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Hello fellow travelers in space-time. My name is Roger Jones, and I am coming to you from steamy downtown Pensacola. Today I am going to discuss abundance. Most of the time we concern ourselves with problems associated with scarcity. We rarely consider the implications of abundance. There are some good reasons to spend time thinking about abundance, however. I will just mention one, today. We set policy goals to achieve some beneficial outcome. Usually, this involves increasing the quantity of something: food, housing, transportation, quality of life, security. We usually think that an abundance of good things is good, but we rarely think that through.
There is a famous story, The Monkey’s Paw, that was written in the early twentieth century about a family that came into possession of a magical monkey’s paw. The paw was able to grant three wishes. The family first wished for 200 pounds. The next day, word came from the factory in which the son worked that the son had been mangled by machinery and killed. The company was to provide 200 pounds to the family as compensation. The second wish was to bring the son back to life. I am sure that you can see where this story is headed. The point is that failure to consider your goals carefully can lead to unintended consequences.
Since 1954, the U.S. has seen a 61% decrease in the number of farm workers while experiencing a 140% increase in food production. In the same period, Moore’s Law accurately predicted an astronomical improvement in computational and communications technology. There is more housing in the U.S. than there are people, even if we include all the homeless. Improvements in healthcare have reduced the need for large families that are able to compensate for deaths in the families. Fertility rates have dropped. The U.S. is experiencing abundance in every sector even though the abundance may not be evenly spread throughout the population.
A price is paid for the abundance, however. The complexity of 21st-century life increased, making many people uncomfortable with their new high-energy environment. Gradients in the distribution of abundance annoyed many more people. A populist groundswell developed around the world with the stated goal to return to simpler times.
A large part of the populist discomfort arises from the difficulty people have seeing how all the parts of a system affect each other. They cannot see the connections between national debt, trade balance, the size of their paychecks, healthcare spending, migration, technology, and war.
If we are to take advantage of abundance, we must become comfortable with the complexity that comes with it. People need to be allowed to benefit from the complexity of modern times, rather than be overwhelmed by it. We need to create a democratic groundswell of citizens who understand policy and its consequences.
This blog is actually the introduction to a crowdsourcing game that attempts to capture the best thinking of the crowd and experts on the implications of policy decisions. We would like to communicate that thinking to citizens and policy makers. And we would like to create a democratic groundswell of policy understanding that allows people to benefit from the fruits of abundance. The game is currently in the throes of creation. We will roll it out in pieces as they are created. Stay tuned and watch this space.
Read more in Confronting Complexity by Casti, Jones, and Pennock