Poor Design Will Be The Death of Us All

REUTERS/Zach Gibson

John Conlin Contributor
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Archimedes, one of the greatest mathematicians and scientists of all time understood the importance of the design of a system.  Commenting on the incredible power of levers he noted, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.”  With a properly designed system almost anything is possible; with a poor one, almost nothing.

The power and importance of system design is at the core of any attempt to accomplish the desired goal and the societal impact of system design can and does span decades.

During World War II wage and price controls were implemented in a foolish attempt to restrict the unrestrictable.  This led companies to compete for employees by providing tax-free health care for their employees.  This was never a well-thought public policy.  It was not debated and analyzed.  It was simply a response to the flawed thinking behind wage and price controls.

And now a little over 70 years later we are still living with this debacle as it has become only more ingrained in our collective lives.  This decades old response to a bad idea in all likelihood has forever ended any chance we might someday have a free market for health care as we do for almost every other product.  At some point it time it simply becomes “you can’t get there from here.”

Sadly, in all likelihood this one response to a foolish idea will ensure we have socialized medicine forever.  And as many have noted, socialized medicine leads to only more socialism, and socialism has never worked long-term in any society in the history of humans.  We face this bleak reality all because of a poor idea implemented decades ago.

Social security is another example of a poorly designed system that has the potential to dramatically change the course of history.  The primary problem with social security is that at its core it is a Ponzi design, i.e. it only “works” if the base forever continues to grow.  This obviously cannot continue forever.  And when it can no longer continue, what happens then?

In 1945 there were over 40 workers supporting a single social security beneficiary.  Today it is less than 3.  When it was created the average life expectancy was around 61 years, yet benefits started at 65.  Thus by design at the time, more than half of the population would never see any benefits.  Today life expectancy is over 78 years.  You do the math.

Much of the mindless immigration policies of the West are a foolish reaction to the need to feed the growing maw of this poorly designed system. And to make matters worse, this is occurring at the same time the number of workers needed to drive our economy is rapidly shrinking, especially for low-skill positions.  This is another quite foreseeable coming train-wreck driven by conflicting, poorly designed systems.

Yet around 59 million get social security benefits each month.  That’s about one in six people!  Does anyone believe it is a good idea to have 1 in four families in the US depending on a system whose very design ensures a catastrophic failure at some point in the future?  Right now that date is 2034, 17 years from now, when social security will not be able to meet promised benefits.

Medicaid covers around 70 million people, about 1 in 5 Americans, and it will be broke in 2028.  That’s just 11 years from nowMedicare, which covers around 49 million hits the wall in the same time frame.  Together these enrollees now exceed the number of full-time private sector workers in the United States.

Notice this isn’t about the desirability and benefit levels of these various programs – we can debate and argue about that –  just that each is built on a design which ultimately leads to catastrophic failure.  Just like the wage and price controls of WWII, each creates unintended waves that flow though time. And waves have an unfortunate habit of crashing at some point upon all in their path.

Can the light of individual freedom and liberty, to say nothing of a functioning society, survive such poorly designed systems?  We are racing to a day where we will discover this answer.  Sadly, individual freedom will most likely be the first victim and alas once lost, freedom is not likely to make a return visit.

We are stewards of this country.  In many ways we have become the stewards of individual freedom across the globe.  Knowingly building and implementing fatally flawed systems upon which millions of people come to depend is not the sign of a wise, caring, and long-lived society.  Rather it is the sign of an immature, childish, and in all likelihood short-lived society.

If we do not accept the importance of far better system design in our various government programs I fear this wonderful experiment in self-government and all the wealth it creates may soon become a distant memory.  And when it falls, no life on the planet will be left unscathed.

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change.  He is also President and founder of E.I.C. Enterprises, www.EICEnterprises.org, a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world primarily through K-12 education.