IGP Stories

Gear Change

Andrew Percy

24 June 2021

The pace and scale of change needed in the coming decades exceeds current ambitions. At present the advanced societies are wrestling with the changes that would be required to make their current systems marginally acceptable and have not yet grasped the real scale of changes required. The proposals considered Herculean tasks today, such as fixing social care or making up for pandemic losses, are only sticking plasters on an old and failing system which cannot deliver secure livelihoods, dynamic economic activity or a sustainable stance for either of those necessities.

The current system of inputs results in a delicate balance of outputs which maintain what passes for stability. The levels of taxation, the cost of goods, the degrees of social support are all supports for the current hiatus that at least prevents mass social breakdown in the immediate future. There’s a reason why all the things we want to change are the way they are. Productivity is low because we cannot increase social support to emancipate our population’s talents because it would require higher levels of taxation. We are powerless in the local because we have transferred responsibility for our safety to finance which trans-locates decision making away from us. We are destroying the environment to reduce the cost of living now because we do not have the solidarity necessary to become more efficient. We cannot look to one problem and solve it without understanding the resistance that comes from the consequences.

Stable systems can be fixed one component at a time because the core mechanics are in balance but in an unstable system none of the components can be changed until the core is in equilibrium. Unstable systems manifest problems at their periphery but cannot solve those problems because that would further destabilise another part of the system. We have that kind of unstable system and so we have to look deeper into the machine to understand where we can rebalance core functions that will then allow us to attend to the problems on the outside.

The core instability is the insecurity of people. Stopping environment destruction will increase the cost of living. Increasing taxes would reduce individual capacity to create personal security. Making people more insecure will force political change through the channel of decisive action rather than deliberate action. If we want the benefits of deliberative action then we will have to preempt the perfectly normal default to decisive action. There’s no good pointing to the “deciders” and lamenting their lack of deliberation if we are not prepared to actually do something deliberative now.

So if you consider yourself someone that cares, someone that wants peaceful change, someone who can see the possibility of a prosperous future then you will have to accept that a gear change is needed. Action needs to be taken urgently and systemically to balance the core of your society so that we can all accept the solutions to the peripheral problems. Walk it backwards. You can’t change things on your own, you will need the great majority of others to put their shoulders to the wheel as well. The reason you can see the purpose in change is because you have assessed the balance of pros and cons to favour of action now for benefit later. For others to join you on that journey the same will have to be true for them too, so action now must be less painful than the potential rewards in the future. At least half the people in developed countries are living day to day just above the painful line where any small dip in their current conditions would make that trade seem fanciful. There is also little or no reason for them to believe that even if they were prepared to wear the pain, that the fruits of change would made available to them and theirs. A trade that might look clear and easy for you looks dubious in potential and concretely negative in the present. That will have to change if you want support for deliberative change.

We are built to solve problems, reasonably if we can and unreasonably if we can’t. Just patching up the current system so that it retains the support of the minority for whom is it is constructed is not sensible and deliberative change, it is an abdication to unreasonable change. What is presented as reasonable is in fact resignation. Shoring up is accepting decline. There’s nothing sensible about reasonable unless its radical. It is radical, reasoned action that provides the surest path to prosperity, but radical unreasonable action is the sure alternative because inaction is not on the menu for an unstable system.

Technical development caused the problems we face. It used the energy we wasted into our environment. It required the massive expansion of the collective state. It elevated our lifestyles in ways unimaginable to our forebears. It is at once the cause, the curse and the cure. We will not make it out of this mess unless we leverage our technical development to revolutionise our energy and transport systems, unless we reform our tax systems with digital capabilities and unless we upgrade our democratic systems to enable the fluid flow of power and budgets between the hyper-local and the meta-national. Those reforms are only possible because of our technical development and only practical if we guarantee universal access to basic services.

Image credit: Brett Jordan on Unsplash

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