Friday, August 26, 2011

Solent Green solutions to path dependent problems

The quoted article following brings up the problem of our solution orientated mindset from the perspective of how we manage our foreign affairs.  At a sort of sideways angle, it relates to an issue that I have complained about in the past:  path dependence.
Saad Hafiz, Counter Punch 24 August 2011 (ht: NC)
 “America suffers from ‘solutionism’”, an ex-Marine running a Washington law practice resignedly remarked to me at a Conference in Vermont recently…
Solutionism means that for every intractable problem there is logical and available answer. H.L. Mencken, the American journalist and humorist said “for every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong”. Increasingly, in the last few decades, the buzz word in America has been “solutions”.  Every problem has an easily attainable outcome that is nicely packaged and sold to the public—little attention is paid to the problems.
His emphasis is on over simplistic solutions that ignore the deep reality of the situation.  He notes that we take the simplistic tip of the solutions that we used within a familiar setting and try to apply it to settings with very different background parameters.
While being shallow in your assessments is certainly a problem, I would take the issue further.
Solutions are often applicable within a certain time-frame.  For instance, to avoid driving your car over a cliff that you are approaching at 60 miles per hour, apply the brakes at least 140 feet from the cliffs edge.
Now as the author notes, this is a simplistic solution to what may be much more complex situation than at first meets the eye.  Maybe your sweet Aunt Mable is behind the wheel and she is having convulsions with her foot sitting on the accelerator.  Maybe your brakes don’t work.  All of these would of course modify or change your proscribed solution.
However, there is another issue at hand.  At a certain point, from the point to where you are within say 100’ to where you have gone over the edge, the proscribed solution is no longer a solution.  In fact, not only is it not a solution, but most likely, somewhere along the way, there is no longer any viable solution (turning car, jumping out of car, rolling car over, flap your arms like wings, etc.) to the problem.  Something really bad is going to happen.
So if you are in China with its uninhabited cities, Australia with a burgeoning house hold debt-to-income ratio fueled by a housing bubble, or the United States with its …same thing as Australia but worse, you have to figure that at some point you drove off the cliff.  There are no solutions.  Whether you cut back spending to try and resolve the debt issue, or boost spending to try and keep a complete collapse of demand, you are going to be in really big trouble.
If you look back at the Great Depression in the United States, analogues  in some ways to China’s situation today, you can see that all sorts of different solutions were tried:  We were on the gold currency, we were off the gold currency, we loosened money, we tightened money.  None of them worked in a consistent fashion.  Sometimes they would work for a while, but then they would bring on complications that would curtail their effectiveness and we would come crashing back down to earth again.
The eventual approach was for Europe to start its own consumption bubble in the form of pre-World War 2 military spending.    The Europeans went to so far with this production bubble, that they even began taking orders from us.  Then they blew up much of the surplus capacity.  For the United States this entailed the death of 400,000 various citizens, but was a bargain considering that the world total was at least 48 million (likely closer to 75 million with better more complete  Russian and Chinese numbers).
So when the United States ran the car off the cliff in the binge of the 1920s, they met the British halfway down (falling at a slower pace) , and the British then handed the United States their own car-sized parachute.  So the United States, after starting a fatal plunge, landed safely at the bottom, while everyone else crashed and burned.
So to pull off the same solution today, adjusting for a larger world population, we are going to need blow up some enormous amount of world productivity (ours), and have something like 1-1/2 billion people die.  Since we were the primary benefactors in the first purging, it seems only fair that we take the hit this time.  But after we Solent-Green everyone in the United States for the greater good, we still have almost a billion more volunteers to find.


Degringolade said...

I do like this one.

H.L. Mencken would be quite comfortable with soylent green

Anonymous said...

About the Earthquake, the news reported how it showed the Washington DC evacuation plans to be defective. Talk about "solutionism". Yes we need a plan to fit 5 mil through the eye of the needle, and they are bringing their pets. The homeland security nightmare comes to mind. Dennis

russell1200 said...

Without cheating and looking, I seem to recall that H.L. Mencken could be quite the meany. LOL

I missed the D.C. earthquake planning fiasco news. Obviously they got it right with the huricane and planned the disaster for the weekend when all the workers would be home.