On The Freedom To Fail

To what extent is it a good thing to have the freedom to fail? One of the notable aspects of examining movie bombs is that those who are involved in any aspect of a failed movie suffer some sort of cost, statistically speaking, as a result of their involvement in such a project. Directors and producers, those with the most involvement and control over productions, suffer the most, but name actors suffer a fair amount as well, especially lead actors, even if they tend not to have a great deal of control over the factors that tend to make movies bad. The caution of many studios has meant that the general desire on the part of movie studios is to make movies that they know will not fail. This is, in general, akin to my own desire (for the most part) to want to see only movies that I will enjoy seeing, or at least those which will give me something worth talking about. The fear of failing can lead people to be too cautious with their decisions and also make worse art in a desire to be safe, in the knowledge that risk can bring with it loss, and that one should only spend large amounts of money on what amounts to a sure thing.

In other areas of life, though, we find little evidence that there is a great deal of inhibition in people’s freedom to fail. Corporate bankruptcy and the ability restructure most debts has tended to mean that at least as far as businesses are concerned, there is little stigma attached to being involved in a failed attempt at a business. The assumption is that lessons are learned from a lack of success and that, in many cases, it is not the fault of someone running a business if economic conditions or some other uncontrollable factors make it impossible to stay in business. Similarly, at least in the West, there is little stigma attached to people abandoning romantic relationships or marriages that have ceased to bring one happiness. One can always say that lessons have been learned, but often what is learned tends to make future relationships more unstable and future happiness more elusive.

What are some of the factors that inhibit the freedom to fail? To the extent that we are concerned with the externalities of failure, with the effects of failure on others, we are less inclined to allow failure to happen or to risk failure. One reason there are so many more books that are published than movies that are released is because the cost of failure is far greater for movies than for books. The failure of a book may cost nearly nothing, but the failure of a movie can cost easily tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. It is therefore appropriate for movie studios to be more risk adverse than publishers accordingly. Similar considerations have also tended to support bailouts of companies, municipalities, and the wealthy, whose externalities are far greater than that of individual obscure citizens, whose more limited effect on the world makes it less advantageous or efficient to cater to them and their concerns.

In contrast to this, the more that success is seen to be a matter of luck or timing or chance rather than of skill or character, the freedom to fail is far more widespread. Given, for example, the alarmingly high rate that new businesses tend to fail in one way or another, there can be little certainty that any particular business effort will succeed. Even success in many circumstances means that a company is bought out by another company, rather than the continued independent existence of the startup firm, and in light of that, there is a higher degree of tolerance for failure in situations where success is elusive but the costs of failure, again, are not overwhelming. Where the cost of failure is high, failure may still be common if that cost is born by people whose interests do not matter, such as those who have no voice nor vote. So long as the costs of failure are born by those whose success is not important and whose opinions are not regarded, the freedom to fail can approach absolute status. Whether or not this is a good thing is another matter.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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