The impact COVID-19 presents one of the most serious recovery challenges New York City has ever experienced. It will require a system change as it will, without doubt, reveal a previously unknown range of malfunctions.
A practical example of how never doubt groups of strategic economists, civil rights activists, and social service leaders decide to tackle the following set of problems linked to the pandemic. The pandemic changed New York City’s world. Its impact is diving into the city faster than a Peregrine Falcon ripping into the entrails of a Central Park squirrel.
COVID-19’s blow to the economy led to abrupt job losses and business closures. The New York City Independent Budget Office (IBO) prepared a preliminary report on economic impact projections defined by job loss and tax revenue declines compared to previous estimates. Every urban person knows how serious this is going to become. But, on the oddly positive side of the issue, a super-power is revealed in the Pandemic – a national strike for health and justice could get health care and social justice because if a little bug can bring capital to its knees and get the government to put some in your pocket, that bug is telling you something about a national strike. Get prepared.
As the pandemic remains a moving target, the provision of this IBO readiness report could give the deep network of nonprofit community-based organizations time to prepare strategies responding to needs in their community. Read the details here: PDF HTML. See the summary and tables below.
The local economy will shed 475,000 jobs for over 12 months.
Large drops will be in personal income tax and sales tax.
Property tax will “lag” the next few years through 2022
Impacts on real estate values will occur in 2023 and beyond.
The U.S. economy in recession through 2020; GDP falls 4.5%.
The shortfall of $9.7 billion in tax revenue from major tax sources fiscal 2020 and 21.
The contraction will last through the first quarter of 2021, and job growth will be slow through to 2022.
New Yorkers will need a system change. Most major cities do, and it will not happen anywhere else before it is too late.
The information in the IBO report (summarized above) can stimulate a long list of questions following the critical thinking path outlined in Part Three will be highly useful.
How can small “never doubt” groups be encouraged to begin?
Where do they get to begin? Who do they work with in the government to establish a role?
How would they find each other, get started, and coordinate their activities?
Can they be organized in networks of expertise?
Is it possible to organize networks of a neighborhood, borough, and city-wide economists?
How about local social science workers conducting interviews?
Can they feed local data (testing, food, rent protection, transit, job access, IRS, SBA) to a city-wide source?
Help confirm the efficacy of aggregate stimulus payments.
Identify and implement innovative assistance services.
Here are just a few of the facts that stimulated restorative action questions above.
System change builds on the psychology of transparency in human relationships. In this openness, we find friends to love and leaders to trust with our tithings and taxes. The chart illustrates a heuristic method for building awareness, trust, and confidence whenever a “never doubt” group decides to change the world.
In 1955, the Montgomery Bus Boycott launched the beginning of the most unparalleled system change in America since the authors of the U.S. Constitution finished their work. Martin Luther King was twenty-six years old when the boycott began. He would have just twelve years and four months more to live. Identifying when a system change will occur is an unpredictable set of choices we discover in our history. That means the only thing to do is begin. It is one of the best and maybe the only way to discover what you need to know.
One more example, on August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment ratified the women’s suffrage movement. It occurred as a product of 54 ballot measures in 30 states. It took decades of work and hundreds of small group efforts to produce national law prohibiting governments from denying or abridging the right to vote on account of sex. After another half-century, the Voting Rights Act (1965) expanded to include the destruction of segregation with the vote’s power. Proof came in 2016, roughly another half-century later.
Tossed up for all to see are the grand assumptions and harmful practices in our world that appear to be malfunctions. We say, “Do something about ending this tyranny or meeting that unmet need.” Democracy is supposed to be one of the best ways to solve a stubborn problem, especially when concerns and events threaten many people’s well-being. The argument to “do something” also includes authoritarian structures such as raising an army, running a business, the oppression of a people, or ending a pandemic.
At the center of both methods circles the question of efficacy. Is delay due to squabbling and bounded rationality, or is it due to the utter fear of error and power? The discoveries can be positive or negative in our efforts to define problems. Most of our findings concern the value of predicting and mitigating an adverse event’s most probable cause, time, and place. Individual circumstances cannot be assigned effectively in this way and lead to the acceptance of the unknowable as something more easily attached to an actuarial table of risk in anticipation of a long list of malfunctions assigned to social practices few natural events. The losses are, therefore, attributed value and paid to victims post-trauma.
It is occurring to us all that more engagement on questions of global impact events demands an entirely new regime. These events are grounded in climate change and the probable recurrence of global pandemic infections in which there may be other connections beyond comprehension. The risk to “all” in a post-trauma evaluation is an insufficient duality. Losses are measured in blood and cash, by good or bad locations, as lucky or unlucky, in life or death, for cultural survival or existence as subsistence. The trauma is further parsed into black and white, rich and poor, knowing and unknowing, educated or not. It divides young or old, able or disabled, using percentages drawn with an unknown, shifting denominator of dissuasions to proportionality. Tossed it up for all to see is the confusion of our times. (See: Crisis Management)
Still, much of our practical solutions come as a post-trauma payment to reduce future risks. Individual households and governments also pay individually with resources drawn by regional needs. A volunteer fire brigade works in one place, while another site requires a professionalized fire-fighting force. Predictable malfunctions reveal investments in first responders and a standard set of institutional providers. In these cases, the assessment of risks and costs and the selection of management protocols establish readiness levels defined by the tools required.
Finding New Pathways
How can the world move steadily and permanently away from post-trauma payouts toward levels of resilience and enduring sustainability? How can the extensive democratic debate be grounded with more power in the equally slow and painstaking science rules? Will it be possible to make science lawfully capable of overriding the procedures used solely to sustain political power? Given these practices, I can accept authoritarian rules to protect us all on the promise of a system change as structured in the Pathways to Malfunction Identification chart below. This is a failing system.
