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No Credit Where Credit is Due

This morning Rick linked to what must be the first positive editorial about the economy I’ve read in a long time. Paul Krugman basically says we’re still in bad shape, but we’ve “backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss.”

At the end of Rick’s short entry, he wrote this about the role of government and the lack of credit when something actually goes right:

Also, by the way, remember acid rain? The government totally got on that and fixed that. Someone mentioned that on the Daily Show last week and I thought “huh. oh yeah. that went away.” We should like make holidays or something when the government fixes something, instead of, you know, forgetting completely about it, only to go on to bitch about the next problem.

Immediately I was reminded of a quote from The Black Swan that I actually blogged about almost two years ago (seeing blog entries written from 2007 and realizing it was two years ago still surprises me). As I explained in the post, the quote is from “a thought experiment that imagines a politician who managed to get a law passed prior to September 11th, 2001 that required all airplanes to have bulletproof locked doors to the cockpit. Taleb goes on to explain:”

The person who imposed locks on cockpit doors gets no statuses in public squares, not so much as a quick mention of his contribution in his obituary. “Joe Smith, who helped avoid the disaster of 9/11, died of complications of liver disease.” Seeing how superfluous his measure was, and how it squandered resources, the public, with great help from airline pilots, might well boot him out of office . . .

Now consider again the events of 9/11. In their aftermath, who got the recognition? Those you saw in the media, on television performing heroic acts, and those whom you saw trying to give you the impression that they were performing heroic acts.

No real point here other than to say when you act to avoid a problem it is incredibly unlikely you’ll ever receive the credit you deserve since no one can ever know how much you really helped. It’s an interesting conundrum.

August 12, 2009


  • Michal Migurski says:

    We’re culturally conditioned to value last-ditch heroics. What would it be like to grow up in an environment that paid sustained, consistent attention to predictive problem solving? Maybe something like this story about the Citigroup Center engineering crisis of 1978: “Despite the success, the crisis was kept hidden from the public for almost twenty years, until an article appeared in the New Yorker in 1995…. It is generally thought that his forthrightness so impressed the executives that they decided to keep their lawyers at bay.” http://www.damninteresting.com/a-potentially-disastrous-design-error

  • Pia Lachheb says:

    Given our penchant towards the dramatic, or search for the next issue, people may not receive the recognition for solving social problems, especially averting future catastrophes, but how much does that matter? Of course it would be ideal, but is knowing that you did something to better the world enough? Is it the act, result or public recognition that counts?

  • harris says:

    The Y2K Bug is another example. There are people who use it as an example of a waste of money. “We spent billions working on a problem that never happened.” Um, yes. That’s why it never happened.

    Michal is right. The US doesn’t like defense or long term planning. The US wants to take care of right now, not what could happen. As a society, we are very reactive, not very proactive.

  • Misinterpretation | Noah Brier dot Com says:

    […] through legislation prior to September 11th to force all airlines to install locked cockpit doors. That person would have never recieved attention or recognition for preventing an attack, since we ne…: The person who imposed locks on cockpit doors gets no statuses in public squares, not so much as a […]

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