Fragility, Antifragility and Virginia

by James A. Bacon

Nassim Nicholas Taleb invoked the phrase “black swan” in a book by the same name to describe rare, hard-to-predict and highly disruptive events. The near-collapse of the U.S. banking system, which had been unforeseen by banks, regulators, politicians, economists and almost everyone (save a handful, like Taleb himself), is a classic example.

Taleb has built upon his ideas in a follow-up work, “Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder.” He argues against the folly of basing decisions upon long-term forecasts and predictions. The modern world is simply too complex, too volatile and has too many moving parts that are interconnected in ill-understood ways for the experts to foresee disastrous developments with any reliability.

Rather than trying to predict the future, Taleb suggests, we should expend our effort building systems — be they businesses, governments, academic research programs, whatever — that thrive in conditions of volatility and unpredictability. Institutions that thrive only in stable conditions he calls “fragile.” Systems that may seem stable — bank finances in the 2000s, U.S. government finances today, come to mind — are stable… until they aren’t. Then they unwind with frightening speed and calamitous results. When major unexpected events occur, fragile institutions shatter.

Institutions that survive volatile conditions, he refers to as “robust.” And institutions that gain from volatility he terms “antifragile.” It is an inelegant word, he concedes, but he cannot find a word in the English language that quite describes what he means. “Resilience” captures part of the meaning. So does “adaptive.” But they aren’t strong enough.

I find Taleb’s work, which is essentially a work of philosophy, both entertaining and difficult to penetrate. I could not put the book down. He weaves his work with fascinating anecdotes and diversions, punctuating them with irascible comments about fragilista pundits from Paul Krugman to Tom Friedman who make grand pronouncements without having any skin in the game. Yet his thinking strays so far outside the conventional ways of thinking it it takes some effort to integrate it into my system of thought.

Taleb focuses more on philosophical issues than systematically applying his insights to current public policy topics. While he does sound the alarm over excessive government indebtedness, he does so only in passing. He leaves it up to readers to explore the implications of his ideas in the sphere of governance.

Nevertheless, I believe that Taleb work can inform our thinking about public policy in Virginia. At the risk of interpreting his ideas through the filter of my own way of looking at the world, I will endeavor over time to introduce some of his ideas into Bacon’s Rebellion.

I would start with the proposition that an important goal of public policy in Virginia should be to render Virginia’s government, economy and social fabric as antifragile as possible so that we not only survive but prosper from volatility and disorder. Among the potential black swans that most concern me — of course, I may be totally wrong, for, after all, long-term forecasting is a fool’s game — is the possibility of a Boomergeddon-like fiscal and monetary collapse of the federal government. My Boomergeddon hypothesis may prove inaccurate, but no thinking person would disagree with my contention that if such a collapse occurred, it would have severe and debilitating consequences, especially for Virginia, whose economy is so tied to federal spending.

Rather than making Virginia more antifragile, the 2013 General Assembly session has made it more fragile. The legislature has just agreed to expand the Medicaid program under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Virginia is relying upon the promise of the federal government to pay, after a brief teaser period akin to an Adjustable Rate Mortgage, for 90% of the cost of that expansion into the indefinite future. Of course, the promise is only as good as the finances of the U.S. government are sound.

If the federal government reneges, Virginia can always pull out, can it not? I don’t know. I’ll let others argue the law. But let’s assume for purposes of argument that it can. In that case, my concern is this: Once Virginia’s health care system has adjusted to the expansion of Medicaid and the creation of a federally subsidized health insurance exchange, is there any going back? To what extent will existing insurance practices and institutions have withered away when the Obamacare systems are put into place? If federal support for Medicaid and the insurance exchanges has been withdrawn, where will people go for insurance coverage? Will a market-based insurance system even exist any more outside of large, self-insured, employer-provided health plans? If not, will the commonwealth of Virginia be in a fiscal position to step in and prop up the structure created by the federal government? Or will thousands of Virginians who now have insurance find that the rug has been pulled out from under them with the result that they are worse off than before?

The General Assembly never paused to ponder these questions. Legislators chose instead to cross their fingers and pray that it all somehow works out. But a health care system that relies for funding upon a federal government running trillion-dollar deficits annually and carrying a $16.5 trillion national debt is very, fragile indeed.

35 Responses to Fragility, Antifragility and Virginia

  1. The genius to the Anti-fragile concept is that it provides a useful tool by which to to measure the continuing viability of a particular system.