The chart below describes a bubble-up process established as components of local governance composed of “never doubt” groups. As small organizations, they will select a needed change based on self-interests. Examples are quality of life issues by residents or scientific groups to analyze specific problems. The chart also recognizes the formation of interdisciplinary groups skilled at acquiring and injecting capital resources. It anticipates coalition groups charged with aligning policy and program implementation schemes built on trial and error evaluations.
The final system change events in this model (upper right) are as unknown as their seminal beginnings (lower left). They will become known as the initial efforts bubble-up, and shared ideas spread like Whitman’s leaves of grass across the landscape of personal change. The bet is a simple one. People in small groups can pick their experience with a problem, become a never doubt organization, and build toward a system change of great value to themselves with recognized results. Should the malfunction be shared widely and require a more productive agency for an action, the process acquires funds. It encourages never doubt coalition groups to seek higher levels of investment that implies a regional area of operation. Finally, if the malfunction has national effects, the proposed system change will have widespread consensus agreement as it is already in place and well-practiced locally.
The chart above suggests that system changes utilize the energy in the “never doubt” idea. The widespread knowledge of “never doubt” comes from the work and words of anthropologist Margaret Mead regarding cultural transformations.
Whether the change sought is significant, dangerous, beautiful, or hideous, the cause of a difference (major or minor) can be the work of a relatively small group of people with an idea. The factor often left out is the change sought could be that of twelve apostles or twenty violent supremacists. Claims that this is the only way a system change occurs is logical and historically accurate, but it may not be a lasting one in the digital world. Given the flow of ideas, it is possible to conceive of a thousand groups that might identify and act on a common view of change that will alter everything all at once, whereby the source becomes irrelevant. Rosa Parks knew she was not the first person to be insulted on a public bus in Montgomery. She is known for saying, “I was just tired.” But, it became “one and all” who wanted her to be the last person insulted and arrested on a Montgomery bus. Historians can only speculate why the sit-in at the Woolworths in Greensboro, NC, in early 1960 by four untrained college students set the tone for the decade. Sit-ins at segregated lunch counters are well documented throughout the South, but this one began in February and ended in July.
Therefore, the purpose of the chart (above) is one aimed at trust in our better selves. It lays out a belief in discovering malfunctions for two extremely well-known reasons. Power concedes nothing without a demand. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. That was Douglass (1849). He was writing about getting more comfortable with change, even if every turn seems to be for the worse. Sensing the end of misery in the world is a powerful feeling and opens the mind to wonder and beauty.
The failures of power occur in its acquisition and thereafter in the keeping of it. In seeking change, it is logical to examine how the methods of public appropriations becoming private holdings. Here are three widely known global examples:
Vast personal capital accumulation among a small percentage of people is now common knowledge. That the rate is fantastically beyond a measure of any one person’s productive capacity firmly suggests an economic malfunction worthy of analysis and action.
Fossil fuels are irreversibly altering the thin layer of gas encompassing the earth. These added gases are causing climate change and several malfunctions.
The endogenous formation of organic molecules capable of endangering all human life as a virus may be a natural occurrence. The failure of anticipation, prediction, management, and mitigation might be the most serious malfunction of all.
The chart has seven letters (GOS-3P RE) in the upper right corner. I developed it to describe a process for defining big problems like the three listed above. I use them to support the never-doubt group idea with steps that mean something in the immediate sense that can be put to practical use today and share or join with others on a similar path. Before this process can begin operationally, the issue must be continuously well defined and researched. In writing a GOS-3P RE, the “future perfect tense” as a verb form of communication is best.
Establish goals that address the problem(s) as defined.
Form objectives that will measure purpose (s) as stated.
Construct strategies (tactics & activities aiding goal and objective success)
Select a broad range of possible projects (creatively imagine the future).
Determine policy (the values and principles that will guide future decisions).
Decide on priorities (which projects go first? what is the governing policy?).
Budget the resource implications of the plan (projects, cost? and;
Evaluate (is their measurable progress?)
The process above can be implemented with the many cautions offered by Alasdair MacIntyre, a Scottish philosopher whose book After Virtue (1981) brings insight to our modern problems. One observation remains especially useful now, “Questions of ends are questions of values, and when it comes to values, reason is silent; conflict between rival values cannot be settled.“
In this sense of change, it seems far more reasonable to focus the world on its malfunctions. They can be found among the powerful, among rivals, even amidst our regular day-to-day lives. People worldwide joyfully engage a problem when confronted with a self-interest grounded in something as complicated as community survival or as simple as improving physical comfort. Before us, the task is to broaden this personalization of our place in the world and broaden it with digital communication tools at our disposal.
Communication action is occurring now, every minute and hour of the day. Will these face to face experiences spin our lives into the shadows of our home-based comforts? Will they be used to share stories of survival more aggressively? Will they help build the knowledge with the action needed to define and solve common problems?
From the mathematical genius of interpreting regression to the mean data to the inspirational voices of political activists, we can likewise fall to the floor in laughter at our ridiculous selves in a barrage of satirical media presentations that seem (and often are) far more accurate than a news broadcast. We are awash with the language for change, but finding a pathway to a real change, please think about the Montgomery Bus Boycott or the sit-in at Woolworths in Greensboro and don’t look back.
Research into the idea of malfunctions requires the insight of the arts well ahead of the imaginable political strategies around which there is so much negative sensitivity. Expanding “our reality” through others’ eyes and experience is often too esoteric and not goal-driven. Not to worry, there are lots of ways to work on community building issues.
