Theprevalence of lawyers in America’s ruling elite (spotted by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, in the 1830s) is stronger than ever. Mr Obama’s inner circle is sprinkled with classmatesfrom Harvard Law: the dean of that school, Elena Kagan, issolicitor-general; Cass Sunstein, a professor there, is also in theadministration.Mr Obama went to Harvard Law School (1988-91); his cabinet contains Hillary Clinton (Yale Law, 1969-73) as secretary of state, Eric Holder(Columbia Law, 1973-76) as attorney-general, Joe Biden (Syracuse University law school, 1965-68) as vice-president and Leon Panetta(Santa Clara University law school, 1960-63) as director of the CIA. President Hu,in contrast, is a hydraulic engineer (he worked for a state hydropowercompany).In France,nine of Nicolas Sarkozy’s first cabinet of 16 were lawyers or lawgraduates, including the president, the prime minister and the financeminister, an ex-chairman of Baker & Mc Kenzie, an American law firm.In China,the influence of engineers is partly explained by history and ideology.That alsoseems true of Chinese politics, in which government often ridesroughshod over critics.Engineers are supposed to focus on the longterm; buildings have no merit if they will collapse after a few years.The senior body of China’s Communist Party is the Politburo’s standing committee.Makingup its nine members are eight engineers, and one lawyer.
To find out, The Economist trawledthrough a sample of almost 5,000 politicians in “International Who’s Who”, a reference book, to examine their backgrounds. Africa is full of presidents who won power asleaders of military coups (such as Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir) or asguerrilla chiefs (Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame). The army’s influence canoutlast its direct control.His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was an electrical engineer, whotrained in Moscow at the Stalin Automobile Works.The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, specialised in geological engineering.Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, has an inner circledating from his time at St Petersburg city hall and his career in theold KGB.
Differentcountries—because of their history, or cultural preferences, or stageof development—seem to like particular qualities, and these qualitiesare provided disproportionately by only a few professions.
The Soviet Union, which also produced plenty ofengineer-politicians (including Boris Yeltsin), wanted to reverse thenorthward flow of some great Russian rivers, for example.