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Global instability, feedback, and your survival

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rainbow_small by Eric Rolph

Why is it that so many Irish males are total a**holes: unfailthful, dishonest, and selfish? I can immediately think of two CEO's I've had the displeasure of dealing with who fit this jaded stereotype perfectly.

leprechaun2 by Grassy Knoll Institute

There is something about "the fighting Irish" that both appeals to and brings out the worst in people. There are certainly plenty of good Irish men whom do not display their laudable characters on the flip side of a beer-soaked coaster of dishonesty so why do some people find this behavior attractive? Who rewards them? And what about Parisian acerbity, English unctuousness, and Latino machismo?

So it is with pride that I announce a great Irish organization called The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability, or Feasta, who say:

Feasta was launched in Dublin in October 1998 to explore the economic, cultural and environmental characteristics of a truly sustainable society, and to disseminate the results of this exploration to the widest relevant audience.

The position Feasta has adopted is that many of the world's problems are caused not by bad people but by dysfunctional systems and it sees its purpose as designing better systems. For example, the economic system demands continual growth if it is not to collapse into a catastrophic depression, and this leaves politicians with little alternative but to pursue short-term economic growth more-or-less regardless of the damage that that pursuit might be doing to longer-term environmental and social sustainability.

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Two of their publications catch my eye.

'Trade-Off: Financial System Supply-Chain Cross-Contagion: a study in global systemic collapse,' is summarized on ZeroHedge here. You can also read the full report on FEASTA's web site here.

ZeroHedge describes the paper as "Nassim Taleb meets Edward Lorenz meets Malcom Gladwell meets Arthur Tansley meets Herman Muller meets Werner Heisenberg meets Hyman Minsky meets William Butler Yeats..."

The paper begins:

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"This study considers the relationship between a global systemic banking, monetary and solvency crisis and its implications for the real-time flow of goods and services in the globalised economy. It outlines how contagion in the financial system could set off semi-autonomous contagion in supply-chains globally, even where buyers and sellers are linked by solvency, sound money and bank intermediation. The cross-contagion between the financial system and trade/production networks is mutually reinforcing.

"It is argued that in order to understand systemic risk in the globalised economy, account must be taken of how growing complexity, the de-localisation of production and concentration within key pillars of the globalised economy have magnified global vulnerability and opened up the possibility of a rapid and large-scale collapse.

"Collapse' in this sense means the irreversible loss of socio-economic complexity which fundamentally transforms the nature of the economy. These crucial issues have not been recognised by policy-makers nor are they reflected in economic thinking or modelling."

In other words, they've got the "systems' theory bug" just as I do, and they're ringing the alarm that failing to think systemically leads to instability and potential collapse. The actual paper is downloadable as a PDF and is 75 pages long. You can get it here.

The author, David Korowicz , is a physicist who applies physical systems models to social systems. Generally, these simple models make fools of their authors but if you know how to take them (not too literally) physics models can be tremendously useful. It's an exercise in abstract thinking and a reminder that evolving systems must have feedback.

Around page 30 you'll read how feedback again becomes the central concept -- as I keep saying. The following image is taken from the paper.

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Physicist, neurologist, neurofeedback trainer, hypnotherapist, sleep therapist, junior sorcerer, mountaineer, enthusiastic participant in extreme explorations involving mind and body. Believer in the idea that individuals find meaning in (more...)

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