    Without jumping the gun, but only to suggest future applications of this tool to current problems, I suggest that:

    Our present systems of education – elementary, secondary, and higher – are fragile, given rigidities that have hardened over many years of pampering, leadership failures, and lack of competition. Now these systems are in decline or at the point of abject failure, giving fast moving external events.

    Our zoning, land use, and development laws suffer from the same malady.

    This hardening of the arteries into rigid straight jackets that shackle formerly vibrant institutions are now doing us far more harm than good.

    Yet, as of now, most of these problems seem intractable. As if a total dissolution of such systems brought about by their own abject collapse must occur, clearing the field, before we can step onto the field and build anew.

    On the other hand, there are unexpected rays of light. One was brought about by recent crisis. Perhaps that sparked the modern day miracle that might be unfolding on The Grounds of the University of Virginia.

  2. Cockroaches aren’t fragile.

    It seems to me though that we have an overabundance of them already in government and business. Unlike the rest of us dregs of society, cockroaches not only have the capability to adapt in microseconds to volatility and disorder, but is also able to manipulate the mob into sacrificing everything for even greater Periplanetan profit . The only downside is once they scavenge the weaker food sources they turn on each other until only one cockroach survives.

  3. off the deep end here.. it looks like…

    the MedicAid expansion is an attempt to get more people to see a doctor earlier so that disease can be detected earlier so that the uninsured won’t wait and let disease advance then show up at the ER to get heroic and expensive treatement – at taxpayer and insurance expense.

    Who knows how effective it might be or not… it has promise IMHO but more important – it’s an attempt to try to improve the ungodly cost of our health care system.

    It would have been nice to have the opposition propose a competitive alternative instead of spending all their time trying to block the other side.

    You cannot win the way the right is going about this. The best that is going to happen is butt-ugly solutions…

    you have to want to govern. You cannot approach it from the point of view that govt is bad and your goal is to dismantle it.

    what’s “intractable” is the right’s approach… it’s just a mess.

    you have to want to govern. If you are not interested in governing, you have no business in a leadership role.

  4. Any Bill that mandates medical services and their delivery is likely to lock in costs and how they increase, unless a fully viable free and competitive market remains outside the system for most citizens. Is this true?

    If so, without such competition, how can the mandated system remain “efficient” cost-wise without curtailing services? Or by increasing costs to the “insured” via a “tax” or more debt? How else can it adapt?

    If it can’t otherwise adapt, will not debt substantially narrow our margins against failure, increasing fragility? Will not more “Taxes” do the same?

    Unless Obama care will reduce costs while at it also maintains the best health care system in the world, which the US has enjoyed since at least WW11, despite claims to contrary, why are we undertaking these risks?

    Fragility concept suggests these factors make new system far more rigid and susceptible to catastrophic failure, if above critique is true. Why is this wrong? What’s in this legislation to tell us it is not? I don’t see it.

  5. re: ” Any Bill that mandates medical services and their delivery is likely to lock in costs and how they increase, unless a fully viable free and competitive market remains outside the system for most citizens.”

    Reed my man. Are you familiar with EMTALA?

    bonus question: would you deny a child medical care because his parents are poor?

    how about the elderly? would you let an elderly person die because they could not afford the care a nursing home provides?

    these are not easy questions but they do characterize the dilemma.

    what would you do about it different than now?

    it’s EASY to talk about having the best health care system in the world – for those that can afford it.

    but what would you do about the folks that cannot?

    this is the problem.

    unless you are willing to repeal EMTALA and get rid of SCHIPS and MedicAid for the elderly – what is your solution?

    every single industrialized country on the planet – except for us – has better answers than us.

    yet we insist – almost stupidly – that we have the best medical care in the world -except for those who cannot afford it.

    are you searching for a solution that does not exist in the real world?

    why?

    and what would you do in the meantime until you find it?

    this is the reason why we get butt ugly solutions.

    the nay sayers have no better solutions. they oppose what’s on the table as long as they can – then butt ugly legislation passes anyhow.

    that’s not a solution but it is the way it is.

  6. would you deny a child medical care because his parents are poor?

    I remember when I was a poor kid.

    The doctor made house calls.

    This isn’t about medical care, it’s about money.

  7. agree Darrell. It’s about money you and I pay already in higher insurance premiums as a result of cost-shifting due to uncompensated ER visits.

    We also pay higher MedicAid costs because people uninsured people do not get early proactive treatment that catches disease earlier.

    we already pay this now.

    ObamaCare is an attempt to treat the uninsured earlier in hopes of lowering downstream costs to expensive diseases that had they been caught earlier might have not so expensive over the longer run.

