their power hungry. So they're going to gravitate toward power, even in more regulated system. And while bad actors might not become better people, they might behave better in a good system. So it can be a virtuous cycle, right? Layers of oversight, regulation, accountability that can make malicious people behave like those who would naturally behave with integrity.
[01:17:26] So the ultimate goal is to design systems that assume bad people will try to get power. You set up a system that deters bad people from applying, constraints those who do manage to get power and find ways to ideally boot them out before they do too much damage. It's a hope for the best, but designed for the worst kind of mentality. Brian talks a lot about this in his podcast. It's called Power Corrupts. We're going to link to that in the show. I guess when we're trying to hire people or screen people in for a job or a position we got to ask who wants power, who gets power, who stays in power, right? We want to stop attracting the wrong people to power and stop people in power from perpetrating abuses.
[01:18:06] A note here though, is sometimes leaders might appear more horrible than they might otherwise be, simply because we appoint or elect them to make decisions the rest of us would probably rather not do, right? We'd find them repugnant. Nobody wants to be in a position where they decide if NATO goes to war over Ukraine, or even over NATO members. We all want to sit back and watch the news and say, "Ah, Biden's useless." Or, "Thank goodness, the other guy is not in power right now. He'd be so much worse. Can you even imagine?" To be clear, I think politicians and those empowers should absolutely be held to account, but I think this is also worth noting that scrutiny might magnify things a little bit and the counterfactual or 20/20 hindsight always comes into play here, especially with us for well fellow armchair quarterbacks, such as myself.
[01:18:50] Also with respect to scrutiny, powerful people get caught more because they are more exposed, possibly also because they can commit larger offenses. Look at Bernie Madoff, look at some of these folks that are in a position to really just clean up and are also going unchecked. Some of that scrutiny makes powerful people seem worse than they really are compared to everyone else who might be just as crappy if they had the opportunity. And also we're just not paying attention to them.
[01:19:14] There are lots of solutions for rooting out corruption in the book as well for people who really want to get into the weeds on this stuff. We didn't have a lot of time to get into that during the show. And there's a lot of actual detail in the book. So I highly recommend the links will be in the show notes. And when you buy books from our guests, it does help support the show. Transcripts are in the show notes as well. Videos are on YouTube. Advertisers, deals, and discount codes are all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support this. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram, or hit me on LinkedIn. I love connecting with you there.
[01:19:47] I'm also teaching you how to connect with great people and manage your relationships using the same software, systems, and tiny habits that I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course. You've heard me talk about it a bunch. Here, it is again. Jordanharbinger.com/course is where you'll find it. The course is free. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. I don't need your credit card. I don't want your credit card. I just want you to have these skills. They are super important. They have changed my life and besides most of the guests on the show, they subscribed to the course. They contribute to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company. And frankly, you belong in smart company.
[01:20:20] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends and you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who lives in a place with corruption or works in a place with corruption, or frankly, is looking to root out some corruption, share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.