Monday, 21 July 2014

There’s gold in them thar complexities

There are two basic reasons for analysing complex phenomena such as economies, human health, societies, the environment and so on.

  1. To increase our knowledge.
  2. To increase our knowledge and decrease yours.
It all hinges on the phrase "our knowledge".

There is enormous value in many familiar complexities, but extracting it can be either altruistic (option 1) or selfish (option 2). The value extracted is obvious, being mainly professional, financial and political, but them thar complexities must stay complex or the gold runs out.

The value of complexity lies in the way it maintains barriers to entry. For most areas of professional life complexity is the barrier of choice. Complex language and dubious but complex rationales are the building blocks of choice.

The first move in the game is to gain control over some complex phenomenon such as human health. Here the controllers are big pharma, medical professionals, insurance companies, medical equipment manufacturers and so on. It’s a long list but we are all familiar with the big players.

We should add politicians and health bureaucrats too. Politicians can stay on the sidelines and facilitate or they can churn the complexities for political advantage as the UK Labour party does. It depends on political history, but politically the traditional left tends to extract as much value as possible from health complexities. No surprises there.

Sticking with politics, both the traditional left and right tend to extract value from economic complexities, but in different ways, although both pursue an option 2 strategy.  As far as I can see, almost nobody on the inside wants to discover economic policies that actually work. That would lose economic policy to option 1, so it isn’t going to happen.

Tax policy seems to be similar. Almost nobody on the inside wants transparent and easily managed tax policies which are fair and which promote economic activity. That would also lose tax policy to option 1 so it isn’t going to happen.

From drugs policy to speed limits, from education to agriculture, almost nobody is guided by option 1, particularly when it comes to government policy. Barriers to entry would crash to the ground like the Berlin Wall. There is too much gold to be lost.


Sackerson said...

Much like the use of certain aspects of culture to emphasise and cement social superiority.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - yes they tend to go hand in hand.