Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Quote of the Day (Cullen Murphy, on the Proliferation of Inflated Job Titles)

“The most pervasive form of title inflation is the extension of restricted honorifics to an ever widening circle of claimants. In 1950 the world chess federation, FIDE, recognized only twenty-seven people as full-fledged grand masters; today there are 930 grand masters. During the Kennedy administration only twenty-nine people held the coveted title of ‘assistant,’ ‘deputy assistant,’ or ‘special assistant’ to the president; by the time Bill Clinton left office, in 2001, there were 141 such people. In the corporate world the title ‘vice president’ is so common as to have become almost meaningless—a synonym, nearly, for ‘employee’—and the title ‘vice chairman’ connotes what a vice president used to be. In his weekly column for, Gregg Easterbrook noted recently that the front office of the Houston Texans has a chairman and CEO, two vice chairmen, five senior vice presidents, two ordinary vice presidents, an executive director, and fourteen regular directors. He made a calculation: ‘If General Motors had the same ratio of titles to revenue as the Houston Texans, GM would boast 1,928 vice chairmen, 4,820 senior vice presidents, and 13,496 directors.’" — American editor and essayist Cullen Murphy, “Feeling Entitled?” The Atlantic Monthly, March 2005

I strongly suspect that the title inflation that Murphy pointed out 16 years ago has only gotten worse. To test that hypothesis, I found that as of the September 2020 FIDE rating list, there were 1,721 grandmasters in the world.

The image accompanying this post comes from the 1967 film adaptation of the musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Here, Robert Morse’s J. Pierrepont (“Ponty”) Finch is engrossed in his self-help manual—and, judging from the agog look on his face, flabbergasted at all the job titles high up on the corporate ladder he aspires to climb.

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