Fragmentation

One of the blogs or web sites I [Ed #2] regularly scan is called GlobalGuerillas, run by a fellow named John Robb, an important voice in what is termed elsewhere 4GW (and 5GW?. When you get there, read the banner at the top of the page, and the “about” so you’ll get a better sense of who he is. Wade through some of the rest of it, too, if it strikes your fancy. I don’t always agree with him; in some cases, I don’t, and in some cases he flat out pisses me off. But that’s okay… He is an important voice in the world of today, not to be brushed away dismissively like an annoying cob web. You fail to understand what he knows at your own peril.

That said, his commentary entitled “Rage and Health Care” carries more than one truism. Here it is:

RAGE AND HEALTH CARE
Here’s some fun thinking about drivers of political fragmentation and the slow failure of America.

We expect the universe to make sense, to be consistent, and when the contingencies change we get testy. Interestingly, this is not unique to humans. In one experiment, two pigeons were placed in a cage. One of them was tethered to the back of the cage while the other was free to run about as it wished. Every 30 seconds, a hopper would provide a small amount of food (a fixed interval schedule, as described earlier). The free pigeon could reach the food but the tethered one could not, and the free pigeon happily ate all the food every time. After an hour or so of this, the hopper stops providing food. The free pigeon continues to check the hopper every 30 seconds for a while, but when it’s clear that the food isn’t coming, it will go to the back of the cage and beat up the other pigeon. Now, the interesting thing is that the tethered pigeon has never eaten the food and the free pigeon has no reason to think the other is responsible for the food stopping. The frustration is irrational, but real nonetheless. John Hopson, a game researcher at Microsoft.

The above example illustrates the driver behind the furor over the passage of health care legislation in the US. The trigger, or the change in the game (the economic system) that prompted the confusion and anger we see today was the 2008 financial crisis. The inchoate anger this crisis caused is now being directed against the US government and the party in power. Here’s a fuller explanation for this.

We have collectively developed the belief that the capitalist system that we work in and our system of governance, although very messy at times and often harsh, is fundamentally fair. The financial collapse proved that these beliefs were completely unfounded and we (collectively) were fools for believing in such nonsense. Here’s how this realization rolled out, step by step.

First, the meager rewards of system (the status quo game) stopped coming:

* Easy, endless debt in lieu of gains in income (for increasingly productive hard work) was either made impossible to get or converted into usurious debt.
* Wealth, particularly in the form of home values/pensions/expected future earnings, evaporated.
* Incomes tumbled (cut backs in hours, permanent to temp status, outsourcing, or outright termination) while prices (education to health in particular) kept accelerating.

Second, in contrast to the game depicted above (where the pigeon was first given regular rewards and then suddenly and without explanation denied those rewards), it was now generally known why our rewards for participation in the system had at first dwindled and finally stopped: our capitalist system had become so corrupt that a relatively small group of people were able to perpetrate the greatest financial theft in the history of mankind.

The final and most damning step in this process was how that even after this theft had become public knowledge (on the front page of every newspaper from here to Timbuktu), the governmental system we expected to punish malfeasance didn’t work. Not only didn’t it work by failing to punish these traitors (as those who damage a nation in the worst possible way are termed) for their acts, it actually rewarded them. It made them rich with hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts and tens of trillions in public guarantees (to protect them against losses on their future thefts), in effect extending them a golden invitation to pillage our future again.

As the event dwindled into history, the anger didn’t. It became diffuse and festered. Some of it eventually found a home, directed (or redirected, if you think the public is easily manipulated) against the government and the prevailing party, particularly as it pushed forward changes in the health care system. For many the connection was that this is yet another theft, either by the health industry that wrote the bill or a government that wants to redistribute wealth via expansion of coverage.

In the end, absent a real catharsis to purge the sense of betrayal generated by the original treasonous theft, the legitimacy of the US government will continue to sink. Worse, all bets are off when the next financial theft occurs. The disorder and fragmentation that will result from another event of that type will be terrible in its consequences.

Posted by John Robb on Tuesday, 23 March 2010 at 08:50 AM | Comments (33) |

Permalink: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2010/03/rational-rage-at-a-broken-system.html

Posted on 2010/03/23, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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