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The world seems to be going crazy...Donald Steward9/9/2012

We are living in a era of frustration and anger is there anything we can do about it?


The world seems to be going crazy. It is becoming dominated largely by those at the far extremes. Congress is in gridlock with factions threatening to shut down the government if they donít get their way. Unable to solve problems, they are reduced to blaming each other for the problems. Demonstrations, riots, and revolutions are occurring all round the world. People are complaining. But no one seems to understand why this is happening or what can be done about it.

They just complain and argue.

Let me make a proposal for your consideration.

All of this is due fundamentally to frustration.

Everyone seems to be frustrated because they donít see anyone solving the problems that are endangering them. They are scared of the future. They are at a complete loss of direction and inclined to hold on to anyone who claims to have a sense of direction no matter how unreasonable that claim may be.

So the next question is why this frustration?

Advances in technology are making us hyper-connected. What used to be many simple and independent problems around the world are now becoming merged into extremely complex problems that are beyond our ability to solve by ourselves.

This has been going on for a long time, but it is now accelerating beyond our ability to handle it.

When we cannot solve problems, we lose our grip on reality. What anyone says goes, with no one able to use reason to contest it. Everyone is spouting all sorts of nonsense. All we can do is argue in a vacuum of judgment. When people donít understand the problems they face, they become easy targets for manipulation. Our political campaigns are all nonsense and manipulation. We are running toward a fiscal cliff that could have dangerous consequences for many years ahead.

One party has used this frustration to their advantage and has even intentionally caused more frustration. The idea is that frustration will cause people to become upset with the current party in power. They have even turned their backs on policies they once held dear in order to frustrate the party in power. But these actions, like threatening to shut down the government, have done our country unnecessary harm.

Many times when we feel that problems are beyond us, we turn to computers for help. We use computers to build bridges and put men into space. But somehow, we disparage the use of computers to help us solve our social problems.

A computer program has been developed to allow people with different points of view to collaborate in defining even very complex problems and then have the computer do the logic to connect the dots to make sense out of them. We are generally not very good at doing logic. Few of us ever study it in school. This computer program has been used to look for the likely causes of the economic crisis and widening wealth gap as well as many other complex social problems. Once the causes of a behavior are understood, it becomes easier to see how that behavior can be changed. The program has allowed us to handle many more considerations and depths of logic than we could ever expect to deal with by our wits alone.

The process of solving these problems is collaborative and iterated. We collaborate to put together a description of the problem and use the computer to see what the logical implications are. If we had not described the problem properly and as a result get initial answers that may not make sense, the computer program explains how it drew its conclusions so we can critique and improve our description of the problem in successive tries until we get conclusions that are worth further consideration.

Letís look at some of the conclusions we reached with the help of this computer program using as an example trying to find the likely causes of the economic crisis and widening wealth gap. Finding the causes of a situation is often the first step in changing that situation. After having drawn our tentative conclusions with the help of the computer, below we elaborate on three of these observations:

One: Adam Smith, one of the first to understand how capitalism operates, told us in his Wealth of Nations published in 1776 that if everyone negotiated their financial transactions in their own self-interest, resources would be allocated efficiently and people would profit from the economy in measure of their contributions to the economy. (Today we would say that he had discovered an emergent behavior.)

But Adam Smith had a hidden assumption that we have overlooked. He assumed that people possessed the information they needed to negotiate in their own self-interest. But that did not occur in the negotiations of subprime mortgages. Lenders had information about complex financial transactions that borrowers did not possess. That got us into serious trouble. This probably would not have happened if the Glass-Steagall Act had not been overturned in 1999. And it might be prevented from happening again if the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is allowed to function as intended. But it is being attacked today by factions in Congress who are determined that it should not be allowed to work.

Two: automation has allowed big business to amass large amounts of cash by reducing their payrolls. Small business might be able to hire many those that were left jobless by automation because small businesses tend to be more labor intensive and can do the work that cannot easily be automated. But it appears that big businesses have not been willing to invest in small businesses because they feared that small business were not prospering and thus would be poor investments. But it may also be that small businesses would prosper if they could obtain these investments. This is a cause-and-effect circuit that spirals down resulting in both big and small businesses not doing as well as they might. But government insurance of these investments might counter this with a reversed circuit that spirals up to make small businesses better investments.

Then both big and small businesses as well as the economy would prosper. This might be worth some further consideration.

Three: There is also the myth that big businesses create jobs. This was once true when big businesses invested in machines that needed labor to operate them. But this may no longer be true now that big businesses have used automation to displace workers rather than employ them. But the myth still lingers on even though there was must less joblessness prior to 1999 when big businesses were regulated by the Glass-Steagall Act and paid higher tax rates. Today this myth is encouraging people to be willing to pay more taxes themselves in order to relieve big business from paying higher taxes in the vain hope of seeing big businesses create jobs. The myth that big businesses create jobs once had some merit. But it is now being used to swindle the rest to support the rich. We are being manipulated by those who are profiting by the present situation and donít wish to see it changed. Just complaining wonít change that.

So if we have methods that will help us gain some insights into these vital complex problems, why donít we use them?

First, the idea of having such a method is new. A lot of crackpots come up with a lot of crazy ideas. It would be just too much work to analyze them all. Why should anyone bother to analyze this one? It has to be looked at as a bet. We look at what this might do if it works, and if we think that that would be sufficiently important, it might be worth someone looking at it further. It wonít hurt to look at it.  

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