The System is Broken: A Call for Widespread Intervention Now
One of the advantages of being around for a long time is perspective. In particular, perspective in the field in which I chose to work many years ago – organizational and social transformation. I’m not talking about transforming a company or a city; I’m talking about transforming the whole world.
A group of us had this in mind when we formed an association of business people back in the 1980s. But that group has never gotten close to reaching the potential we envisioned. I recall talking with Michael Ray, then an endowed chair at Stanford Graduate School of Business, about a “new paradigm” with the hope that we’d start seeing a shift in how people thought about each other and their relationship with the earth in a few years. Our vision was premature.
As systems thinkers, many of us have watched as one human system after another has slipped into dysfunction to the point where now virtually all our social systems are failing to do what they were intended to do. Healthcare, security, politics/government, business, media, the law and legal system, public infrastructure, education….you name it and it will not get a high grade – at least not in the U.S.
Those who understand systems behavior know that systems cannot go on forever losing functionality and waning in their ability to get anything done. I, along with like minded others, would have thought prudent people in key roles within these systems would see what was ahead and intervene accordingly. This hasn’t happened. True, the occasional whistle-blower or intervener might have the floor for a short time but their vote gets cancelled pretty quickly; system forces are powerful and largely underestimated. And, each time the system’s immune system reacts in this way, the system gets stronger so future attempts to change things will take even more effort.
Every once in a while over the past several decades I have seen some call for action, someone saying the obvious. Each time I would get my hopes up - Perhaps this will draw enough attention for those in positions of influence to do something.
Recently, a friend sent me a link to a column in a Wall Street Journal blog that grabbed me, since it was written by a finance guy and wasn’t written in the extreme polarizing rhetoric that we are seeing more and more of these days. The columnist pointed to a gap that is widening as we continue to become a divided nation and a divided world – on almost any issue!
The column, which appeared in the March 20, 2014 issue of “Market Watch,” was titled "March Madness meets ‘Revolution’ and economy collapses." The columnist, Paul Farrell, is a former investment banker with Morgan Stanley, executive vice president of the Financial News Network, executive vice president of Mercury Entertainment Corp, and associate editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner. With that kind of background, I figured he would be pretty grounded in conventional thinking. But I was surprised.
Whilst I encourage you to read the entire article, I’d like to share with you the following excerpt as a teaser. One of the absurdities Farrell highlights in this column is how two of the “greatest economic minds” of our day, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz can come to such opposite conclusions in how they see the future unfolding. Spence the “optimist” and Stiglitz the “realist” as Farrell defines them.
No wonder Main Street America is polarized, angry, mean-spirited, raging. Why not? So-called thought leaders like Spence and Stiglitz just echo a deeper confusion. And our so-called political leaders are worse than useless. So we are forced to watch endless skirmishes from the media sidelines ... watching anarchy driving these endless dead-end battles between opposing “armies,” like Big Oil and their climate science-denying cohorts versus environmental activists… No wonder so many Americans are mad as hell. And it seems the media is just spewing high-octane jet fuel, accelerating the rage. Relentless twitter-blips, press releases, selfies, pseudo-news about hot stocks, wars over Russian oil. Snowden. Billionaires leaving China, sick of toxic pollution. GOPs demographic death spiral. Globalized industrial giants leveling South America’s irreplaceable rain forests for new cities. Arctic glaciers melting, opening new lanes for more and more oil tankers. Endless news choking what’s really important.
Yes, you should be mad as hell. Spence and Stiglitz, two of the 21st century’s greatest economic minds ... and they’re worlds apart. This failure of leadership at all levels, in all arenas, is tearing America apart at the seams.
What seems particularly odd to me as a non-economist is that these men are two of three co-recipients of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 2001. Spence sees a bright global economy growing with huge leaps in standards of living for billions of people in the years ahead while Stiglitz, on the other hand, looks at the same world, same statistics, but is anything but optimistic. The column quotes Stiglitz as writing the “American dream is a myth … the gap’s widening ... the clear trend is one of concentration of income and wealth at the top, the hollowing out of the middle, and increasing poverty at the bottom.”
So, please do read the entire column. See if it resonates with your view of things. If you feel inclined, forward to a friend a link to either this posting or The Wall Street Journal column column it refers to and see how they react. And if you have anything to share with me, post a comment below.
About the author:
John Renesch is a businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on organizational and social transformation. He is the principal of Renesch Advisory Services and founder of FutureShapers, LLC.
Essays and comments posted in World Future Society and THE FUTURIST magazine blog portion of this site are the intellectual property of the authors, who retain full responsibility for and rights to their content. For permission to publish, distribute copies, use excerpts, etc., please contact the author. The opinions expressed are those of the author. The World Future Society takes no stand on what the future will or should be like.
Free Email Newsletter
To sign up for Futurist Update, our free monthly email newsletter, enter your email in the box below and click Save.
What seems absolutely reasonable is apparently true. Expose microbes to extreme environments and those that survive evolve and adapt more rapidly. A study appearing in Scientific Reports in August looked at six diverse natural environments and 40 meta-genomic samples to report on relative evolutionary rates in the microbial community. Environments included acid mine drainage, saline lakes, and hot springs. Evidence showed high mutation rates among microbes.
A labor of love is about to be carried out by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) involving Opportunity, the ten-year veteran Martian rover. It seems fitting to write about this on Labor Day as the rover continues to set new records for distance and longevity on the Martian surface.
As we waited for the gate to open for the Buffalo Bisons-Pawtucket Red Sox baseball game last week on the last evening of our vacation, I noticed a gentleman nearby wearing a Chincoteague Island t-shirt. It turns out he and his wife had just come back from there after spending two weeks on vacation renting a beach cottage. And that led to a further conversation about the changing nature of the American Atlantic coast as sea levels continue to rise, a fact attributed to climate change.
Canadian Provincial Premiers Decide on a National Energy Strategy that Includes Climate Change Action
Quebec as the representative of French Canada often goes its own way. But not this time. Couillard intends to host a climate change summit in Quebec in the spring of 2015, prior to the international conference on climate change planned for Paris. In a rare display of unanimity Canada's provincial leaders at their annual conference have outlined a national energy strategy.
Do you control your screens or do they control you? Advertisers dive into your brain for free (to you) from the minute you begin to gurgle. In tomorrow’s digital world you’ll decide and filter what’s on your screens. One control will be a personal paywall so you can be paid for your attention. When this makes your mind into your property, you will be able to sell it as often as you like.
It is an inspiration to see the technological marvels that have gotten us to where we are today. And a great place to see this is Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. Containing more than 35,000 items on exhibit and covering 37,000+ square meters (400,000 square feet), the Museum has been around for more than 80 years.
While away on vacation, I read about LiftPort Group, a Kickstarter-funded space elevator project that received over $110,000 U.S. from more than 3,400 backers. The company, located in Tacoma, Washington, originally sought $8,000, so one would think this was largely fantasy, but with the amount of money that has come in it would seem it owes its investors something more than one it has delivered to-date.
Today, many voice long-familiar concerns about technological unemployment, where computers, robots, and machines are automating our jobs out of existence. In fact, some have gone so far as to call this the “robot jobs Armageddon.” So is this time truly different? Here are six overarching shifts in the world that are causing many to say, “Yes, this time may really be different!”