Getting out alive

In general, there are two elements to a successful resolution of a serious crisis:
  • Firstly, 'get out of it alive'.
  • Secondly, 'make sure it doesn't happen again'.
In regard to the current financial crisis, we need to address both elements. Satisfying the first criterion is both urgent and important, whereas the second is important, but slightly less urgent. It would be good if policy could address both elements. However, the policies needed may in principle be different, or even opposite for the two elements. A policy should not be rejected on the grounds that it only addresses one of the two, so long as it is understood that it is not the whole short/long term solution.

Arguments such as "we shouldn't do those things that got us into this mess in the first place" or "we need a sustainable solutions not a sticking plaster" sound good but are actually fallacious. When your financial life is in danger, just when your environmental or personal life is in danger, the solutions differ. If your house is on fire 'sustainable' or 'ethical' solutions might be nice to have, but are completely secondary considerations to getting out of your house alive.

Solutions however must work. In other words they must be effective - i.e. do what they intend to do, and be broadly sound and robust. Being 'sound and robust' sounds a bit like being 'sustainable', but there are important differences. 'Sustainability' is sort of a council to perfection, avoiding rapid use of non-renewable resources sometimes adding extra 'ethical' criteria to decision making- whereas 'sound and robust' just means a solution which basically works under a variety of different circumstances. What we need is to tackle unsustainability, and particularly critical unsustainability; not expect our solutions to be perfectly sustainable according to every criterion.

It's quite clear what 'getting out alive' means in personal context, and in the case of global warming it is fairly straightforward. In the case of financial crisis it is less clear, but avoiding systemic meltdown and a great depression is usually the underlying motivation for government action. More on this some other time.

4 comments:

Robin Smith said...

Thanks for these thoughts.

Can you say who is supposed to be in danger and who you are trying to save in your scenario. The individual or the entire society?

If the former I can see your point very clearly and predicatably. If the latter, both getting out of it alive and assuring it never happens again are very simple to achieve at once.

Is it not true that the positive sum game from equality in association, the production and distribution of wealth for ALL, will resolve both elements simultaneously. And is it not true that the zero sum game of the current free lunch society, the production and distribution of wealth for the individual or the corporation is what is blocking this?

TheClimatePhilosopher said...

>Can you say who is supposed to be in danger and who you are trying to save in your scenario. The individual or the entire society?

Either! It doesn't matter. It's an abstract point.

>If the former I can see your point very clearly and predicatably. If the latter, both getting out of it alive and assuring it never happens again are very simple to achieve at once.

What about if our society is attacked by aliens. We have to defeat the attack and then maybe engage in discussions with the aliens to ensure that it doesn't happen again.

>Is it not true that the positive sum game from equality in association, the production and distribution of wealth for ALL, will resolve both elements simultaneously.

Big question! Not necessarily with the alien attack! I agree there is a positive sum game from association.

>And is it not true that the zero sum game of the current free lunch society, the production and distribution of wealth for the individual or the corporation is what is blocking this?

I take your point. There is also a case that the liberal economy has not only been 'positive sum' but also that moves to promote 'equality and justice' risk emphasizing 'zero sum' aspects.

See Martin Wolf's article
http://tinyurl.com/cg2dkv

Available for free here:
http://www.freedom4um.com/cgi-bin/readart.cgi?ArtNum=68872

and here:
http://www.ecoglobe.ch/economics/e/wolf7d19.htm

Robin Smith said...

Why are individuals or society abstract points. They are very real to all of us. Is it not your original question that is abstract though.

Its interesting you have had to resort to an absurd and marginal example to make your response. This is a common response when reason has found the truth behind a simple enquiry.

I don't believe you would resort to these tactics, so are you able to respond with a majority and credible argument that affects the society that we live in here and now?

TheClimatePhilosopher said...

The classic example is the French in World War 2. When the Germans invaded they spent lots of time moaning about the Maginot line; why the whole plan hadn't worked, not realizing that their short term concerns were rather different. Result: capitulation.