Sunday, 10 July 2011

Complexity swamps

In the UK and no doubt in many other countries too, complexity is on the rise and we don’t know what to do about it. We know how make business out of complexity. We know how to create lots of new, fresh complexity, how to build careers on it. Yet we don't really know how to deal with it rationally - so it doesn't get out of hand and do real damage.

The problem with complexity is the way it tends to increase of its own accord, rendering our existing competencies either obsolete or less effective. As we find ourselves unable to deal with new complexities, we make errors. We deal with the errors incompetently, adding ever more complexity to processes already beyond our control. We are prone to do this on all scales, from the personal to the governmental.

To deal with complexity, we have to simplify or become more competent. Which is easier do we think? Any sign of it happening though? 

So where to simplify? Anywhere and everywhere – surely? The tax system is an obvious starting point, but there are many others. For example, we could simplify life for politicians and senior bureaucrats by leaving the EU. It would limit our national obligations, reduce the number of laws and regulations we have to cope with. Serious stuff in fact – powerful and practical reasons for reforming the tax system and leaving the EU. These are simple enough remedies in principle and there are lots of people who know what should be done. 

Another obvious approach would be a smaller and less intrusive national government. How radical these measures need be should be indicated by the state we are in now, but opinions will inevitably differ and vested interests will certainly seek to maintain current levels of complexity and incompetence. Complexity is a honey-pot sustaining huge numbers of people who make their living by making our living worse than it need be.

In spite of the formidable difficulties, we have to tackle complexity, because if we fail, then bad things will happen as we sink into the swamp, finding ourselves less and less competent at running and maintaining hopelessly over-complex systems supposedly designed to support us. The time may come when they don’t.

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