Tuesday, June 8

Governments are actually planning themselves into obsolescence

Meet the new Britain. Same as the old Britain:
Britain has been “living out a foreign policy of a world that has gone,” one of [Boris Johnson's] closest advisers said. Beijing and Moscow have shown us the limits of the rules-based order. Britain can no longer afford to be a “status quo power” naively trying to resurrect a defunct system. “The world is moving faster,” the adviser said, “and therefore we have got to get our shit together and move faster with it.”

To do so, Johnson insists, Britain must be independent, united, and nimble.

Sounds good. But just how do independence, unity, and nimbleness translate into action? 

(His foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, told me that instead of “some big cumbersome whale,” the country needed to be “a more agile dolphin.”) The prime minister has already indicated what this might look like:  imposing human-rights sanctions on Russia, using the presidency of the G7 to turn the group into a wider alliance of democracies, and trying to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

If that's that their idea of nimble, unifying, and independent thinking, God help the British. Yet to change one's entire way of thinking is extremely hard. In lieu they create 'narratives' that sound nimble, etc.  This in the hope that if they repeat the new narratives enough, it will somehow translate into real change.

But the British government does recognize that a chasm now exists between between the ways things are today and the old political narratives the government has constructed about it. To return to Tom McTague's profile of Boris Johnson for The Atlantic (The Minister of Chaos):

[Boris Johnson] also believes that the global zeitgeist has radically changed since the 2008 financial crisis, and therefore so too must Britain’s foreign policy. This is not an ephemeral, insubstantial thing: Voters will not accept a laissez-faire attitude toward free trade, deindustrialization, or the rise of China any longer. Whether voters’ demands on these issues are reasonable or constructive is beside the point—they are reality.

Yet all such issues ignore that the traditional form of central government, which has been in place for centuries, is crumbling.

The only glue holding central government administrations and their copycat regional governments together in certain parts of the world is authoritarian policies -- and in the more 'liberal' parts of the world, government policies that can only be described as sneaky. 

Both strategies are an attempt to keep the system of government going because a truly different system is unimaginable, a kind of black hole into which we'll disappear. 

The future in many respects is indeed unimaginable, but the key to responding to the present is to understand that governments are becoming obsolete because they became synonymous with overarching planning. 

In general changes happened slowly enough in earlier times that governments could develop plans for entire swaths of society. In recent times, changes happen so fast that often by the time broad-scale plans are finalized and implemented, the situations they were meant to address have changed so greatly the plans are obsolete.  

This has left governments attempting to stuff situations that no longer exist into plans that no longer work.

How to deal with the problem?  On paper the solution is two-fold:  reduce overarching planning, and accompany every plan with a detailed de-planning strategy.  

The sticking point is that many people earn their living being planners at one stage or another of planning for governments. Reducing government planning also means  reducing a work force.  

So the change would have to start with simply addressing the government planning problem -- making it an issue. Get people to understand that the more extensive, costly, and permanent a plan, the harder it is to undo or revise it in the face of changed conditions. And emphasizing that applied sciences and technologies and many other factors are forcing fast and extensive changes in entire societies.   

Secondly, don't make the mistake in reverse; that is, don't say, "We have to stop government planning."  That wouldn't happen anyway. What can work is to pinpoint areas where less government planning makes overwhelming sense, and work toward reducing planning in those areas.


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