The visual literacy of our society, on the other hand, is expansive and growing. Because of this, a useful phrase in critical thinking is to say, ‘no one is as smart as all of us.’ Words are used to describe and share what we think we know with others, adding pictures to terms in structured settings will always enrich conversations about change.
We are experienced watchers, but everyone can be a better listener. Another useful phrase to use is “listen to be heard.” The habits of mind that manage ‘your thoughts,’ the sound of your voice, and the voice of others in conversation, represent three distinct wavelengths. Each one of them can block or overwhelm the other, building the skills for a disciplined separation of these frequencies produces a useful conversation.
In discussions of health, the word “critical” describes a “short term” condition. In economics, the phrase “short term” is a shareholder supremacy issue briefly discussed in discoveries (here). That led to lead to some ideas about malfunctions (here) in the second part. The third part had some fun on creative thinking. This one opens to a brief examination of critical thinking that speaks to the origins of the first three build trust and confidence in taking direct actions in the fourth part. These are exhibits of “crisis” under the heading of what I like to call, pick your own malfunction.
I take a brief “readiness” look on ‘thinking’ clearly when selecting a process. There are hundreds of them for sharpening up, so pick one, adapt as needed. Here is a quick exercise to run on yourself, with friends, colleagues, and co-conspirators in getting woke on a problem.
There is little need to discuss this exercise as the point is to cause a moment of reflection. If you had a rapid similar word definition response to each one of them know three things 1) you have some or all the skills listed below and 2) if it took even a bit longer than ten seconds, you need more work on them when “critical” thinking is essential and 3) they are just words you can pick your own. Breeze through the following:
break the whole into parts to discover correlation
list the parts piece by piece
sort the things into things, like with like
judge using well-known rules
apply professional and social standards
compare and assess the means
recognize differences and similarities
rank things together or separate in groups
separate into categories or decern status
basis of evidence
predict (if that then this)
plan in the future perfect tense
determine possible consequences
Pick Your Malfunction Caution
A brief, am I thinking critically outline like the one above is a fine thing between you and your own head. Very different use of your thoughts will be needed if you are contemplating a step directly into a change suggested by No. 6 – predict and No. 7 – transform
Pathways to Justice
Not being curious enough is a problem. Inquisitiveness will take on the full exercise of your intuition on how to run some inference, demand integrity, and put contextual change in the imagination of ordinary people. Perhaps, the language used becomes more demanding or more visually inspiring to help people hear better in order to be heard well. Perhaps, direct actions and experience help define solve problems more directly because they can be shared. In these cases, the process forces the practice of sharing experiences with reflection leads to knowledge, and getting better at new questions.
Observers of this concept are encouraged to share the use of the Pathways Design. The one above is by Melanie Rayment. The design was published (here) and inspired the “never doubt” design on the idea of identifying malfunctions in parts two and three in this series. Be encouraged to share the use of it as part of the Creative Commons approach to social change globally, as has the Social Design Pathways network. Who knows, perhaps this too is a system change.
The chart captures the process perfectly. It is one of the easiest to read graphic illustrations of system change I have seen. It is the inspiration describing system change using malfunction identification in part two (here). Social Design Pathways offers its use, with attribution and the hope that changes and adaptation in initiatives are shared with them.
Closing Thoughts on Critical Thinking
Just after the election of POTUS45, the message about the need to produce change at the local law level was a loud one. The term system change is not used often, but it was described. An idea like “ranked-choice voting” could become law in the cities, expand to county state legislatures. The proponents can then argue for it to become part of a national election system as federal law.
The system change example given most often was the demand to make law governing marriage far more inclusive. The changes began locally but rapidly across the United States, concluding with a Supreme Court ruling. Marriage, women’s rights, voting, health, banking, consumer rights, and so on have important actionable components that go from local to national or global.
The progressive changes tend to get the most attention, less well known, and impact are changes law (or new law) that alters or removes environmental, financial, and business accountability and liability regulations. Not one effort toward a more civil society vs. a free one goes unchallenged in law or legislation. All of them require the leadership needed to demand improvements in civil discourse and faith in laws that protect people, not just values.
System Change Part Five: Pick Your Malfunction is next. As an added source of motivation, I offer the following twenty-six minutes as a parting thought for reflection.
The writer’s exhaustion as an agent of change is described in a post submitted in January 2019 (here). This post attempted to write about and seek writers on the future of democracy. The post reviews Ta Nehisi Coates, David Runciman, Stein Ringen, Philip Coggan, David Post in a search. It looks at one-hundred billionaires who may live in the altered state of blind anticipation of goodness and starts to list hot buttons and fades into exhaustion.
System changes occur in an environment of malfunction. Four were recently recommended to “The Albemarle Report” for exploration. They are developed only partially below and in more detail (here).
The response to the Great Recession of 2008 reveals errors compounded in the govern m ent sector response to the Pandemic of 2020. Both failed to activate critical thinking skills at the highest levels, and those who did and reported warnings were squelched. The first crisis occurred due to highly over-leveraged bank entities (35 to 1) using derivatives drawn from the insured but hideously unregulated and suspect (NINJA) mortgage market. All well-known pre-crisis facts. The solution became a sloppy private-sector bailout of $700 billion
The 2020 crisis analysis will take more time to conclude, as we are in the midst of it. However, the CBO 2021 report of the 2008 bailout should be fascinating. Early signs from early 2020 economic impacts suggest a reversal of shareholder supremacy might occur because 2008 was highly predictable and poorly resolved.
Profit-taking on a crisis is the thematic first serve culprit in the 2020 crisis based on similar failures to respond before it was too late. Uncomplicated Health Care 101 resources could not succeed for the lack of a clock and trigger and a national testing regime. An Ounce of Evidence (is worth thousands of pounds of opinions) by Ashish K. Jha will be an excellent place to return for useful facts and recommendations.
