Lawyers and Salesmen

One of the things I’ve learned in life is that the salesmen for a company will be the most honest with you about their company. That’s not to imply that salesmen are all honest in their sales pitch. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about life inside the company. Ask a sales guy, who is not selling you something, about his boss and his co-workers and he’ll usually give you the unvarnished truth. Often, they are the guys who know the flaws best, because they have to work around them to make deals.

That’s the thing with salespeople.  They work for themselves, even though they take a salary and are employees. Some portion of their pay, maybe the bulk of it, is derived from their performance as a salesman. All salespeople have quotas and have to produce. Otherwise, they get fired. There’s no hiding in the bureaucracy for them. That means self-deception is not of any use to them. They have to know the defects of their firm and its products in order to mitigate them in front of clients.

The weird thing about salesmen is they never assume they are the cleverest guy in the room. Paranoia is a healthy trait in sales, as there are a million little things that can scuttle a deal. Working from the assumption that there could very well be someone in the room who knows something you don’t is a good way to avoid surprises. You ask more questions and you listen better. If you’re walking around thinking you are Wile E. Coyote, a safe could fall on your head.

I used to fish with a guy who made his living selling cars. He got into it as a way to pay for college. He would sell cars on the weekend and at night, while going to school during the day. When he finished college, he found that he could make a better living selling cars than anything else so he kept selling cars. Eventually he settled into selling BMW’s and Mercedes. He was able to make a nice, middle-class living at it, without too much stress.

Making small talk one day I mentioned something about lawyers and he laughed and told me that lawyers are his best clients, followed by stockbrokers. I naturally assumed it was because they made a lot of money and had expensive tastes. That was not it at all. He told me that overselling a lawyer was one of the easiest things to do in car sales. They walk around thinking they know everything and so they fall for every car sales trick in the book.

I’ve been thinking about this watching the political ructions. Donald Trump is a salesman and a very good one so he is doing extremely well as a novice politician, because politics is about sales. His competitors are mostly lawyers, who never took him seriously, because they are lawyers and smart. Everyone knows this so surely the smart lawyers will have no problem with the sales guy and his cheap theatrics.

The commentariat is similarly full of lawyers and people who went to law school. The funny thing about media lawyers is they rarely ever did real legal work. Those that did work in the business got out quickly and signed on for TV work. The other chattering skulls popped out of prep school and then went onto a private college, majoring in a soft field like political science. Like the lawyers, they walk around thinking they are the smartest guy in the room and they have been wrong about Trump at every turn.

To some degree, this is due to the difference between fields that reward the right answer and fields that reward clever answers. There’s no right answer as to why the French decided to attack uphill in the rain against the forces of Henry V at Agincourt. On the other hand, there is only one answer to the question of how many one centimeter spheres can fit into a one meter cube. You either have the correct answer or you do not and you have to show your work.

Where I’m heading with this is that lawyers probably suffer from the Dunning–Kruger effect because they were always the cheekiest and cleverest person in the classroom. They have high verbal skills and pretty credentials so they naturally assume that means they are brilliant. Steve Sailer points out that Barak Obama went from wall flower to social butterfly once he got into Harvard Law. His acceptance letter bestowed on him the sense he was the smartest guy in the room.

Now, the guys in the sales department have a different experience. They also have high verbal skills, but they spend their days losing many more deals than they win. They face the reality of their limitations every day. They also know that if they don’t sell, they don’t eat. There’s no failing up in their business. It’s why the sales guys can feast on lawyers. They have no illusions about themselves.

It’s another reason to wonder if the recipe for the managerial state contains ingredients that poison the stew. Failing up is a feature of the managerial class. They go from one failure to the next, rarely ever answering for their blunders. The economic team that advised Obama on the stimulus, for example, landed cushy positions in the academy. Tim Geithner is making millions influence peddling for Wall Street. This despite being 100% wrong about in their predictions.

