Thursday 28 November 2013

The antidote to sclerosis brought on by complexity

The blogpost is cross-posted from www.

I listened to the Localis lecture by Penrith MP Rory Stewart yesterday, talking about the importance of local action - if we are going to fulfil our promise to our children that they can grow up and re-make the world.

He told the story of a small village in his constituency and their long battle to get a broadband connection, digging the trench, raising money and eventually persuading the government to fund the remaining £17,500 - a long, exhausting process.

Exhausting because of the complications which inevitably emerge for this kind of project: was the decision to choose the only possible contractor open and transparent?  Would Brussels give permission to pay this money in state aid?  You can imagine the kind of thing.

All this is, of course, paradoxically the result of the single market, the side-effects of a certain interpretation of free trade - and I expect there will be even more of it imposed on us under the new EU-US trade agreement.

But it also demonstrates the sheer complexity of making anything happen now, however simple and uncontroversial.  The sheer complexity of government at all levels discourages action: we don't know what side-effects there will be.  It is often just too much of a risk to experiment by finding out.

If the political world is too complicated then the same is even more true of economics.  The economic world is so staggeringly complex that no sane economist will be able to predict the consequences of anything much.  The result is that economists, like civil servants and politicians, are like deer caught in the headlights.  They dare not even imagine major changes.  They dare not, even in their sleep, dream of different worlds.

Which brings me to the new book I have edited called What If Money Grew on Trees?  It is a series of very short contributions, by economics writers, in answer to 50 different What If questions - what if money did grow on trees?  What would happen?

These are alternative tales of the present and immediate future, written as honestly as possible about the effects and side-effects.  And one of my co-authors (Andrew Simms) and I are delving into the world of other possibilities, at the winter version of the Hay Literary Festival at 1.55pm on Sunday.

Do come along and imagine with us!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Complexity is an issue that will not go away. In the United States, it appears that States are more successful at managing their budgets and delivering citizen services than the Federal Government. Perhaps the answer is to revert to smaller jurisdictions.