The Atlantic and ProPublica are outfits that like to walk us through the weeds careful; journalistic documentation errors can be helpful as well. Nevertheless, the dizzying structure of facts will more than likely, spin into history and fall throughout the American landscape into little piles of hopelessness. For this terrifying reason alone, I think the facts’ importance is secondary because we expect them to become as invisible as a greenhouse gas or a virus.
Like 2008, observers of 2020 will offer a valid list of avoidable errors available for review that will only encourage the MEGO effect (“my eyes glaze over”) that regularly clouds accountability with details far too complex for ordinary voters. The reviews will say we knew the answers for an effective response and didn’t let go with anything remotely resembling a system change capacity. That is the problem to dig into because we are dancing around the facts with the wrong music. The following is an argument for pulling out the dissonance, malfunctions, and blockages of system change.
The lack of critical thinking in the private and public realm regarding these two global instances (2008, 2020) is evident. I believe a sharp focus on malfunction and not the details of every rolling crisis should be at the core of this kind of thinking. The corners and edges of the American economy have become troubled assets, subject to a relief program, again. How do you set a piece of paper on fire? Edges and corners, shocking, I know, the because feds threw TARP on the 2008 fire, but it still keeps burning, albeit quietly outside of the nation’s corporate boardrooms. The Great Recession critics warned us to develop much higher sensitivity to the malfunctions of capitalism, often referring to it as the American-style.
If this the “sensitivity” at the edge is acquired, how can it be more useful? Perhaps this is the time for a band of writers to create improvements as a never doubt group. I would ask individual writers to leap among the language art professions to build a reservoir of ideas so beautifully stated that it will uplift the American-spirit.
I started my own list of writers (here – excerpt below) to search for that language and not wait for it to arrive. I am adding more names, finding those who are building the conversation, publishing “the papers,” and producing the literature for the never doubt groups throughout America that are help bent on good changes. Read them deeply, and watch them find ways to make the data yield results and where truth can mean something again.
“All journalists need to be understood in the context of action demanded in the vitally important vision of the world held by Ta Nehisi Coates. I spent some time with Vann R. Newkirk II, Adrienne Green, Adam Harris, Reihan Salam Gillian B White, and Matt Thompson. I cannot speak to Ta-Nehisis Coates’s experience. I can read his books or any essay and fully understand the power of his voice and my hope for his influence. Meet him here 2018 and here 2017.“
The facts show financial service companies, insurance corporations, and a million families went underwater on bad loans and poor judgment. The facts show, millions of people became sick with a virus that killed a high percentage of the most vulnerable due to lung infections and other underlying conditions, and they died alone.
The national to local response 2008 and 2020 to fix the “money” problem focuses on the wrong problem. Americans are confronted by comprehensive “health” concerns affecting the cells of their bodies; there are shortcomings in the entire cognitive outlook. Exploring the reasoning skills of Americans is what should dominate the argument and the conversation. That is where the malfunctions will be found. The money is important, but it crowds out critical thinking on a long list of concerns. Here is a 2008 example.
In 2008, Wall Street won the case – use federal funds and reestablish aggregate demand, sustain liquidity for global trade, keep employment up, but income marginal (paycheck to paycheck) in a high percentage of households. Attack tax rates, government interference, and expose public incompetence. Hide wrongdoing and continue to reduce mechanisms for public oversight into private financial practices and kill debate. These globalists arguments are persuasive and claimed by the strategic financial practices of the Federal Reserve System on down to your 401(k) fully exhibit a malfunction.
Recently (April 2020), several hundred other private businesses and publicly traded companies dipped into that malfunction. However, Shake Shack and that steak franchise didn’t return a combined $30 million in 0% interest loans to reduce public outrage. Assuring all workers’ employment on the government dime is distasteful to investors as it does nothing for a balance sheet or the tax code and lacks flexibility. As billion-dollar companies, they know the only way to recapitalize during a full-blown depression of unknown duration is to wait and reduce payroll far more quietly down the road. The bonus is to align the business with American values of freedom and independence that still takes blood to establish and use them to get good public relations.
Despite the depth of the 2008 and 2020 global economic tragedies, other questions that attempt to define and identify the malfunctions of sound reasoning in America go unaddressed. The financial crisis of 2008 and the health and economic crisis of 2020 has one word that tends to deaden discussion of system change, and that headliner is “money.” Failing to understand alternatives to money is a malfunction of American cultural thinking.
For example, why is it so uninteresting to wonder out loud if the world could operate as if wealth is not the only means of meaningful communication? Is becoming an outlier, a monastic monk, or an entire monastery the only pathway to sustainability? What are the alternatives, where are the well-celebrated successes? Some many places and events have proven capital to be meaningless in the achievement of human dignity. Those four college students had just a few dollars between them at the Woolworths’ lunch counter when somehow they galvanized an established, ongoing “sit-in” movement across the South.
These questions and events exhibit an ingredient of enormous importance to life. A clear dividing line separates a private marketplace solution for serving a human need from those in the public realm that want to create change. The line that says on this side of it, the use of debt as a cost of money, is irrelevant, where the purposes of care keep us all well and sustaining the simplicities of life are priorities that reign supreme above all others?
For Fairness and Equity
The last two hundred years of American-style capitalism is about growth. The next century will need to observe fairness and equity more accurately. This fight requires a search for leadership that Democracy should be best in finding. Only one modern American hero has a national day of remembrance for the courage it took to lead a fairness and equity challenge. His pain became ours, and his name was Martin Luther King.
