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Our System Failed To Plan — And It Planned To Fail

By Thomas Venner, Citizen State Advisory Committee Member (Europe)

· Opinion,Healthcare,Politics,Coronavirus,Systems Thinking

This was going to happen. It was predictable; in a broad sense it was already predicted. Not if, but when. Surprise, at this point, is a delusion. This was seen coming. The fundamental issue is a structural one, and was one long before the specific cause we see now became an issue.

Sustained external stressors expose the faults in any system. In socioeconomic terms the largest of these stress-testers are natural disaster and epidemic disease, the two factors that cannot be prevented outright. The UK, though it’s now been eclipsed by the coronavirus outbreak in the public consciousness, recently saw whole tracts of the country devastated by flooding, and not for the first time even within the last few years. But establishing effective preventative measures or ensuring support for those affected offered no significant opportunity for private profit, so it was not done. The fault was seen, and no measures were taken to counteract it. The system is not designed to cope, and the system is designed not to cope. Failing to plan is planning to fail, and failure to plan has become a defining theme of the era.

It’s easy to look at the situation right now and describe it in terms of a warning or a wake-up call. But those already happened, repeatedly. The warnings and wake-up calls, when they came, were not heeded; what we see now and have to deal with now is the systemic failure we were warned of in advance but failed to acknowledge.

Failing to plan is planning to fail, and failure to plan has become a defining theme of the era.

A robust system is designed with inbuilt redundancies to ensure its overall function continues when its primary mechanism fails. A system designed to run exclusively on a single primary mechanism alone is one designed to fail when the function of that single primary mechanism is interrupted. In this case, the system is one designed to run exclusively on market commerce, on consumption and profit. This system has been in a state of partially mitigated failure for over a decade of diminished, stop-start functioning, but now, with outright gaps developing in its activity, a full picture emerges of its operational inadequacies. The simple and unavoidable fact of the matter is that our socioeconomic mechanism now lacks redundancies; it no longer has a functional backup option ready to kick in when standard operation fails. This fundamental lack of systemic robustness has now been laid bare.

Whether any meaningful change can be made fast enough, widely enough and efficiently enough to mitigate the damage during this crisis itself remains to be seen, though from current impressions the answer to that question looks to be a resounding no. But when whatever comes next has run its course and the time finally comes to begin some semblance of recovery, there must be a thorough, uncompromising, objective, and pragmatic examination of the failures that led us here. An equally thorough and uncompromising conversation will need to follow about how a more robust system can be built. It may be no longer possible to prevent this crisis. It is still possible — if the willingness exists to try — to prevent the next one.

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