    I’m totally open to another, better way of dealing with this and would welcome competitive alternatives but the tired old rubric of “let the free market work” or “let them eat cake and die quick” ain’t going to get it.

    You wanna start the ball rolling? Take away the tax-free employer-provided health insurance and let people buy their own on the open market with their own real money. Who has offered that as an alternative?

  8. Useful questions from Bacon’s entry. The risk of federal government’s economic collapse rises from our political failure more than from any inherent economic flaw; we can fairly easily fix our debt with combined revenue increases and expenditure reductions (including tax expenditures) were we to have a working political consensus. We had much of that in the 1790s,1815-25 or so, 1900s, 1930s, 1950s. Otherwise rare, and looking more so.

    Maybe we’ll get some consensus around the notion that everyone should have basic health care — preventative in particular — to save lives and cost. How we pay for that clearly needs more attention, as per the Time Magazine piece this past week. But Obama Care launches us, thankfully, on that required path, which Republicans otherwise would have ignored. Rather than despair over fragility we should be embracing the challenge as a long-over-due government requirement. Introduce more competition, more effective market mechanisms to reduce costs and require close monitoring and reporting by government.

  9. re: consensus

    I totally agree. But instead of talking about working to reduce the deficit, we, instead say that because we do have a deficit and debt that we have to get rid of Social Security and Medicare because if we keep them they will make us go broke.

    there is no reasonable middle ground. We can’t fix the tax code and cut DOD a bit and increase premiums for Medicare and implement chained CPI for Social Security to gradually whittle our way towards less deficit and debt.

    Nope. We’ve got to set everything ablaze and start over…

    this is the nuttiness that has overtaken the GOP….

    same deal with health care. The GOP was more than happy to sit and do nothing except yammer for 15 years instead of advocating reforms and changes to turn the cost curve.

    Nope… the only solution is to kill Medicare and MedicAid and anything short of that means we are sliding down that socialist slope known as Greece.

    It took the country a DANG LONG TIME to finally figure out just what a bunch of fruitcakes much of the GOP has become but the truth is finally starting to dawn on people.

  10. Unfortunately, we are already beginning to witness the outlines of our future health care. This shift into that future is now happening with remarkable speed. For example, many of the best doctors now longer accept medicare payments. And they are just as busy as before, because they offer exceptional service and care, just like they always have.

    Patients, meanwhile, are left on their own. If they want first rate care and can afford it, they pay by credit card. Get the care they need and they collect what they can themselves, which at best is a faction of the cost.

    Otherwise go down the road into an emerging system unlike what they’d ever experienced before. The doctors are scrambling. New fees are invented, like overhead and handling charges. Patients visits are shortening. Doctors and physical therapists overlap patients visits. They’re running back and forth between them, seeing more and more patients simultaneously, jamming them into their day, while giving less and less care to each. So they’re frazzled. Hardly have time to think, much less practice the art of thoughtful effective medicine tailored to the needs of the suffering people sitting in front of them. Those patients are not longer patients, but numbers carrying a card the pays doctors by a formula of rote and speed.

    The formula is as simple as it is brutally destructive:

    Number of card carrying patients seen per day TIMES the number of bar coded treatments given per day = amount of money collected.

    My God, even ours auto mechanics work under a better system? The cars got to run, with all the rattles gone, before it leaves the mechanics shop.

    Obama care does not reward good medicine, it rewards poor and thoughtless medicine. Medicine built on systems that created the Scooter Store, far too many of our schools, and now most of our institutions of higher learning. Systems built on mechanisms that assure their failure to achieve their mission. That of helping all people, rich and poor alike. Instead it end up like so many so many of our schools. A fraud on those most in need, the most vulnerable, without means to escape the system.

    Patients around here of course see this and are forced to accept it, or pay out of pocket directly for the good doctors and the kind of care they need to stay healthy. But what about the rest? Those forced into the new system.

    I suggest as follows. Prices will rise as more patients are forced into the system and/or come to abuse it because its free, and fills up their time. These demands will rise exponentially, compounding the faults built in the system. Care will continue to fall, corrupting the system. Just like what’s happened to whole segments of our ‘system’ of higher education.

    The great losers will be hard working singles and families of the vast middle class. Parents will go to the poor house trying to keep parents, spouses, and kids healthy amid an ever more dysfunctional system. Working singles will waste every more of their valuable time trying to do what was easy and efficient before, stay healthy to hold and advance in a job, and have a life.

