A boardgame we designed but never produced.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this crisis it’s that if you’re going to fuck up, you might as well fuck up big time. As in, the guy who bought a house he couldn’t afford, homeless. They guy who bought that mortgage and bundled with a bunch of shit and resold it, bailed out. For a Sri Lankan example, the guy who almost bankrupted the lotteries board (how?) is now the Director General of the TRC. The guy who lost 13 elections is still leader of the UNP. Etc, ad nauseum. There’s a certain point where you’re hustling close to the ground and you have to meet logical standards of failure and success. Then you get upstairs and it’s just numbers and relationships and documents and words, and you can cut that coke with bullshit. People attribute success to you, but not failure. Because, you know, anyone can fail. It takes a qualified person to fuck it up in style.
In psych this is particular form of systemic dumb is called attribution bias.
Attributional biases typically take the form of actor/observer differences: people involved in an action (actors) view things differently from people not involved (observers). These discrepancies are often caused by asymmetries in availability (frequently called “salience” in this context). For example, the behavior of an actor is easier to remember (and therefore more available for later consideration) than the setting in which he found himself; and a person’s own inner turmoil is more available to himself than it is to someone else. As a result, our judgments of attribution are often distorted along those lines.
I also found a paper on attribution bias and CEO pay. Didn’t Google that hard, but I think you could find a measurable bias based on class. As in, I think we may attribute failure to the personal failings of a low-class person (he’s an idiot). However, a much bigger failure among the upper-class/powerful we attribution to the situation (because they’re not, technically, idiots). But I still know a lot of people who aren’t idiots that still manage to be wrong all the time. And comfortably so. I also know a lot of people that aren’t stupid and aren’t empowered to be right or wrong in the first place. Their lives are uncomfortable now, and about to get worse. As far as I can see, the bread is broken along class lines. On one side it’s mostly crumbs.
I’m not saying that failure on a high level isn’t warranted, or even bad. I fail a lot, and I’ve failed with fair amounts of money. I’ve failed with what I thought was a lot of money, and then I failed with a fuckload more. I presume this cycle will continue until I succeed, or become too big to fail and get bailed out by the government. If you try out ideas or projects or business plans a lot fail. Probably most. And if you are trying an idea, sometimes you need a full Frankenstein rather than a quivering lump of flesh. That is, if you’re going to do it you might as well do it. Or maybe you’re supposed to plan first. I dunno, but time is short and some stuff you just have to do.
However, what I see is people of a certain class failing upwards and people of another class failing straight down. The moneyed classes have lost a lot of money, but they can still talk and communicate and get a bit of credit, even if it’s just credit in the eyes of their peers. For example Henry Blodget was barred from trading for lying and Eliot Spitzer lost the governership of New York over hookergate. And now they have (pretty good) columns in Slate. The unmoneyed class, however, can’t get a nickel from a dime. They got nothing to fall back on and nowhere to go. They can’t communicate on the level that decisions are made and so decisions get made to them. And, quite frankly, they get the consequences while the uppers get a bit of a cushion. And I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt for everybody, everybody hurts.
What I’m saying is that for the upper class we attribute this failure to external events, and to the lower-class we attribute it to them personally. And not even that we say so. It’s just that the lower classes are literally taking it in the gut, and some of them are going down.