by: Charles Hugh Smith
July 19, 2012
Forget decoupling from Europe–we’ve been decoupled from reality since 2008.
Have we decoupled from the global slowdown? Doubtful. Have we decoupled from reality? Undoubtedly–and have been since 2008. One key attribute of reality is feedback: actions have consequences, and various forces reinforce or resist each other in a dynamic interplay of positive and negative feedback.
Another key attribute of reality is risk. Risk is as ever-present as gravity, and it cannot be eliminated; it can only be shared or transferred.
When you overwhelm feedback with massive interventions that mask risk, you decouple from reality. With feedback suppressed and risk hidden, the system’s resilience and resourcefulness both atrophy. Participants start making decisions not on risk assessment and feedback from reality but on the results of the intervention.
Pharmaceutical intervention offers an apt medical analogy. Various risk factors such as high blood pressure and high levels of LDL cholesterol have been correlated with increased risk of heart disease. Medications can lower these metrics, and so these interventions are now ubiquitous.
Sometimes these result from genetic propensities, but other times they are consequences (feedback) of an unhealthy lifestyle: obesity, poor diet, lack of fitness, etc. If we suppress a single feedback from a spectrum of health-related feedbacks and consequences, have we restored health or simply masked the risk of an unhealthy lifestyle?
Clearly, complex systems do respond to critical thresholds or “pivot points” that trigger cascading responses. It is wise to identify key metrics and manage the risks they present or elevate. But it is unwise to assume that manipulating one metric will necessarily restore a system that is wobbling out of equilibrium to a dynamic equilibrium.
Slamming down one metric or another does not necessarily reduce the systemic risk. Just as someone who eats junk food, smokes cigarettes and drinks sodas all day while slumped on a sofa will not become “healthy” just because statins have slammed down his LDL cholesterol levels, an unhealthy economy cannot be restored to health by manipulating a handful of inputs such as money supply or key metrics such as unemployment.
All these interventions accomplish is to mask risk by transferring it to the system itself, where it builds up behind the apparent “fix” and eventually explodes.