Friday, June 09, 2023

Article: Complex Systems Won’t Survive the Competence Crisis

It's been awhile since I posted anything political but, a few days ago this article was brought to my attention and I've been digesting it ever since. It clearly articulates much of what I've been thinking in the past few years, reinforced by my long term employment at a Fortune 50 company. The article's arguments and conclusions are spot on, IMNSHO.

At a casual glance, the recent cascades of American disasters might seem unrelated. In a span of fewer than six months in 2017, three U.S. Naval warships experienced three separate collisions resulting in 17 deaths. A year later, powerlines owned by PG&E started a wildfire that killed 85 people. The pipeline carrying almost half of the East Coast’s gasoline shut down due to a ransomware attack. Almost half a million intermodal containers sat on cargo ships unable to dock at Los Angeles ports. A train carrying thousands of tons of hazardous and flammable chemicals derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. Air Traffic Control cleared a FedEx plane to land on a runway occupied by a Southwest plane preparing to take off. Eye drops contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria killed four and blinded fourteen.

While disasters like these are often front-page news, the broader connection between the disasters barely elicits any mention. America must be understood as a system of interwoven systems; the healthcare system sends a bill to a patient using the postal system, and that patient uses the mobile phone system to pay the bill with a credit card issued by the banking system. All these systems must be assumed to work for anyone to make even simple decisions. But the failure of one system has cascading consequences for all of the adjacent systems. As a consequence of escalating rates of failure, America’s complex systems are slowly collapsing.

The core issue is that changing political mores have established the systematic promotion of the unqualified and sidelining of the competent. This has continually weakened our society’s ability to manage modern systems. At its inception, it represented a break from the trend of the 1920s to the 1960s, when the direct meritocratic evaluation of competence became the norm across vast swaths of American society.


The path of least resistance will be the devolution of complex systems and the reduction in the quality of life that entails. For the typical resident in a second-tier city in Mexico, Brazil, or South Africa, power outages are not uncommon, tap water is probably not safe to drink, and hospital-associated infections are common and often fatal. Absent a step change in the quality of American governance and a renewed culture of excellence, they prefigure the country’s future.

Emphasis added by me.

The full article is here and worth your time, IMHO:

DEI is a major force behind this trend but it's not the only thing. For example, I've seen repeatedly where senior level, highly knowledgeable employees are let go as a short term cost-cutting measure. Not only were these senior folks repositories of painfully acquired tribal knowledge, they were mentors to junior engineers. Senior leadership considers it a bonus when they can point to one less old white guy on staff, replaced by one or more diverse candidates.

As the one meme goes, "I know it's bad, but it's going to get a lot worse." The more independent you are, the higher your standard of living will be in the coming years.

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