Thursday, 20 October 2011

Waiting on events

Hogarth's Rake's Progress - the debtor's prison
One of the problems with the current political scene is our comparative prosperity and the political depths to which we’ve sunk. The first doesn't help us tackle the second. Leaving aside the current economic problems, serious as they are, most people live comfortable lives when compared to life a few generations ago. By that, I mean lives to which it is relatively easy to adapt. Modern life, whatever its faults, is on the whole easily adapted to. It’s why we have immigration.

Here in the UK our democracy has largely disappeared and we are governed by a dishonest bunch of third-rate charlatans, but people don’t have to care, at least not full-time. Life goes on and it’s comfortable. These longer-term issues don’t have a drastic impact on daily life – at least not yet. The analyses and warnings don’t seem to have much visible impact, because words rarely do.

In general it is events and not words that lead to major social change and however bad things are, however obvious it is that they are bad, we must wait on events to cause change. As Harold Macmillan famously said of the real challenges he faced. Events my dear boy, events.

What those events might be is impossible to predict, but recent economic problems are a warning. Complexity may be a global problem. We may have made our lives, our economies, our legal and regulatory systems too complex. It is a characteristic of complex dynamic systems that they are not predictable. Unforeseen events occur - events we could not possibly have foretold except perhaps in the broadest outline.

The only way to tackle complexity is to simplify. The problem with simplification as a policy guide is that vested interests prefer complexity because it creates business, hides incompetence and erects barriers to entry. For those vested interests, unforeseen events are merely a side-effect of their games, until a really big event changes the rules. If the current economic problems are not big enough to change the rules, then an even bigger problem is probably waiting for us somewhere down the line. 


rogerh said...

Recent troubles at Blackberry show what happens to complex systems that collapse - the talk now is of whether the customers will hang around. Similarly the world's big money-makers are the customers governments must attract - any signs of collapse and they move away in a heartbeat.

To the big money-makers an economy is something to be farmed, goverrnments provide soil, fertiliser and water - at a price. But when the soil is worked-out and diseased with complexity it all becomes too much bother - time to move on and leave the land fallow for a generation or three.

The world is flat now - in an economic manner of speaking. Lazy and overweight governments will lose customers and their herds of humanity will suffer. Takeover bids are, for the present, off the table. As Orwell (almost) said, some farm animals are more equal than others and some will suffer less than others.

A K Haart said...

rogerh - "To the big money-makers an economy is something to be farmed"

I like that.