July 11, 2002


THE DILBERT PRINCIPLE: Cartoonist Scott Adams pens a funny and short New York Times op-ed.

I think it's useful to put these corporate scandals in perspective. Every employee I ever worked with in my old cubicle-dwelling days was pillaging the company on a regular basis, too. But the quantity of loot was rarely newsworthy. My weasel co-workers were pocketing office supplies, fudging expense reports, using sick days as vacation and engaging in a wide array of work-avoidance techniques.

Most people rationalize this kind of behavior by saying that corporations are evil and so the weasel employees deserve a little extra. The C.E.O.'s and C.F.O.'s aren't less ethical than employees and stockholders; they're just more effective. They're getting a higher quality of loot than the rank and file, and for that they must be punished.

It takes gale-force cynicism to create a cartoon as funny as Dilbert, you see. Adams goes on to say he is torn as to whether the CEOs were actually evil or just incompetent. The title of Adams's book The Dilbert Principle refers to the concept, even bleaker than The Peter Principle (which holds that qualified people are promoted until they get to the job they can't do well), that the stupidest people are promoted because they can do less damage in management than in engineering.

I had to put this "in perspective" in a more serious way the other day when my Dad casually suggested that the accounting scandals were now more serious than 9/11. It was really just a poor choice of words-- the old man is no Krugmanite squish, he just has a penchant for hyperbole (both of these facts might be demonstrated by his fondness for Ann Coulter). Still, I had to point out that thousands of dead bodies (and hundreds of thousands of vaccinated children who would otherwise die) constituted something a bit more serious than a bunch of unfortunate stockholders forced to trade in Ford Explorers for Geo Metros.

Posted by John Tabin at July 11, 2002 09:54 PM