A system based on mediocrities walking around convinced they are the smartest people in the room will inevitably become unstable. The unforced errors we are seeing could simply be a feature of a system that lacks a way to police the ranks. Instead, it rewards the most ruthless bureaucratic operators who are skilled at things useless to preserving the system. In many cases, like we saw with the housing bust-out, the most skillful members of the managerial class cause the greatest damage to it.

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Member
8 years ago

After 30+ years in the private sector, I work for one of the worst state governments in the Union. The passive corruption is legendary. The apparent by-word for why some bureaucratic hoop hasn’t been jumped through after 3 months of trying to just hire someone is, “It’s a process.” The reason why you can’t pay the contract vendors for almost 8 weeks when a lack of the State’s signature on the paperwork was discovered? “It’s a process.” It’s a process filled with mediocrities that have failed their way up to the highest levels of administrative bureaucracy. Some of them are… Read more »

Dutch
Dutch
8 years ago

Lawyers, stock brokers, and car salesmen all work by building a “frame” around their proposition. When the lawyer prevails because of a good “framing” of his argument, he will consider himself omnipotent, as the weight of the law has just declared him correct. When the broker makes a trade, which was closed by his “framing” of the reasons to buy, and the shares rise in value for the customer, then the broker will consider himself an oracle, able to predict the future. When a car salesman “frames” the product appropriately to induce the customer to buy the car, there are… Read more »

Notsothoreau
Notsothoreau
8 years ago

Interesting how all those conservatives talked about Obama thinking he is super smart and how wrong it was to elect someone so inexperienced. And so they now want to elect a Harvard educated one term Senator that is the “smartest guy in the room”. Some people never learn.

Buckaroo Banzai
Buckaroo Banzai
Reply to  Notsothoreau
8 years ago

The similarities between Cruz and Obama are indeed eerie. Both are pseudo-intellectual idealogue single-term junior Senators who have never done anything productive in their lives (Obama was a “community organizer” and university lecturer, Cruz was a career bureaucrat), come from internationalist backgrounds (Obama born a Kenyan-American, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, Cruz born in Canada, and is a Cuban-Canadian-American who actually had to renounce a foreign citizenship before he could run for POTUS) with oddball fathers (Cruz’s dad fought on Castro’s side during the Cuban Revolution and fled from Bautista, Obama’s father was an alcoholic polygamist).

Severian
8 years ago

The whole chattering class phenomenon fascinates me. How did these glorified stenographers ever get the idea they are geniuses? Yet, I keep hearing how Trump loses to Clinton in every head to head poll. How and why is that even possible, and how could the chattering heads believe it? No bubble is that big, surely?

Member
8 years ago

I like to think of our problem with the elite class differently. I think it’s basic nepotism. We all have idiots in our family that cannot survive in the real world, and we would take care of them if we could, but we can’t so they sort of flounder through life getting by on luck and family “loans”, but the elites are different. They can protect their idiots. They tuck them away in high paying, but unimportant jobs in the bureaucracy, non-profits and the like, since the bureaucracy is now full up of idiots things start to go wrong, and… Read more »

Adama
Adama
8 years ago

Your right vs. clever dichotomy is lovely. Kudos.

Strelnikov
Member
8 years ago

So,where do I fit in? I grew up on my father’s used car, buying and selling anything that moved – and some that didn’t – and continued doing that on my own while putting myself through undergraduate & grad school as well as law school. Am I the smartest guy in the room who knows all the sales tricks or a blathering dumbass who has forgotten all he ever knew about human nature? One of the great mysteries of the universe.

UKer
UKer
8 years ago

I once knew someone who sold cars. Their best trick was to take the customer for a drive in the customer’s own car, and take them through a nearby industrial estate with grey walls and pot-holed roads. If there were any flowers growing there they would be scrubby weeds under miserable brick walls. However when the customer got into the test drive car the route would be over good roads in pleasant areas. The flowers they passed were gorgeous, in well-tended gardens. The result was that somehow the customer liked the new car a whole lot better than their old… Read more »

Nick D.
Member
8 years ago

In the past, war was the equalizer. Mediocre leaders would lose wars. In modern Western Civilization, our politicians don’t generally live under the threat of military defeat.

etcetera
etcetera
8 years ago

One more point, though this is somewhat technical. I checked their bios using wikipedia. Trump’s adversary’s are not mostly lawyers.