King’s interest in justice with equity held the U.S. Constitution to account first, but this did not extinguish his view on capitalism’s economics. His demand for change is based on two facts. An economic system built on slavery and imprisonment will not change the rules. Change must, therefore, come from changing the system.
“I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective – the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed matter: the guaranteed income…”
Resisting the pressure to create change weakens your outlook and idles your voice, yet the sadness built into this silence is a powerful force in creating a new and powerful narrative. For those whose interests lie in connecting the dots with visible lines between the confluence of the 2008 and 2020 crisis will gather their strength by recalling the heart of King’s outlook – that the arc of human history may be long, but it bends toward justice.
The concept of equity in the minds of most people is a good place to begin. Any accountant will explain “equity” as a combination of assets and liabilities. One of the first sources of wealth in the world and pre-eminent in the United States has been to support individual families’ acquisition of assets. Homeownership, with the help of mortgage guarantees, is the prime example. It also formed the perfect storm for converting government-insured mortgages into derivatives in bundles of mortgage-backed securities. Confidence and trust in each household and the economy in which they function is the one fantastic thing that makes the liability expressed by a mortgage possible.
In the post-2008 recovery, millions of families realized they were sold a dream, but not a house. The narrative used said they just tripped into the caveat emptor bucket where all of American-style capitalism’s inequities are poured. That is not the malfunction. The third malfunction is far more disturbing. It was how easily and rapidly a vast amount of capital shifted into serving rental housing demand. It was as if the purpose of the crisis was to slice yet another sizeable chunk of households out of the ownership market, but who will put equity into the pockets of the housing investor-class.
The fourth malfunction’s signal worthy of exploration is a failure of the senses to hear the beep. All of us have the ability to know when someone “feels” trustworthy, a person in whose recommendations you would feel confident following based solely on initial impressions.
Confirmation bias is a proven human behavior. It is as if there was only one emoji for every expression. It is illustrated repeatedly in the communication between people – it is documented with race, religion, age, a whole set of facial expressions, and all kinds of body language. American’s are a highly sophisticated, visually literate group of people far too easily siloed and willing to stay there.
I say it over, and over, the meaning of everything is found in people, not books, newspapers, or TV reporting. Meaning is putting trust in the instincts we have about the people we give power over our thinking-lives, and therefore we are entitled to a judgment. Where is the narrative, the journalism, and reporting that openly explores the hair-raising ease with which the writer and reader are privately manipulated into being managed per story?
There is “same room,” empathy, but never one that could be hand-to-hand in visual reporting. Judgments are, therefore, personal. The following are mine, no one else. In the discussion of economic recovery policies, I find one group of leaders exhibit a distinct arrogance with a hint of condescension (Mnuchin of Treasury and Ross of Commerce, for example) and other groups who are recommending preventative treatments and therapies for me and the nation exhibit authenticity and sincerity. Dr. Fauci, the face of COVID-19, and Adams, our Surgeon General, come to mind.
I think all can see a sharp difference between these leaders and their styles. Those with extensive experience in managing unimaginably massive amounts of capital in their personal lives and those with extensive experience in managing services and policies that protect human health represent our society’s bifurcation. I can take these impressions as personal and symbolic as a guide to strengthen my critical thinking skills.
For example, I have a positive sense regarding Warren Buffet, even Bill Gates, that yields the humanitarianism that I give to Dr. Fauci. Mr. Buffet also freely acknowledges selling 100% of his substantial holdings in airline stock, and in the same March 2020 breath, he is widely quoted for saying, “Never bet against America.” Mr. Gates’ charitable experience with spending millions fighting infectious diseases in the world led him to practically yell out unequivocal warnings regarding lack of readiness to respond to pandemics. I argue that their humanitarianism is not enough as it fails at system change by changing nothing. What are we missing?
Confidence in Change
Recently, the idea of retaining the world’s confidence in the United States was expressed by none other than the American Enterprise Institute in a map they tweeted to the world. The map is used to illustrate one message for all to see — your wealth belongs here. Illustrating the GDP of individual American States in relationship to fifty other countries in the world is designed to make people confident – to trust the systems that are in place now. Before you read the next paragraph, I call your attention to Wisconsin on the map below.
This BEA/IMF map is blatant public relations. It was published in the April 2020 phase of the pandemic as an unabashed claim of massive economic power, nothing else. Frankly, I know not where this thinking lands on the index of malfunctions. The following is how I am trying to work it out.
In response to the pandemic, a “system change” relationship between public and private equity is something Europe understands and Denmark in particular. I have one example of why Wisconsin should have no difficulty in system change if they were more like Denmark. Hartland, WI, for example, is known as the nuclei of one of the most important regions of Danish immigration in the United States, but there is a stronger point to be made.
The Denmark government stepped forward to continue paying wages for their people even when they are not working. People kept their jobs with their employers and stayed home. Denmark retained some businesses and most family income and stopped the virus from spreading with efficiency. The policy maintained the nation’s cultural status quo with steady, confident anticipation of ending the crisis. The employee’s program is the arrow program’s tip from a full quiver of medical and economic tactics. The system change is rapid. It allows business activity and production to restart with as little cost and disruption as possible. Instead of a half-baked business paycheck protection program, this was a well prepared Protect Denmark strategy.
Please spend a few minutes with Mette Frederiksen, Prime Minister of Denmark, introducing her nation’s work opening the Climate Summit in Copenhagen (here) and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardin on COVID-19 (here) then (here) then Trump on Climate (here) via NBC. There was a surprise until the NBC video told me that he could read a prompter well – so stay with it long enough for proof. I leave it to your cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias instincts. Mette’s every word rings with truth to me that Trump ends with the testimony of a bait and tackle shop owner from Port St. Lucy on ending toxic tide is the only part that rang truthfully.
