High status people do good things

Posted in Random thoughts at 8:33 pm by ducky

In an article for Slate, Daniel Gross points out that the Davos attendees, who are quick to lionize Great Men (yes, usually men) when there are big successes, are blaming the system now that things are going wrong.

I am not at all surprised.  As I have blogged before, Larissa Tieden’s research shows that people think that high-status people do good things and that low-status people do bad things.  In this context, low-status people are not powerful people who do bad things, but the invisible, the drones, the unseen — the system.

In this case, it is rather obvious that many, many people were complicit in the financial collapse: from those who made financial policy, to those who perpetuated the policy, to those who made bad deals, to those who took risky deals.  I don’t find fault with saying that the system caused the failure.

I do think that we under-recognize how many people are “complicit” in successes.  While it might be tempting to say that Google’s success, for example, was the success of the Great Men Larry Page and Sergey Brin, perhaps it really was the system: the fertile technical environment, the fertile financial environment, the fertile educational environment, the hard work of many early employees, and so on.

This doesn’t even factor in all the people who were positive influences on the people involved prior to Google’s birth.  For example, their early, key employees were alive, while in other times and places not all of them would have survived to adulthood.  The entire health care system — consisting of surgeons, doctors, epidemiologists, vaccine producers, hospitals, clinics, and insurance bureaucrats — were thus important.  It’s the system.

If the Davos attendees really recognizes the importance of all the other people in any success, and by extension in their success, it would probably be harder for them be comfortable about their wealth and power.

1 Comment »

  1. Tamfang said,

    December 2, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    And yet people usually seem eager to blame political woes on the personal malice of Great Men, rather than on perverse incentives in the system.

    Perhaps it’s only that Great Man theory is easier to grasp than system theory.

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