Friday, January 30, 2009

Asymmetry in Davos

And by "asymmetry" I mean the issue that Latour points out. In many endeavors, success is attributed to individuals while failure is attributed to the system, or society, or culture, etc. According to Bill Taylor, that trope perseveres:

[Daniel Gross'] dispatch captured the glaring (and self-serving) intellectual blind spot among the participants. Here's how he put it: "At least with regard to finance and business, the consensus [at Davos] seems to be clear: Success is the work of Great Men and Great Women, while failure can be pinned on the system."

In his dispatch, Dan nicely captured the contrasting treatments of success and failure. One lunch, he said, celebrated the "transformative power of the individual," shining a spotlight on the work of Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohammed Yunus. Yet when CNBC organized a discussion of the financial crisis, there were three questions on the table: Which policy assumption failed? Which regulatory failure was the biggest shock to the system? Which market failure was worst?

Notice the difference in cause and effect: "Just as financial markets in the United States privatize profits and socialize losses," Dan comments, "Davos and other conferences privatize success (by chalking it up to individuals) and socialize failure (by blaming it on large systemic problems)."

Taylor concludes, "Welcome to the no-fault economy!"


Alan Rudy said...

Hey Clay: This account sounds a variation on a theme by C. Wright Mills' description (in the essay/chapter on The Sociological Imagination) of the presociological state of 1950s America.... the conflation or misattribution of personal troubles/success and social issues/failures.

Clay Spinuzzi said...

Thanks! Good timing too: I was about to make a library run.