Not counting the Republicans who never made it out of the undercard debates, Hilary Clinton, Cruz, Rubio, and Chris Christie are lawyers.

None of the other candidates aren’t. Sanders, JEB Bush, Kasich, and Carson are not lawyers and only Carson of this group attended graduate school. Fiorina dropped out of law school.

You probably meant to include the various consultants, operatives, and other hanger-ons. Some of the media talking heads have law degrees.

Buckaroo Banzai
Buckaroo Banzai
Reply to  etcetera
8 years ago

You’ll notice that the candidates who “matter”– Clinton, Cruz, Rubio– are all lawyers.
Generally speaking, lawyers make crummy Presidents. It’s no coincidence that the two greatest Presidents of the 20th century, Eisenhower and Reagan, were not lawyers. Woodrow Wilson was the worst of both worlds– a failed lawyer who went on to be a truly awful Presdent.

Member
8 years ago

Wretchard would say that eventually the managers use up all the design margin and fail. The Chinese probably meant the same thing when they spoke of “losing the Mandate of Heaven.” Ibn Khaldun thought that every ruling class eventually becomes fat, lazy, and preoccupied by trifles, then fails. Me, I like Darwin. When a species thoroughly dominates its niche, sexual selection predominates over natural selection. All of the preening and posturing in our society seems to fit the category of sexual selection pretty well. But in a species as genetically diverse as humans, there will always be a segment that… Read more »

Terry Baker
Reply to  el_baboso
8 years ago

el baboso, I agree; Z-Man and Wretchard are indeed ahead of the pack.

I’ve been searching the web for wisdom for about 15 years now, and these two are the best.

Member
Reply to  Terry Baker
8 years ago

I know what you mean by searching for wisdom on the web. This is my first visit here, and so far I like what I read. But over the years, since about 2008-9, I’ve come to rely on amnation.com/vfr when I long for insight in matters relating to our culture and politics. Unhappily, its host, Lawrence Auster (d. March 2013) is now singing with the angels. But he’s left the site intact with everything archived and cared for by close friends. There is no activity on it, but the search engine works remarkably well. Just enter, for example, the 1964… Read more »

Buckaroo Banzai
Buckaroo Banzai
Reply to  Orabilis
8 years ago

Auster is indeed a giant. I have only read a limited selection of his work, but that which I have read, was uniformly brilliant.

alzaebo
alzaebo
Reply to  Terry Baker
8 years ago

Z-man and Wretch ad’s Belmont Club are my first reads, always, they’re the best.

Severian
Reply to  el_baboso
8 years ago

If you like Ibn Khaldun, I’d recommend Peter Turchin’s “War and Peace and War: The Rise and Fall of Empires.” He uses Khaldun to spin a neat, not-altogether-convincing theory of imperial ascent and decline.

Member
Reply to  Severian
8 years ago

Thank you, Severian.

Tim
Tim
Member
8 years ago

Great read on the English war bow is The Crooked Stick by Hugh Soar. Tim

Tim
Tim
Member
8 years ago

Great read on the English war bow is The Crooked Stick by Hugh Soar. Tim

S westlie
S westlie
8 years ago

“French decided to attack uphill in the rain against the forces of Henry V at Agincourt.”

really? I thought it was super muddy fields, mostly level, just after the rain. The French men-at-arms got bogged down & shot full of arrows. The English archers were on the hills, but a few French only went after them once and got pole-axed (literally) by the archers. or perhaps I’m wrong. Wasn’t there

S westlie
S westlie
Reply to  thezman
8 years ago

Your larger point about slow learning is correct. All of those battles featured the War bow (longbow). A superior weapon for which the French had no answer. The French crossbowmen were available & fairly effective, but nobody ordered them forward for most of the battle. Terrible generalship.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  thezman
8 years ago

The English arrows actually used iron points which were ineffective against French steel armor. The French did get stuck in the mud, and ran over themselves because of the natural bottle neck in the field. So the English archers finished them off by hand. There was more luck than skill to the English outcome at Agincourt. UKer – bring on the hate mail! 🙂 As an engineer, I’ve never thought very highly of salesmen. We spend years in University completing an engineering degree. They come along out of high school in a nice suit. We come up with the idea… Read more »

Dr. Mabuse
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
8 years ago

We come up with the idea or product. They sell them and make a commission off it and we never see a penny other than our normal salary. They drive a nice big BMW wile we’re driving a 10-year old Opel. Something not quite right about that.

