I had to suspend my reading of Samuel Fleischacker’s new book on Adam Smith when my copy of Michael Lewis’s latest book The Premonition arrived in Tuesday’s mail. Suffice it to say that Lewis is a great storyteller (it took me less than two full days to read all 304 pp. of his fascinating book), but at the same he also tends to over-generalize on the basis of flimsy or anecdotal evidence. On pp. 288-291 of The Premonition, for example, Lewis draws a distinction between political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the president, and career civil servants, who for all intents and purposes can’t be fired (see the footnote on p. 290) and concludes that political appointees are more likely than career civil servants to be risk-averse “Chamberlains” (unwilling to make hard choices or make risky decisions) instead of risk-loving “Churchills” (willing to take risky actions early to minimize the risk of dangers in the future). Although the distinction between risk-averse Chamberlains and risk-loving Churchills is a memorable one, is this observation really true? What about Article III judges, i.e. federal trial and appellate court judges who have lifetime tenure?
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