Blame Institutions, Not People

Bob Kuttner writes from Bretton-Woods:

[Larry] Summers was terrific, acknowledging that the stimulus of February 2009 was too small, that the idea of deflating our way to recovery is insane, that de-regulation had been excessive, and that much of the economics profession missed the developing crisis because its infatuation with self-correcting markets.

If only this man had been Obama’s chief economic adviser!

It reminded me a bit of Eisenhower’s farewell address, warning of a military-industrial complex, or Citizen Jimmy Carter’s sublime post-presidency. Why do these people find their consciences and souls after they give up power?

I think that’s a very smart observation, but all too often people fail to draw the correct implications. The takeaway here ought to be that we all need to try harder to resist the fundamental attribution error and to avoid overrating the importance of specific people. If it often seems that ex-officials are wiser and more moral than they were when in office, maybe the problem is not with the officials but the offices.