General von Hammerstein’s lessons for the (not only) Romanian (not only) Economics academe

Since I’ve lately (and anew…) got quite an unexpected lot of questions concerning the ‘optimal allocation of existing human resources in the Romanian Economics academe’ (never ad litteram formulated as such, but you get the point…), I’ve now decided to briefly depict publicly what I typically answer(ed).

Let me start by saying that I’ve had some great academic mentors so far, inter alia Coen and Dale, who taught me, though mostly between the lines, pretty much the same thing. But I got my definitive, direct, answer to this question from a different discipline… In fact, from an entirely different realm altogether: the military. Here’s a quote from the (still surprisingly underrated) General Kurt von Hammerstein, who effectively mastered the optimal organization of an army. His internal organization principles can readily be applied also to (most) academic/ research entities, and I especially argue that they must be, mutatis mutandis, applied without delay in the Romanian (and not only) Economics (and not only) academic world. Words in the quote below are crossed and replaced accordingly, in the few places where necessary:

I divide my officers researchers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers researchers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent — their place is the General Staff Permanent Faculty. The next lot are stupid and lazy — they make up 90 percent of every army Faculty and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent — he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.

The only needed further qualification to the above, as it now reads, is that the 90% from the text is nowadays almost equally divided between the “stupid and lazy” and the “stupid and diligent” within the Economics academe in Romania– my target of primary interest here. The latter category, in visible expansion since von Hammerstein’s time, will often be found arduously writing (and self-citing) their articles in mickey-mouse terrific economic journals of… no local reputation, such as Amfiteatru Economic or its many relatives.

Take-away (not entirely) subliminal messages:

  • Much better to be “stupid and lazy” than “stupid and diligent”…in any context, in fact. Admit your limits, take it easy, and you might be looked upon with compassion; some sort of use for you might even be found now and then. Otherwise, von Hammerstein implied already what is to be done with you…
  • Top, meaningful, research TAKES TIME. That’s really for the would-be, necessary, SCIENTIFIC LEADERS, unfortunately a species long gone missing from the Romanian Econ-academe regnum. They might have to import it…
  • A new, would-be, center/ group/ team of research excellence, in a world currently lacking even research decency, needs to first locate such a “clever and lazy” leader and fully rally around her/him…

PS. I’ve got interested in Kurt von Hammerstein more generally, after recently wrapping up an absolutely splendid book about him by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (with English translation by Martin Chalmers): The Silences of Hammerstein: A German Story.


10 thoughts on “General von Hammerstein’s lessons for the (not only) Romanian (not only) Economics academe”

  1. No maestre, bine te recitii!
    Nu-s io pre breaz cu englezeasca da socot ca de-ajuns sa fiu lenes ca oricum ies mai bine ca unu’ mai cu mot care-i harnic! Poi maestre, daca ase sta streburile, inca doi deti la palinca la mine!
    Te pup ma!

    1. (English below) Servus, Nenicule! De data asta zici tu ceva, dar lucrurile sunt putin mai complicate. Raspunsul scurt pentru tine este ca “trebuie totusi sa faci armata, ca sa ajungi general”. Raspunsul mai elaborat il dau in engleza mai jos, sa inteleaga si altii.

      Funny man Nenicu, commenting herein above, is onto something when he says that it looks like “lazy” is a dominant strategy in von Hammerstein’s game here. But, crucially, that is only in a standard setting, i.e. with full information, and fully static. Von Hammerstein’s was however a real situation, where, arguably, you have (at least initially) imperfect information about anyone eventually being labeled (=publicly known) as “stupid” or “clever”. With such imperfect information, the dominant strategy is to be lazy for anyone who privately knows he is stupid, but for somebody clever, especially not *the most* clever, sending the ‘diligent’ signal might be a better strategy. 🙂 Moreover, as I told Nenicu above, “you have to do the army, before becoming a general…”, in other words, in a more dynamic setting, if you are clever, you can realistically afford to be “lazy” only after you’ve shown that you can be “diligent”. Obviously this is not intended as a formal analysis of the ‘game’ depicted here, which remains homework for anyone passioned enough. 🙂

      1. Hi.
        Thanks this is fun!
        Since I am not Romanian, I shall take on the game theory example. 🙂
        IMO even without public information on the cleverness-stupidity axis you get that acting ‘lazy’ is optimal. I think you need more bells and whistles to have it different. For instance, you need additional constraints on the utility of a clever and lazy agent.

        1. Hi and welcome!
          Thanks for the comment — that seems a fair point. Indeed, you’d still need some other assumption to justify why the payoff should not increase in the displayed level of ‘diligent’, for a ‘clever’ agent (for a ‘stupid’ guy that is always negative, so it would become even more negative with more effort—that is settled as said earlier). One way to solve this is to think of that observed ‘diligent’/’lazy’ level as just an imperfect signal about the productivity of the person. For instance, to keep it in the Econ academe setting, somebody might not produce a paper for years, but then come with one or more top5s. That person might be perceived by many (depending on the specific context, this could be ‘by the most’) as ‘lazy’, but nobody would deny that s/he is better fit for scientific leadership than someone else, also clever, who published frequently but with papers at most in say top 30 or so 🙂
          In other words, one of those bells & whistles is simply to think of lazy and diligent in terms of speed, rather than productivity. I do actually believe that the push for publishing fast, particularly in less-developed scientific environments, is very detrimental, at any percentile in the distribution of academic talent… I somehow also believe that General Kurt von Hammerstein would strongly agree with me. 🙂

          PS. I do think, as hinted in the text, that von Hammerstein’s lessons work for *non-Romanian* academe as well :-).

  2. Domnule Buhai,
    Va reamintesc eu insa ca situatia sta si mai extrem, dupa cum dumneavoastra ati constatat cu alta ocazie: nu e 90 de procente cum ziceti in postare, ci de 99 de procente! Da mai strigator la cer comanda batalionului nu se afla de fapt la generalu destept, fie el lenes sau harnic, ci tocmai la unul din cei 99 de racani!

    1. Thanks for the reminder 🙂 For non-Romanian readers, commenter “Scepticus” reminds me that we’re talking 99%, not 90%, as in the text, and, especially, that there is no “clever” guy in charge, albeit dilligent or lazy.

      – 90%, 99% or 99.99%, all same, doesn’t change the essence of the argument. There is some measurement error involved, too; I know you’re trying to get back to me b/c of this (unfortunately in Romanian only). 🙂
      – the “initial conditions” worry is justified. Can’t think what to do about it other than a. coup d’état or b. explain nicely to everyone that it is in their survival’s best interest to appoint a leader who can lead… and hope that such appealing to their ‘species conservation’ reason will work out. 🙂

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