    That coming plight and ruination is growing now with remarkable speed. You can see it. Everyone scrambling after money to stay alive. As patients suffer ever more abuses or maneuvers that providers invent to circumvent a rigid bureaucratic system coming soon, one with no chance of doing its job.

    Superior medicine for individual patients is far too much an art, one that is done a patient at a time, each patient with special needs, far to complex and subjective for this rigid system. One jerry-rigged together by the political power of corporate special interests with only one objective – money.

    Health for most of us in this country is headed for unmitigated disaster.

    • PS – The worst aspect of this future will be its sure destruction of the medical profession. Talented practitioners will simple refuse to work under the Obamacare Regime that reduces their profession to rote thoughtless work under conditions that brutalize both doctors and patients.

      So, by and large, only the third class doctors (the lazy, incompetent, and/or corrupt will remain. They’ll be the ones that will treat the vast majority of citizens who do not have the resources to go elsewhere. The overall quality of medicine as a result will plummet in the county save for the affluent.

      Also, the rote fill in the box nature of Obama’s medical care, and its bar code nature of approved treatments, will throttle creatively. Absent this creatively, the vast majority of advances in health care will vanish. There will be neither the mental space or money to pay to it. Thus health care will stagnant. Many patients will die and suffer needlessly. Many will never find or get the proper treatments the deserve.

      Meanwhile, those patients who can afford world class care, the very rich, will thrive. The rest will fall further behind as their doctors and system of care fall further into the past. This atrophy is common. It’s an old and common story. What’s happened to so many of our schools and other public institutions that claim to serve the public as they fail by reason of the governments intrusive, heavy handed, and mindless regulation.

      Good intentions always disguise the pursuit of power by a few.

      • re: ” The worst aspect of this future will be its sure destruction of the medical profession. Talented practitioners will simple refuse to work under the Obamacare Regime that reduces their profession to rote thoughtless work under conditions that brutalize both doctors and patients.”

        uh huh. that’s EXACTLY what has happened to all those other countries with Universal Health Care including Singapore?

        right?

        this is a problem guy. the gloom/doom folks here in this country just flat pretend that other countries have not had good success at UHC – 1/2 our costs per capita and in Singapore, less than 1/3…

        the only countries in the world that have the “free market” in health care that the anti-ObamaCare folks say is the right answer – are…..3rd world countries where only the well-off have health care and reasonable life expectancies and everyone else just does without until they die early.

  11. Jim and Reed – I’m not sure I understand the antifragile concept as it applies to government programs. How do you tell? Isn’t the whole point that you can’t tell until it breaks? Characterization of healthcare and education as fragile seem conclusory and in coincidence with your political views.

  12. Richard -

    As Jim says this a long book and sometimes a difficult book to penetrate. As he suggests its at base a work of philosophy. Each reader will come away with what he or she reads into the text. Not a bad thing. That said, here’s my thumbnail view based of fragility based on book.

    Government programs, esp. entitlement programs are strong and robust in the sense that they are extremely hard to tear down, change or even dilute. Think the Maginot Line built after WWI to protect France against Germany.

    But the strengths of Government programs are also its weaknesses. Not only are they hard to tear down, they’re can’t adjust or be made stronger or more effective as result (or in light) of adverse change or circumstances.

    (Contrast this to a football team. It must confront and adjust to adversity every week. Or it will lose, making its coach highly fragile. Soon he’s fired. But, conversely, more he can make these adjustments to his team, the more anti-fragile he and it become.)

    Government programs don’t have weekly problems. Indeed they are very strong no matter what ALMOST. Back to Maginot Line. The Germans using new technology build highly mobile panzer divisions supported by Stuka dive bombers (flying artillery) to go around Maginot fortifications with force that could punch through lesser defenses up north. But French couldn’t move Maginot. It’s strength had become its great weakness. So it was collapsed quickly by unforeseen or rare event (A Black Swan event).

    So just before WW11 Maginot was very strong and very fragile.

    So can Government programs sometimes be. They’re resistant to change. So easily become ever more ineffective in fulfilling their mission. Lack of competition often compounds rigidly. It preserves such failing programs. So do politicians. They hide it failures. Hide them to stay in office. Careers are at stake. So is political power. And money. So long as they can pay out money to their constituents, even if its borrowed money gotten from somewhere else, they keep government program running to win reelection. To keep themselves in power. And if the control as very rich nation they can keep their game going for a very long time. You know – Too big to Fail – till nobody’s left to bail it out.