Homer Simpson could give you some advice on that score: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGrpHszRhTc

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  Dr. Mabuse
8 years ago

@ Dr Mabuse – Hahaha…very good!

Member
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
8 years ago

The grass is always greener on the other side, usually because that field is full of crap.

Chazz
Chazz
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
8 years ago

Retired now, but oh so many times in my career as a sales engineer, out in the field, face to face with the customer, I had to cover for flaws in products designed by the engineer who was then comfortably home with his family. And this: At Agincourt, “The English and Welsh archers carried a more powerful bow than their fathers and grandfathers under Edward III and the Black Prince. Armour piercing arrow heads made this weapon more deadly than its predecessor, stocks of thousands of arrows being built up in the Tower of London in preparation for war.” (www.britishbattles.com).… Read more »

fodderwing
fodderwing
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
8 years ago

My father used to tell his salesmen, “nothing happens until something is sold.”

UKer
UKer
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
8 years ago

Agincourt was a classic case of interrupting something that didn’t need to be interrupted. Henry the Fifth was going home, as quickly as he could as his invasion and attacks further south had yielded little reward and most of his surviving army had already gone back to England as it was harvest time: soldiers then were recruited from the land workers and having food through the winter was more important than the king’s glory. The French should have let them go as the retreating English were no threat, but they had visions of glory too and wanted ransom money. The… Read more »

UKer
UKer
Reply to  UKer
8 years ago

Yes Karl, indeed it was luck, but then a lot of battles turn out that way 🙂 And I would never hate you. Honest.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  UKer
8 years ago

I’m sure the BBC has done something along this topic. Don’t they have some sort of team that investigates these events, from a scientific or archeological perspective indented to validate the history vs. legend?
The “hate mail” was in jest. 🙂 I too enjoy the banter on this blog site.

Karl Horst (Germany)
Karl Horst (Germany)
Reply to  thezman
8 years ago

I found this on YouTube. Worth a watch. Agincourt’s Dark Secrets Battlefield Detectives (BBC?)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVuVtP_xepU

UKer
UKer
Reply to  thezman
8 years ago

The developments in armour-piercing arrows was offset by opponents having better designed plate armour to deflect arrows away.*

In a way, that sums up the whole story of the development of war not only then but now.

*The legend of the English longbowman prompted Wellington, before embarking to lead the fight against Napoleon’s armies in the Iberian peninsula, asking for a division of bowmen to help him. He was disappointed to learn that none had existed for a long time…

Buckaroo Banzai
Buckaroo Banzai
Reply to  Karl Horst (Germany)
8 years ago

Karl, the funny thing about sales is, everybody who isn’t a salesman complains how salespeople have such fun, easy jobs and make so much money. I ran a sales department for many years, and wasn’t shy about telling anyone else in the company that anytime they wanted to try doing the fun, easy, high-paying job, my door was open, and all they had to do was walk in and I’d figure out a way to give them a shot at it. Can you guess how many people walked through that door during the better part of a decade?

etcetera
etcetera
Reply to  S westlie
8 years ago

The Agincourt comment thread brings out a point I was going to make about one of the throwaway lines. It was a familiar argument about the inherent superiority of STEM, because after all STEM involves mathematical equations to which there is one right answer, while look at Agincourt, there is no right answer! This sort of argument comes up on Marginal Revolution all the time. Its become something of a trope among engineers. Of course it is completely untrue. There are right answers to Agincourt. The French either attacked in the rain, or they didn’t. There was either a hill… Read more »