Jonah Lehrer looks in the Wall Street Journal at why, contrary to popular belief, people who are well-liked can rise to power, and how they often become less likable (and less competent) when they get the corner office. He throws in perhaps a few too many different psychological experiments to make a robust case, but his basic point is that power corrupts: it corrupts judgment, tolerance for other opinions, and patience with subordinates. Calling this the “paradox of power,” Lehrer notes that
people in power tend to reliably overestimate their moral virtue, which leads them to stifle oversight. They lobby against regulators, and fill corporate boards with their friends.
But he counters that “the worst abuses of power can be prevented when people know they’re being monitored.” Let’s hope the regulators are listening, because after all there’s no shortage of regulatory agencies in the U.S. government. But sometimes — as we’ve seen in recent coal mine disasters, the BP oil disaster, and the subprime mortgage debacle — they don’t use the power we’ve put in their hands.