    Even a country as prodigious rich as the US, rich beyond all human imagination even a few decades ago, can run out of money.

    And as more borrowed money is paid out, the easier a Black Swan event can cause programs quick collapse. A war that must be fought for example. Or an economic competitor that can no longer be kept at bay. Think of the Soviet Empire. How strong and fragile it became. Until it collapsed.

    In history of time Russia’s empire collapsed overnight. Time and change now move very fast. And the damage done quickly can be exponential.

    • Reed gets it.

      Black swans take people by surprise. But after the fact, they seem so obvious. Those who didn’t see it coming are quick to generate ex-post-facto explanations, usually self-exonerating.

      U.S. government finances will collapse — maybe not Zimbabwe style, but Argentina style — and those who denied the possibility of it most vociferously will come up with reasons why it wasn’t their fault, indeed was the fault of the very same people who saw the danger.

      We have already passed the point of no return. The question is not *if* Boomergeddon comes, it’s how long until it gets here. Two years ago, I gave the U.S 15 to 20 years. Today, I’ll give us 10 to 15 years.

      The great political battle will involve who controls the narrative of why the collapse occurred. I just hope the good guys (who warned what was coming) can wrest the narrative from those who caused it, so we will have a chance to rebuild from the rubble. I also hoped that Virginia might survive Boomergeddon as an oasis of anti-fragile government. After this General Assembly session, I’m less optimistic about that than I once was.

  13. re: govt can’t change…

    heck..tell that to Gov McD… biggest change in 25+ years..

    re: the Cooch was not asked to look at regional taxes – nor was he asked to look at the MedicAid question…. and yes.. he did weigh in on the regional/local taxes and supported them.

    re: localities with different taxes… WTF? meals taxes, how about the 1% local sales tax? there are a flock of local option taxes guys including as someone mentioned the ability to do TIF, CDAs and transportation districts and transportation impact fee districts…

    all I can say is that if they did pass a law that won’t pass muster – it was not an accident.

    re: the sky is falling…the point of return… help me help me…

    oh come off of it… according to the gloom/doom folks the whole damn world is headed for financial disaster… just on different timelines…

    geeze…

    the biggest problem here is that when you take that attitude then it begets … proposals to essentially destroy the govt before it destroys itself…. right? that’s what we’re getting for the tea party types…

    extreme views justify extreme actions… and most of America ain’t buying it…

    it’s hard to believe that in 2000, we had a balanced budget and 13 years later we’re all going to hell … lord…

  14. just on different timelines…

    Actually the whole world is pretty much going down the tubes in sync.
    Thanks to collusion of G-20 central banks.

    Funny thing about crisis and panic. Everyone scampers around searching for an escape, only to pile up and die at the only obvious exit. The survivors might be an Iceland, which realized it’s every man for himself and hit the open door first.

  15. when we think in these kinds of extremes – it leads to extreme proposals like getting rid of Social Security and Medicare … public education, etc – and the vast majority of Americans are not going to put people like that in office – knowingly.

    we may well be headed worldwide to hell in a handbasket but I do not buy it… we have serious problems… God knows in 1940.. the world was confronting a maniac intent on taking over the world – and we prevailed and we managed to work our way through the worldwide depression in the 1930′s …

    so I join others in rejecting the “we are all domed” narrative. Before the internet, we used to see unshaven, unkempt guys on boxes in parks spreading this “gospel” We now have renamed them to be “bloggers” in the internet age.

  16. Larry, there is nothing but wishful thinking in that statement.

    Wishful thinking and one absurd statement: “It leads to extreme proposals like getting rid of Social Security and Medicare.” I don’t know anyone who proposes to “get rid of” Social Security and Medicare. There are proposals to restructure them on a fiscally sustainable basis, but the point is to *save* the programs, not to get rid of them.

    • Here’s the other thing Jim. Right now – ask yourself what impact the SS issue has on the CURRENT Budget. How much is SS – right now – adversely impacting the CURRENT BUDGET?

      so WHY do we need to prioritize restructuring it – RIGHT NOW?

      why is it on the list of things that must be done RIGHT NOW?

      then look at Medicare – Medicare is about 250 billion in the current budget – a budget that is over a trillion in deficit.

      Let’s assume that we have no choice but to completely get rid of the 210 billion via increased premiums, higher co-pays, etc.. even voucherize it.