Remember Port Huron
Consider the four malfunctions summarized below and remember Port Huron if you are of a mind to develop more detail. All of the above brought to me a recollection of the Port Huron Conference because the answers were there and beautifully identified a half-century ago. (here). I am stunned, by their revelations.
First, fully recognize and prepare a narrative that describes how America has a comprehensive health problem that includes the inability to use our wealth far more effectively in self-study. Second, figuring out the importance of equity for all Americans requires a system change that clearly shows equity flow. The “one percent” copy line has failed to capture the imagination or the curiosity of people. Third, capital is more fungible today than in the entire history of civilization. Ordinary people like me barely understand how quickly markets change. A specimen, such as a variable stock holding, can be mutually interchangeable (replace or be replaced) at the speed of light solely for the holder’s benefit in charge of the change. The pensioner will not notice what was taken until it is gone forever. The fourth and most perplexing malfunction examines how trust and confidence are broken as agents for change. Is it for the lack of a hard “in what?” do I trust, and in whom am I confident? Could it be a failure to face the clear signals of confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance? Is there no one helping the American people figure it out?
Aside from my deep belief that the purpose of time is learning how to get the next moment right, the serious malfunctions in communication and, therefore, persuasion will not self-solve. Courage will be required. Examine our country’s health as a cognition issue, that the perception of all people, from the homeless veteran to the owner of a hundred Manhattan towers, should agree to one central point? The creation of equity for both comes at the cost of the other that the vet’s pain is removed when the powerful owner becomes a partner in a change to the system. What could make that happen?
Recognize the malfunctions sketched out here are not the “have vs. have not” situations that shaped the lives of these two people. It was for the lack of a system change that eliminated inequities between the “knowing” and the “unknowing” of them both as they look out over the landscape of their country.
Thank you for reading System Change, Part Two: Malfunctions. Comments are appreciated on these ideas, references to other readings, and the practical steps needed to bring them into sharper view. Conference recommendations and notifications are appreciated giving that it has been far too long since the insight of Port Huron and the work of Writers Wanted.
I have offered a brief gambit in Part Three. It is a bit of instruction from the teacher in me, but if you still want to know what that is, click (here).
No doubt that urbanization has been a messy business. The rapid pace of development over the last couple of centuries has led directly to life-threatening conditions in a rush to mechanize every aspect of life. People were packed into camps to harvest forests of wood, mountains of granite, and every available mineral with trade value. For thousands of years, absolute command over the environment has been the central organizing force, from tribes roaming the prairies for fruits, grains, and meat to the construction of massive urban towers to sustain these endeavors across the globe. I am therefore comforted with the knowledge that it has only been fifty years since we noticed the mess and began efforts to make improvements.
Whenever infection has taken a life, it did it wherever people gather. In strict epidemiological terms, the more significant the diversity of people in a natural gathering area, the more likely the subtle protections of the human immune system will protect all. Concerning human medical history, this is relatively new data. Today, more people know the biology of DNA finds all humans to be identical. They are learning that physical differences are unique, beautiful, even exciting but fundamentally meaningless. In just the last few decades, this knowledge is filtering an entirely new value system into American culture and mostly in urban areas.
There is no stable connection between urban areas and coronavirus impacts. What is significant is how cities manage an infection with compact actions and resource preparedness. Dense cities such as Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, and Berlin have contained COVID-19 very well. Where greater preparedness is needed, suburban cities such as Detroit, Michigan, Macon, Georgia, and New Orleans, Louisiana, suffer right alongside dense areas like New York City with a similar impact.
In past attempts to solve urban social problems, the focus has been on eliminating inhumane physical conditions, it also had a tendency to place blame on people trapped in them. The effort to uproot the causes of their plight and poverty was intellectually criminal because good people did little on the larger issue. The failure to criticize the social and economic order as a principle reason continues to this day. It was fully expressed by the inhumanity of two world wars. The enormous successes of the nonviolent anti-war revolution for civil rights through the end of the 20th century reveal the courage of ordinary people. It also exposed an increasingly reactionary American culture due to the mere tinkerings from the top down on the edges of greatly needed reform.
Only recently, has relief from the view of urban life as unhealthy begun to fade. Hundreds of new and exhilarating urban places found expression in cities like New York throughout the country. For decades the history of urban success builds on the city’s capacity to identify and resolve the causes of potential disorder. These causes can be intense or subtle actions, but all are well-studied and tightly defined by deeply funded social science institutions and economists. Leadership and the flow of information in urban areas through interagency communication efforts allow course corrections and rapid policy changes in response to community demand. While many of the city’s top leaders have been taught hard lessons over the years, they remain well served by the deep structure of nonprofit city-wide and community-based institutions throughout the city. Without this structure, the distribution of essential resources during a city-wide emergency of any kind would be impossible to deploy.
The deep structure of urban governance produces trust in its diagnostic capacity for defining problems and then acting to get solutions. The city has taken its lessons in neighborhood economic disinvestment to create new kinds of banking institutions. Other social innovations help purge deterioration in rental housing before it spreads or in the case of the city’s public housing stock expose the failure of city and federal commitments in exquisite detail. Most recently, the city has focused on the depth of its communications resources to slow the spread of a pandemic with efficiency. Holes in its safety net are recognized with laser-like first responder precision and with this exposure repaired with the substantial institutional depth the city can muster.
Public institutions produce solutions to attacks on the quality of life by helping us to understand in highly sophisticated ways how and why we attack one another. The lessons through decades of urban crisis at various levels of impact continue to reveal the need to prevent and respond dramatically to the “tragedy of the commons” problems. The shared commons of the city are easily recognized by residents as our public health, education, open space, and transportation systems. On this point, there are futures all dense urban areas must carefully evaluate in the aftermath of every crisis.
