The Iron Law of Puppies

This is a repost from a comment at File 770. The background is this piece which is analysis of how/if the puppies failed, which is OK in places but I don’t think gets it quite right. strawpuppyfull

Why the Puppies lost.

Politically they coalesced around political stances that represent somewhere around 15% of the US population and also in a particularly US sort of way (despite their multinational backgrounds) but saw themselves as representing >50% of the US population that doesn’t self identify as liberal.

While the movement morphed into various approaches the core complaint was a bias in Hugo voters against conservative fiction. However, they also believe that the bias exist in *publishing* against conservative writers – which implies that very few get published (i.e. the bias would lie at stages long before Hugo voting) and hence look to indie or self-published novels. They have been singularly unsuccessful at finding he mother-lode of exceptional, indie/self-published conservative fiction around which they can rally a successful campaign.

Without an actual literary movement to boost, the Sad Puppies have ended up as campaign that either has no purpose or, if it has a purpose, is to promote the standout writers of a non-existent literary movement.

However, having brought together some kind of coalition, the Sad Puppies still exist. They are lacking purpose and direction but their capacity to either morph into something positive or morph into something destructive remains.


Jim Henley replied to that comment:

Jim Henley on February 29, 2016 at 9:57 am said:
@Camestros: Oh man, you just sidled up to the irony of ironies. Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracies* applies to the Puppies. The Pups are a little bureaucracy, so of course they are going to keep on keeping on. They can’t help it.

*Which is kind of just a pithy restatement of Public Choice economics and for that matter the well-known principal-agent problem.

Pournelle’s Iron Law can be read here:

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

  •  First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
  • Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

Sad Puppies 4 does look like a move in that direction. It has an emphasis on rules, structure and procedure and even Sad Puppies 3 can be seen as part of that process – it existed to continue Larry Correia’s previous campaigns but it lacked a clear goal or objective.



8 thoughts on “The Iron Law of Puppies

  1. The bit that always amuses me about the Iron Law of Bureaucracy – which I almost entirely agree with – is that it applies to the private sector just as much as to the public sector. People go on about how the private sector would “never allow” the sort of waste they seem to see in the public sector, but of course it does, and for exactly the same reasons (the problem of innate monopolistic tendencies combined with certain unfortunate tendencies of human nature.)
    One of the few “rules of business” that I have ever formulated is that if an organisation/company needs managers to manage the managers, it’s probably too big. In a sense, that’s just a restatement of the same sort of thing.


    1. Absolutely – but also there is a basic issue of creation versus maintenance. The people who get something started and push the novelty through are important but temperamentally those aren’t the people who keep something going year after year.


    2. My favourite SFnal comeback to the private v public argument is this: Charles Stross wrote a pixel-perfect satire of the UK Civil Service in his Laundry books, but he’s never worked in the public sector – he based it on the horrors he’d heard about working at big software companies.


  2. In companies I think it tends to take the form of disempowering the employees who think the customer is king in favor of those who see the customer as a resource to exploit. A lot of right-wing rhetoric seems to be based on the idea that the laws of economics somehow force companies to be run by customer-centric managers, but the truth is very far from that.

    Digressing a bit, I think the best kind of government regulation is the sort the empowers the customer-centric employees by forcing the company to do some of the things they’d wanted it to do in the first place. And the worst kind empowers the greedy managers by protecting them from competition. Pity that debate isn’t ever held in these terms.

    Back to the puppies, SP4 is downright weird, assuming they really do as they say. It looks like it’ll be an almost meaningless list, as least as far as any ideology goes. The RP list, by contrast, appears to reflect some serious thought, with at least one genuinely Hugo-worthy entry in each category so far. It’s almost as though it’s an experiment aimed at determining whether Hugo voters are giving awards based on quality or simply based on who nominated the works.


    1. I expect VDs picks will be more influential than SP4 even with people who don’t follow it to the letter as a Slate. SP4? The top books (aside from Finn) are obvious (Wright, Butcher, Correia) and Puppy voters wouldn’t need guidance to pick those out as choices.


  3. The stated goal of SP4 was to broaden the voter base, bringing in new nominators and voters (tens of thousands of them!), which does seem like the goal of an organisation looking for focus.


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