      Where are the rest of the cuts that will get us to budget balance?

      if we say we need to cut entitlements to balance the budget – where is the plan for all the cuts – to get to a balanced budget?

      this is why I say extreme talk leads to extreme proposals.

      we say we have an extreme problem – the country going broke – but after we say we whack Medicare, where is the rest of the plan?

      Have you seriously looked at the only plan the GOP has proposed?

      Ryan’s plan cuts ONLY entitlements and nothing else and basically says we reach budget balance in 2030 because tax cuts will lead to increased revenues that will eventually catch up to DOD spending.

      this is a serious proposal? No. It’s a joke. It’s a symbolic ideological statement at best that has zero chance of gaining traction in any government where 1/2 of that government is Democrats – backed up by substantial population demographics.

      People do not want these extreme proposals. They want real fiscal conservative proposals that end up with a balanced budget by everyone getting their share of the haircut.

      what the GOP and similar are selling are extreme ideas to justify extreme actions and they are going nowhere… except perhaps to reduce the GOP to a true demographic minority status.

  17. re: “save” rather than “destroy” vs “extreme” rather than “reform”.

    there is nothing wrong with SS that a few tweaks won’t fix to keep it fiscally sustainable.

    it already meets that definition because by law you cannot pay out more in benefits than FICA generates in revenues. the issue is what would you do – to keep the benefits from being cut –

    as opposed to it being broke and unsustainable … which is just not the case.

    it does not need to be restructured to keep it sustainable. It just needs a similar reform to what Ronald Reagan supported.

    this is why I say extreme positions lead to extreme proposals.

    Medicare is more serious but there are reforms – such as increasing the 100 a month premiums for people who current receive 70K in retirement income and own a million dollars worth of assets.

    You don’t need to “voucherize” Medicare to achieve these kinds of changes. It does not need to undergo such extreme changes – to make it fiscally sustainable. After all – Singapore has Medicare and it’s not only fiscally-sustainable but they have the lowest per capita costs and the highest life expectancy… and it’s not “voucherized” at all.

    these are examples of extreme thinking that is leading to extreme proposals – that 80% of Americans simply do not support.

    we have about 20% whackos wandering around yelling about the sky falling and how we have to completely change SS and Medicare or else we’ll go broke when we have countries like Singapore, Australia, Germany, Japan that are financially healthy and did not go the the extreme proposals that some in this country advocate.

    this is going to ultimately destroy the GOP as a viable party IMHO.

    It’s playing out right now in front of us and the “we have to kill SS to save it” folks are going to drag the GOP to permanent minority status.

    • “whackos”? Exactly who are you referring to?

      • re: “whackos” – whackos are folks who want revolution instead of reform even for things that don’t need revolution.

        For instance. FICA/SS need changes over the next few years or decades but right now FICA/SS have almost zip to do with the current budget and deficit and wholly changing it , privatizing it has no justification other than the whackos view that our whole system is messed up and nothing short of destroying it – things like SS and starting over is acceptable.

        there is nothing seriously financially wrong with SS. Chained CPI, more means-testing, perhaps tweaking the retirement age.. all of these can pretty much equip it to deal with the baby boom changes.

        yet – the whackos are not satisfied. Even though we have our hands full with other issues that DO NEED changes right now – they want to clean house across the board – when 1. it’s not needed and 2. it would cause a political firestorm and 3. – it’s simply not going to happen.

        whackos are bomb-throwers… not content with compromise and reform – they want the governance equivalent of vandalism and destruction.

        they are: anti-SS, anti-Medicare, anti-education, anti-union, anti-teachers, anti-seniors, anti-gay, anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-minority, anti-women, anti voting-rights,…. etc.. etc.

        and they generally herd up on the same side of the valley even if they largely keep to their own type herd. they have banned the RINO herd as of late and anyone who walks or talks like one will be told to leave.

  18. While I agree in principle and would like to particularly thank Reed for his Maginot Line example, which I found very helpful, my biggest criticism of this idea is that antifragility (that the correct noun form?) will always be good. Arguing against it would be like arguing against putting cheese on anything. The problem because how to enact these principles. What may be seen as an idea to increase the antifragility of an institution to some, to carry the Maginot Line example, expansion of the facility to the North, could simultaneously be seen as increasing the fragility of that institution by others. Perhaps I’m failing to understand the concept, but fragility seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

    • Thanks, Hokie, for comment. This might help. There is nothing inherently anti-fragile about the Maginot Line. Or castles, or battleships, either. But external circumstance driven by change can rendered these things so.

