instrument variables

The Real McCoy

If chimps on the lower end of the social scale collectively draw a line in the sand, threatening serious consequences if those at the upper end step over it, we have the beginnings of what in legal terms is called a ‘constitution’.” – Dr Frans De Waal, Primatologist

A not so long time ago, in a place not so far away, in Maharlika, a kingdom in the planet of the apes, a group of influential subjects rose against their ruler, the Alpha MacCoy. Their reason for doing so was simple: the Grand MacCoy did not rule his subjects impartially. He frequently granted favours to his closest kin and followers. He often inflicted serious bodily harm on those who would cross-wires with his camp.

After casting the corrupt MacCoy down from his throne and chasing him away from their territorial boundary, the wise old men of the coalition set about to write a set of rules to govern the tribe from then on. They decided to choose their leaders based on consensus rather than through physical intimidation and dominance.

To avoid the favouritism for which MacCoy was reviled, they decided not to allow their rulers to be succeeded by their descendants or close kin and to set limits on their terms of office to allow a rotation of leadership. The ‘tyranny of cousins’ was about to end. Unfortunately, to gain the support of the rest of the tribe which included remnants of MacCoy’s faction, they decided to leave it to an assembly of elders to be elected by them to decide how this rule would be enforced.

And so began the next chapter in the tribe’s evolution. Unfortunately, after a considerable amount of time, the elders who comprised their assembly chose not to enforce the rule against self-perpetuation in power through the election of kin. Having seen the way MacCoy succeeded in amassing great wealth and power, they through collusion now sought to perpetuate themselves in the assembly through legal succession.

As time went by, the citizens of the post-Maharlikan age started to notice that their assembly no longer resembled the kind of body that their founding elders had envisioned. It became clear that those on the upper scale showed no restraint in exercising their privileges. About seventy per cent of all seats in their assembly over a period of sittings were now controlled by these new elites.

The citizens began to petition their grand arbiter to step in and break up the new ruling ‘maccoys’.

Unfortunately, by this time, there were numerous voices in their community who wanted to preserve the system that they had. Given that now they had elected officials, they felt that their new leaders and their families should enjoy their just desserts. “These are the real maccoys,”they said, “people who have distinguished themselves through their honest work and abilities, not through gladiatorial combat with other alpha male-types and they have proven this by their electability, time and time again.”

“Not so,” said one wise old sage, who studied the pattern of elections and had shown that the longer an elder sat in their assembly, the greater the chances an heir would join that assembly. He had revealed through his oracles known as “instrument variables” that it was not due to good family traits or characteristics that the succession took place, but rather simply a case of power begetting power.

Another priestly shaman who had studied this problem too came up with a different parable. The election of these maccoys was not the problem. The real problem lay in the lack of rivalry from competing camps that led to callous leadership. There were certain areas in their kingdom where some maccoys had done well and promoted the welfare of their citizens. This came about because rival elders were present who would try to outdo them in this.

That may be so, and yet the result of the oracle kept ringing in the ears of some of the citizens. If power begets power then it means that the best person does not always get elected and that the original distribution of power affects subsequent generations in a self-perpetuating manner. Regardless of how the heirs discharged their functions, this fact undermined the legitimacy of their ascension into office.

It began to dawn on them that rather than distinguishing between good maccoys and bad maccoys, real from fake ones, that a real and serious debate was needed on whether to enact the original intent of their founding elders. Many, many moons had already passed, and yet their voice had not been heeded. It was time for them to re-examine, whether they had really chased Alpha Maccoy out of their kingdom, or whether in fact they had harboured him in their hearts.