Friday, 16 April 2021


The exercise of power grows with what it feeds on.

Hugh Walpole - The Fortress (1932)

People climb on bandwagons. You know it, I know it, everyone knows it. We also know how bandwagons grow and grow as more people climb on and then even more people simply because it is growing. This is a feedback loop and it works until metaphorically speaking, the wheels fall off.

A characteristic of political discourse is that it tends to be seen as top-down in the sense that those at the top are generally supposed to initiate whatever needs initiating. If only those at the top were less greedy, dim, obstinate or whatever, the thing would be done. If only it was our party in power. Yet as we probably know but do not often acknowledge, feedback loops are what we really have to consider.

Feedback loops from the media for example. Our audience numbers are going down and down. Something must be done – we need more bandwagons. Plus of course, more tits and bums. Or more fascism disguised as correcting oppression. Or more trips to eco fantasy land disguised as battles against polluters. Or more Malthusian angst disguised as science. Or more government – that’s the easy one.

Political feedback loops weave their way into totalitarian regimes, even though the core aim of such regimes is to prevent feedback loops. They work more slowly perhaps and the loops may be attenuated, but they are always there. The harvest is below expectations yet again. Something must be done. What we have done so far hasn’t worked and if it fails again I may be ousted by those devious swine who pretend to support me.

There are feedback loops from the peasants. Taxes are too high, there is no point in producing more than the bare minimum. The black market is flourishing so maybe I’ll try that in future. Hide those pigs in the woods, the tax gatherer is coming.

Feedback loops are not usually rapid and may operate over generations rather than years or months, but it is worth reminding ourselves that they are loops. Dictators try to find a place outside the loop but there is no such place and in the end the loop wins and they fail.

A complex tangle of feedback loops eventually undermines even the most rigid regime. Loops are economic, demographic, political, practical, cultural or may be induced by climate, natural disasters, pandemics, economics, upper class incompetence and so on. Added to all that is the scheming of opponents prepared to create new loops and boost old ones.

All this is particularly clear at the moment here in the UK. Through establishment incompetence the UK government has wandered into two key feedback loops it could have avoided but did not. Coronavirus lockdowns on the one hand, and high profile carbon neutral policies on the other.

The important point is that the UK government did not initiate these feedback loops, it was willingly drawn into them. It climbed onto two bandwagons and cannot get off either unless it runs into the sand because of outside influences. But voters are part of both bandwagons and voter inertia and acceptance are key drivers which keep both feedback loops going. For now.

An older loop has been mass immigration. We were warned about it at the time. That warning could possibly have initiated a much more cautious immigration feedback loop if voters had played their part in strengthening it. They didn’t.


Doonhamer said...

Positive feedback, without some limitation mechinism, always ends in system burnout in the case of electrical systems, mechanical catastrophe in the case of suspension bridges, financial crashes in the case of runaway fixed asset values.
The smart people hop off before the crash, taking with them something that has intrinsic value. Farmland in the case of Gates, gold for some, fine art, railways, real estate.
Somebody said "Buy land. They don't make it any more."
The rest of us are left with bail-out, bail-in. Stuffed.

Sam Vega said...

I can forgive them for jumping aboard the covid bandwagon, because initially nobody had much of a clue about where it was leading. It's the steering of the bandwagon since that is the problem.

But the low-carbon energy stuff. I would dearly love to know who made the original pitch to the cabinet. It's obvious that once gas boilers start being unobtainable or unrepairable there is going to be an almighty backlash. The same with £40k electric cars.

Scrobs. said...

The more feedback a lot of our politicians get, the more they wriggle their noses in the troughs and offer two fingers to the public.

Since the internet really started to motor, the displeasure with our politicians has increased enormously, but they are becoming immune to such feedback, so everyone treats them with even more opprobrium.

Banana Republics beckon in a lot of these places!

DiscoveredJoys said...

"Ever closer union"

When the wheels come off it's going to be doozy.

A K Haart said...

Doonhamer - I've thought about gold, but even that seems unreliable and I couldn't buy enough to make a difference. Maybe I'll have a new drive laid instead.

Sam - the low carbon backlash is the surprising one because it seems inevitable and likely to occur during Boris' tenure as PM if he wins the next election. Maybe the coronavirus mess tells him that a majority will buy into anything if they think their health is at stake.

Scrobs - although the displeasure with our politicians has increased enormously, huge numbers seem happy enough with the two major parties and are afraid of a worthwhile political upheaval.

DJ - it is going to be a doozy. No Plan B seems to be a core problem with the EU.

djc said...

With any loop apparent-stability can only be achieved by way of dynamic equilibrium; things have to go a bit over- or under- before there can be a correction. getting the sensitivity, damping, and resonance right can be difficult.

Gold? Real physic gold in your hand, or a ledger entry to a supposed deposit in a vault somewhere?

A K Haart said...

djc - gold? I've considered both, but both feel too risky somehow.