      Castles stood firm against armored knights on horseback for hundreds of years. Until canon balls fired by gunpowder easily blew them apart. Dreadnaughts ruled waves for a century till a few of dive & torpedo bombers sank the Prince of Wales and her battle cruiser consort Repulse days after their arrival off Malaya to fix a huge problem. That Black Swan event left Britain naked from Hong Kong for Ceylon in less than 90 minutes.

      The Maginot only became fragile within a decade. With the advent of fast heavily armored up gunned tanks and airborne artillery that could strike in tandem through otherwise impassable gaps in the line of Maginot defenses.

      Maginot line might well have remained anti-fragile if augmented up north with modern defenses like tank traps, land mines, mobile anti tank guns, rapid fire radar control anti-aircraft guns firing proximity fused shells. The French and British refused to see what should have been obvious. The British invented the tank. The French had led in war air-power.

      Thing go fragile when its not tested regularly and fairly by external events. The owner’s state of mind is often a primary culprit. Lazy, complacent, self-interest, fear, whatever, lurks behind many catastrophes that otherwise would have been avoided. But people often refuse to see fragility grow.

  19. re: anti-fragility – methinks – one argues against the essential human nature or for than matter – the essential nature of …. well.. nature….

    People want interesting lives no question but they crave order and predictability.

    they do not want – for instance a different job every day or to have to find a different way to a regular job – every day or even once in a while…

    nature best adapts when that are mutations that end up better adapted than the current generations but this is not a pretty process nor is it very quick unless you are a germ or insect… with a super-short life and super-fast breeding cycle.

    I always try to find real-world example of things advocated. It’s sort of a “okay.. let’s see if there are things like this already in the wild” type of exercise.

    The best thing I can think of at the moment is the modern day evolution of the maginot line which is the US version of National Defense which is vigilant against the evolving environment that they operate in – they are always looking into emerging technologies as much to insure we detect them as much as we incorporate it ourselves. for instance, we “discover” the enormous capability of drones to enhance our capabilities even as we understand that soon/eventually they will be in the hands of even terrorist adversaries. No Maginot line here.

    but even our own massive and powerful and changing DOD – did not adequately appreciate the evolving asymmetric nature of terrorism and it’s potential to known down skyscrapers on our own domestic shores.

    Nimble Governance is an oxymoron because us humans like order and predictability more than we are willing to live in an uncertain world.

    Imagine a job where every day – your boss tells you to do a different job – to include cleaning the bathrooms, raking the lawn, then working in an R&D lab then serving food in the cafeteria….then go to accounting then to management you’d be one hell of a durable and multi-faceted employee for sure – but would you be happy? would you be able to live that way? Some would – they usually become leaders of some sort. Most would not.

    • Larry says: “People want interesting lives no question but they crave order and predictability.”

      Yes, you’re right, Larry. Its part of the complex of impulses within human nature. The evidences is all around for us to see. Even today a good many East German’s prefer living under the Communist East Germany system as they experienced it before the wall fell. Many Russians even today would prefer living in the Russia they knew under the Soviets. Many true believers live and think they thrive in today’s North Korea. What’s that tell us?

      Larry says: “I always try to find real-world example of things advocated.”

      Okay then, Larry, consider how many aspects of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, his War of Poverty for example, destroyed whole generations of those it was designed to lift out of poverty, leaving them instead caught in a vicious cycles of dependency, hopelessness and despair.

      Odds are among those best equipped to know: Our DOD today, and every day, builds more and more fragility into our defense. Apparently now, based on latest series of events, it can’t even define its enemies, or sail its ships into the ocean to engage them, much less prepare for them.

      Larry says: “Imagine a job where every day – your boss tells you to do a different job -”

      Great Idea!!! A little douse of the real world is sorely needed. The higher one’s degree the more he cleans out the commodes would do wonders!!!

  20. “Okay then, Larry, consider how many aspects of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, his War of Poverty for example, destroyed whole generations of those it was designed to lift out of poverty, leaving them instead caught in a vicious cycles of dependency, hopelessness and despair.”

    HUH? got some facts? isn’t this just more of your own ideology and beliefs?

    “Odds are among those best equipped to know: Our DOD today, and every day, builds more and more fragility into our defense. Apparently now, based on latest series of events, it can’t even define its enemies, or sail its ships into the ocean to engage them, much less prepare for them.”

    ???? WTF?

