Friday, 14 August 2009

Of Missionaries and Mercenaries

I recall chatting to a medical recruitment agency boss over a beer in Rzeszów's Old Town Square in October 2006. We'd organised a job fair, and this UK-based recruiter was in Poland selecting Polish doctors, dentists and nurses for jobs in the UK and Middle East. He told me that when talking to candidates, he'd be mentally sorting them into 'missionaries and mercenaries'. The former chose to work in the medical profession to help mankind. The latter, to earn money.

This extremely useful paradigm can be applied across the whole of society. Individuals can be placed along the 'motivated' and the 'less-motivated' spectrum; but those who are blessed with motivation (and this is the key spectrum in life) can be subdivided into 'missionaries' and 'mercenaries'.

What makes one work beyond the simple necessity of feeding, housing and clothing oneself and one's family? Why do people push themselves in life, initiating projects, making things happen, organising others, when an easy life would suffice? Eight hours 'working' then feet up, watching TV with a glass of beer and a large bowl of crisps?

There are those motivated solely by money, and the choices that having money can offer. And there are those who want to change the world for the better. And there many somewhere along that continuum, who want enough money to live comfortably, but at the same time feel they want to 'give something back'.

In Britain, there's long been the convention that a career should lead either to Power or to Wealth, and that the two should not mix. The wonderful (by Polish standards) UK Civil Service was built on that very premise. (Poles: Take a good look at this article.) But Britain's apolitical, professional, Civil Service is by no means a perfect construct, but it's a damned sight better than Poland's bureaucracy, which changes with the political winds, and as such lacks continuity.

In the pantheon of British stereotypes, we have Sir Humphrey Appleby, who lusted for power, not cash. He was the arch-administrator - neither politician, nor entrepreneur. He epitomised the upper echelons of Britain's administrator caste. In Russia, by contrast, if you have money, you have power, if you have power, you use it to acquire more money, which is turned into more power, and so on. A top UK political blog has (coincidentally) today looked at the issue of British MPs, money and power. My point exactly.

I return to the excellent BBC Adam Curtis documentary I mentioned a few days ago. It is worth watching and re-watching. Friedrich von Hayek, asked 'where does altruism come in', replies 'it doesn't come in' (6mins 49 secs). Fast-forward to 28 mins 52 secs. Here we see The American economist, James M. Buchanan suggests that all civil servants/ bureaucrats/ public sector clerks are, essentially, motivated by money, not altruism: "Working for the public good is a complete fantasy". Move on now to 49:o6. And then on to Prof. Buchanan: "If our success depends on the goodness of our politicians and bureaucrats, then we're in real trouble. "Zealots", as he calls them - idealists, unbribable, driven by ideas, not personal gain, are, in the view of Prof. Buchanan, a big problem. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse Dung and other monsters tend to suggest that to a certain extent he is right. They were not driven by money. They were driven by ego - their need for power, their need to be loved by the millions and destroy millions along the way. The motivation of ideologues in positions of authority needs closer monitoring than that of run-of-the-mill venal, corruptable types who are not peddling any ideology.

But Hayek and Buchanan are wrong; altruism most certainly has an important role to play; evolutionary biology and genetics are proving this. But altruism needs to be better harnessed; bureaucracies are not the kind of place where altruism flourishes. It is in the voluntary sector, the NGOs, well-run charities, where things get done; enthusiasm must be the principle driver of motivation, not advancement up Sir Humphrey's 'greasy pole' of the Civil Service career path. For these 'third sector' bodies to function properly, they need the same quality of professional management, the same financial and reporting systems that are to be found in private companies run with the profit motive at the fore. NGOs' management must have a clear, hard-nosed view of what they are doing and why. Even in a charity, the money-motivated manager is needed to instill efficiency.

Mercenaries will compete with one another. That is their alpha nature. This is where the Ladder of Authority comes in. But mercenaries and missionaries have to work together, harness one another's motivations to move mankind forward, checking one another not out of self-interest but essentially in a spirit of trust.

This time last year:
Spectacular sunrise over Jeziorki

This time two years ago:
Where am I? In the village.

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