Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I couldn't sleep last night...

...so I thought about what is wrong with the world. And I figured it out: it's the diffusion of accountability.
Take book publishing: in the old days somebody owned a Publishing House. And this guy had to decide if he wants to get a little richer and embarass himself by publishing the Pamela Anderson novel or if he wants to impress his peers by publishing a translation of really amazing Russian poetry. Ideally the Publishing House was named after him and his name was on each and every book. He just had to make sure to keep a certain standard. Today, Publishing Houses are owned by other Publishing Houses that are owned by media conglomerats that are owned by investors that are owned by shareholders. Although everybody would like to publish a good book even if it won't sell, no individual has the power to make a decision like that anymore.
The same is true for all other businesses. Behind companies putting Vietnamese kids to work in sweatshops or selling firearms in Sierra Leone there aren't fat capitalists with top hats and monocles that could be held responsible, but investors and shareholders.
And shareholders don't feel individually accountable. It is like a firing squad at an execution. There are 20 people with guns, but only 10 of the guns are loaded. So after they killed the guy, nobody knows who actually fired a bullet. And even if you did fire a bullet, it doesn't matter because the other nine bullets would have killed the guy anyway. So everybody walks away from a dead body but nobody feels responsible for it. The same diffusion of responsibility that helped executioners keep their peace of mind is now used to publish bad books (and sell weapons to Sierra Leone).

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