    “Larry says: “Imagine a job where every day – your boss tells you to do a different job -”

    Great Idea!!! A little douse of the real world is sorely needed. The higher one’s degree the more he cleans out the commodes would do wonders!!! ”

    mile wide, inch deep is not a good thing for jobs that require depth of expertise, knowledge and experience.

    you’d not want the guy that did the toilets yesterday to do your appendix today.

    get real Reed. “highly trained” means exactly that. Do you really want the guy doing your taxes to also do your eye exam or colonoscopy?

    • “HUH? got some facts? isn’t this just more of your own ideology and beliefs?”

      Larry, check out Unwed mothers. Check out rates in incarceration. Check out rates of unemployment. Check out rates of disability. Check out poverty of fatherless kids. Check out education standards of kids in need. Note corollary between money spend by government against harm it did.

      Larry says” ???? WTF?

      What’s this WTF – Government speak? Twitter language? Speak English.

      Larry says: “mile wide, inch deep is not a good thing for jobs that require depth of expertise, knowledge and experience. you’d not want the guy that did the toilets yesterday to do your appendix today.

      Yes, I would!

      Hospitals world wide are the most dangerous places in the world. US hospital errors annually kill two patients for every death on US highways. One major cause comes from surgeons who simple refuse to properly wash their hands. This outrage has been well known and documented for years. So here’s a practical solution. Dunk the heads of surgeons daily into the bowl of commodes until they properly clean up themselves to as not to kill their patients. Being an expert does not entitle doctors to kill people. So dunk their heads into infection until they stop.

      Expert induced harm is outrageously out of control in this country. Its everywhere. Look at Land Use and Tax in Fairfax County post here. Read the Harvard professor’s “peer reviewed” study of lot prices and supply referred to therein. See the fancy math analysis. It’s grounded on sheer nonsense. Any first year residential real estate agent knows better. But Harvard experts suggest that we build zoning laws around this crap.

      This kind of stuff has become the rule rather than the exception. Whole systems critical to governance of our society are becoming corrupted. If you doubt that then consider how much money we’ve wasted on studies telling us how to teach elementary school children to read?

      Hell, don’t you think we know by now how to teach kids to read?

      Isn’t it obvious that we simply refuse to summons the common sense and courage to fix the problem? So instead we hire more experts to study and report so we can keep shoveling money into the very machine that sustains the problem so the machine can grow fatter and richer every year.

  21. Reed – this is looney tunes talk. there is NO documented/proven correlation between programs to help those in poverty and other outcomes. It’s at best reactionary right mythology.

    Reed… hospitals have their problem guy but you don’t want some dude with a pocket knife carving out your appendix in a back bedroom either.

    what are you smoking boy?

    Jesus man.. WTF – What the Frick?

  22. Larry says: “this is looney tunes talk. there is NO documented/proven correlation between programs to help those in poverty and other outcomes. It’s at best reactionary right mythology.”

    Quite the contrary.

    Larry: this is serious business. You need to remove yourself from the bubble. Take some time off from the culture wars. Find a a quiet place. Sit down and do some serious reading and study. Worlds are going by. You’re missing them all. It appears you not only missed what’s happened since Homer. You missed what’s happened since Kennedy died. For the latter perspective take a snapshot of where those in need were at the start of the War on Poverty. And where they are today. The money spent. The result.

    You’re version of Looney Tunes is whatever you cannot see, don’t like, or disagree with. And what you can’t see or disagree with is most all of what’s out there in plain sight. And that’s only the tiniest smidgen of whats’ really out there. Yet you seem to have clear and precise answers for everything under and over and beyond the sun. Whatever you don’t have, you look up.

    Your “Reactionary Right Wing”? What’s that? A figment of your imagination, where you put whatever you can’t fit into your world.

  23. Reed – the right wing culture wars are not in a bubble guy. they’re 24/7 internet, print and broadcast media.

    the airwaves are full of it Limbaugh, Malkin, Levin, Beck, Hannity, etc, et al. every day.

    these folks, for instance not only reject the earlier anti-poverty efforts but they also oppose the current efforts … it’s a rejection of the whole idea of trying to do something about the problem at all.

    Using the myopic logic of the right but applied to other things, if DOD had an earlier failed weapon system program – then that just proves that the whole idea of trying to do weapons in general is bad and will always fail.

    looney tunes is my description of views that are so myopic and so far out of the mainstream (right and left) that there is no chance for anything they want to actually be implemented.

    Reed.. if you think people don’t recognize the right wing and their echo chamber.. I’d suggest the “bubble” is not on this end.

    tune in to Beck or Hannity or do you already?

  24. “tune in to Beck or Hannity or do you already?”

    This is the typical comment of someone who’s not nothing of value to say.

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