Public Health and Education
There is no doubt, improvements in human health and education systems occur by fully defining the health concerns produced by commonly used environments. With this responsibility, a deepening in our common understanding of the issues depends enormously on the quality of public education. Today the practice of investment in health and education is grounded in policies to eliminate inequality and build better pathways to equity. We know as an undisputed fact this eliminates a long list of the health and economic disparities in life for all people. We have benefited from previous generations who also demanded reform with a noble cause. Nevertheless, we also know that many of the actions for transformation failed by forcing displacement and rehousing few. In the last fifty years of the 20th century, attempts to demolish homes, cultures, and the economies of entire neighborhoods produced a valuable urban institutional resistance defined by two words, “never again,” but as political leaders (as all of us) admitted to errors and vulnerability, the entire city learned to accept a new kind of strength.
Parks, open spaces, and transportation networks of the urban public realm are assets of the reform movements and business interests of previous generations. The so-called ‘lungs of the city,’ expressed by an extensive park system, and tree-lined streets are also like the city transportation infrastructure. Neither is a static or unchanging system, and both desperately need to improve as a safe, seamless, and unfragmented component of urban life. The well-tended park reminds us of the self-cleaning capacity of nature, the same role for mass transit can occur with the same principles of self-protection.
The Way Forward
The COVID-19 crisis offers many opportunities for reflection on the importance of national moral leadership and responsiveness, but there are more pressing issues. First, this recent crisis brings to the world a second major challenge to the quality of life on earth. Second, the vast landscape of human knowledge is at our fingertips. Third, this should make us all reasonably pleased, and this is why.
The science of geology states with confidence that the earth is about halfway through its 18 to 20 billion-year life cycle. For all the analysis of all the other “x-ologies,” we value; this alone should give people good reasons to take a deep breath and reflect.
New pathways for the growth of humanity in cities we are building all over the earth for the next few thousand years are here today, waiting for continuous improvements. Long waterfront parks will expand urban resilience as each reaches to extend its pleasures in an unfragmented, linked urban park system from the hills of the wilderness into the valleys of every neighborhood. All the massive structures constructed by our forebearers for public education and health await reinvestment and re-invention as centers for learning. We can make them all cleaner, brighter, and more beautiful than ever before. For access to these exciting new resources, we will move with confidence onto the swift, super-clean, and revitalized mass-transit system. Every crisis tells us just one thing, we have more work to do.
Geopolitical challenges such as a pandemic or the multiple impacts of climate change instruct the genius of humanity to bring about systemic change and to resist and reverse “them not us” policies and strategies. These are tests for leadership without national borders, that rage against the intolerant behaviors most likely to kill or hurt anyone at any time. Again, anyone at anytime.
Recognize human vulnerability as a powerful strength. It instructs societies on how to share a threat or resolve an issue. The logic that prevention comes at the cost of an ounce must also resist demands for buying pounds of warehouses to manage death. Science offers useful and lasting solutions to problems that often require decades of complex analysis. In the stirrings for a more robust form of global leadership, the nationalized political rush to cures and deficient reaction to climate change will cause death, and in the process, weaken the direction and leadership of science.
Finally, science belongs to us all. Darwin was a scientist without professional degrees; he was curious. That is all anyone needs. Significant global challenges, such as climate change and pandemics, are vast and complicated. What can one person or a small group of friends do? Here is a brief example.
Scientists will show you how inside of the big problems, there are hundreds of other smaller ones trying to get out. Those are the ones to work on, dig into, maybe even solve. The accelerated rate of species extinction puts human life in peril by our hand in hundreds of ways that can be reversed. The growth of citizen science through internet partnerships is the counterbalance. Sharing observations can connect our personal experience with the reality of all Earth’s life forms. Think of something in nature that you enjoy, and it can be anything, a particular kind of tree, or bees and butterflies, ferns, and orchids. There are billions of life form interdependencies between you, the future of your children, and the community that is not understood and need ordinary people to discover document, and recover the forgotten. To get started, have a look at these great ideas:
One argument often stuffed into questions on how to build common ground and a good society or even the capacity to sustain positive change in bad times is the proposition that logic with goodwill solves problems. Logic is science, goodwill, nothing but untrustworthy feelings that destroy the former.
American’s have simple-minded, or perhaps merely unexamined adolescent confidence about what and who we are among one another and in the world. The tension caused by this lack of examination may be psychological, political, or economic. The 19th century was said to be about Hope and the 20th c. of GreatExpectation. The paradox of this as a trend is how it tips the 21st century toward the claim of Despair.
We recognize in ourselves the hopeless questioning gaze in the distress of a suddenly wounded child. We also see that it is not a dishonest experience, but one capable of reversible insights regarding exuberant, competitive, playfulness of our growth into freedom. The principle that, it is only business or it is just politics, accepts harm without limits as mere spoils.
The day-to-day experience of our time has become distrustful, but not only of one another. We are becoming hostile toward human nature. We can see in ourselves and Nature a capacity for spreading acts of unrepairable self-affliction. Readily accepted public controls to reverse these conditions come with a moody resistance and feelings of repression that are irrational, empty of analysis, without one moment of reflection.
Because I just said that, I will “reflect” for a moment.
One cannot exhibit judgement if statistics dominate decisions, in this context true judgement is lost. Organisms need energy, water, shelter, and reproduction to exist in one of two places, some will travel thousands of miles across the earth to acquire resources, others will glue themselves to a rock to acquire needed resources. If an organism or a nation loses the mysticism and belief in a philosophy of hope and expectation in which each is born, the capacity to conduct strategy meaningfully evaporates into the dust of poor judgement.
