I listened to two good podcasts in the last couple of days. One was from Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent Revisionist History and the other from the weekly New York Times Book Review podcast that features new books that the NY Times features every week. Both focused, the latter only partly, on the political and intellectual support political leaders receive from aides and advisors while in office that could lead to some consequential policy outcomes, both good and bad, at times disastrous.
Gladwell’s episode focused on the relationship between Lord Cherwell (Lindemann) who played a critical role in advising Winston Churchill during WW II. Cherwell’s advice led to some disastrous decisions, foremost among which was the Bengal famine during the war which led to the loss of 3 million lives in India. Chillingly, Cherwell advised Churchill to withhold sending wheat stocks to India just when they needed it the most. The NY Times book review podcast episode focused on more recent events, specifically on Josh Green’s new book Devil’s Bargain that describes the relationship between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, his mercurial much maligned counsellor. It appears that Bannon’s influence and ideas have waxed and waned the last 6 months but his imprints were clearly evident over the Muslim Ban and efforts to restrain legal and illegal immigration.
Both podcasts point to an important issue – that of the clear need to pay more attention to those in the policy orbit around political leaders and scrutinise their views, ideas and biases since it is highly likely they will end up influencing policy.