The aphrodisiac effect of power

This morning’s Observer column

Once upon a time, the ultimate put-down to a bright spark was to say, ‘well, if you’re so smart, how come you’re not so rich?’. Wall Street Crash 2.0 has rather undermined this ploy, by making it clear that an awful lot of very rich folks were anything but smart. It turns out that we were unduly dazzled by the Masters of the Universe, but we had to wait until they had vaporised the US economy before getting wise to the fact.

Actually, this was just a special case of a more general human weakness – our tendency to lose all capacity for critical thought when confronted by great wealth or power. This ‘aphrodisiac effect’ seems to be ubiquitous. One saw it, for example, in the way leggy females used to throw themselves at Henry Kissinger, a stumpy troglodyte who just happened to be US Secretary of State. And we see it in the way even hardened hacks go weak when offered an audience with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or even, God help us, Steve Ballmer, chief of Microsoft…