Three factors have brought about the demand for global, multilateral change in national societies with varying impact degrees, and all of them are tragic. First, climate change is an umbrella disaster held over nasty little wars, floods, and firestorms followed by infectious diseases. Second, inevitability is well recognized as a fact for centuries. The questions are only about when. Third, the world’s leadership is beginning to understand that much of this was and remains preventable in each new cycle for the lack of enforceable global agreements.
Ironically, a fourth global factor is a conservative viewpoint expressed as the tragedy of the commons. The negative impact on a common pasture and the relationship among households raising grazing animals is real. The rules must change if the entire earth becomes that metaphorical pasture. Losing entire portions of massive coastal cities worldwide to surging ocean tides and entire biomes (forest to coral reef) will become a lived experience. If millions of people could see billions of tons of waste that float and sink in the global ocean, would it feel like a shared resource? Would the “dead zone” of the Gulf of Mexico procure a voice? Societies pay for these disruptions with children starving, the scream of a helpless parent, and the stunned dismay of families who falsely believe they are saved with compensatory access to wealth.
The global climate has been stable for only the last 2,000 to 3,000 years. There should be no expectation that it would remain constant. The global climate is in many ways barely stable as a system, and a single push of added gases, heat, would make change inevitable yet still feel inconsequential as a threat. The demand for alternative ways of living is unimaginable as the swell of cheap energy continues to make everything, including faith in a quick tech-fix, easy to expect. In this psychological climate, finding replacements is difficult. Forcing amelioration by changing the price with substitutes violates the status quo. When assessed in the “commons” framework, two new categorical thinking patterns emerge as environmental and emotional intelligence.
Ostrom’s Answer is Occam’s Razor
A problem that exists in the future has two elements, one to design a defense, the other is to alter the future to make that unnecessary. The leaders involved may have had the skills of the legislative lawyer and personality for political leadership, but to produce solutions essential to create trust, the science part of our minds and the science professions will form a new community. A scientist can tell you the future is already here, just not everywhere. To do that, the change in the mode of problem-solving begins with a process that Elinor Ostrom has already figured out in a Nobel prize winning way.
Our ancient brains in various shelters for the night knew of beasts, enemies, and trouble. That sense of big trouble is real, but the community may never experience its pain because of that sense alone. What we have done, from the cave to the laboratory, is to define problems we believe might be unlikely to occur, but we solve them anyway. The quality of thinking, in this instance, is an old tactic still in use by scientists today called Occam’s Razor. As Albert Einstein notes, a theory of a threat with the fewest variables requires problem-solving work where “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
The first of Elinor Ostrom’s core design principles began in Governing the Commons (1990) and regarding implementation, she is as optimistic as an economist can be in her research for the World Bank. In 2009 her paper, A Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change, considers the possibility of a non-tragic global commons (pdf here). It is here that she gives her life-long partner Vincent Ostrom an attribution to a central observation. She quotes his definition of polycentric as “one where many elements are capable of making mutual adjustments for ordering their relationships with one another within a general system of rules where each element acts with an independence of other elements.” It is an excellent definition of the inner workings of catalytic cooperation and written with Charles Tiebout and Robert Warren (Economic Base and Local Expenditure Theory).
Ostrom’s work with problems uses clearly defined boundaries because they are well understood. In strictly economic terms, such boundaries would be needed everywhere for everything and difficult to implement. On the other hand, this first rule is essential to working with big global problems such as thermonuclear war or climate change and a pandemic threat. Defining a boundary in a categorically new way offers promise as the concept is simple and easily understood as a system condition altered from one state to another.
Because purely economic solutions are easy to argue and difficult to implement, start with a simple physical entity such as a city as that category. Cities are places with a fixed boundary and a legal process for expansion or contraction. The city is an excellent place to begin implementing the remaining seven parts of Ostrom’s solution. It is a “back to the future” type of problem.
A city is an outstanding place to begin implementation. The city with a boundary offers proportional equivalence and a clear, constantly improving data stream to monitor processes beginning with the measurement of benefits and costs in every imaginable center capable of giving itself a boundary. It is ongoing but without mutual benefit consent. Proportionality within multiple geographies of a dense polycentric city of neighborhoods, cultural groups, ideologies, genders, and so on can become a transparent way to understand variables fully. In this way, it is possible to put the equality sign (or not) between two or more in the social and economic expressions.
The city also offers multiple platforms for “collective choice agreements.” The center of Ostrom’s argument recognizes the practical use of carefully implemented sanctions. The city’s boundary offers a set of measures from price restrictions to penalties, incentives, and subsidies designed to meet goals such as a good balance of affordable housing or lower per capita energy use. In New York City, neighborhood-level participation in governance is voluntary and advisory, but it expands the central government’s capacity to understand issues experienced locally. As these practices contribute to local autonomy, they are also capable of interpreting them globally. Coming to the resolution of problems begins with the kind of efficiency and quality of data feedback that empowers local autonomy through participatory governance.
The last piece of Ostrom’s change-the-world puzzle looks to resolve existential threats with the ability to grow a polycentric rulemaking authority so that global rules are instantly recognized because they are already well-organized and in use locally. The only element missing is the lack of political recognition of this as an urban fact. Ostrom’s groundbreaking approach is not built on how people think but on how they will eventually organize their thinking. Hopefully, this work will escape its decade of discussion where it floats in the partial oblivion and trappings of its academic Nobel Prize (2009). It needs to find a city to live in as a permanent place of proof. I recommend New York City, and you know why. If you can make it here, you can make it everywhere. Again, the city with a strong existing boundary has these systems in place. The only element is the lack of political recognition of this fact.