Brexit: Talking Past the Point

It is a busy week in the UK House of Commons. At this writing, Meaningful Brexit Vote 2.0 (We Really Mean It This Time) has failed by 149 votes.  This deals an apparent death blow to PM May’s attempts to negotiate an orderly retreat from the EU. The likely result will be a lot of hand wringing and a vote to delay the process.

The entire exercise appears to be based on what Winston Churchill once accused Americans of doing, namely “Once we have exhausted all the other possibilities we do the right thing.” Ignoring the will of the people after a referendum requires a period of slow torture and likely another popular vote (We Really, Really Mean It, We Promise).

All of this is quite impossible for one simple reason: Brexit isn’t really about Brexit. Like most political issues in developed nations today, the cause of all this noise and nonsense isn’t really the issue at hand. It’s not about whether the UK should be in the EU or not – in an ideal situation it’s rather obvious that it should be. The problem is that we are so far from ideal that no one can make any sense of anything.  And that’s where this American politely, humbly, offers his opinion on this situation.

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Seeking the Source

This piece from four years ago is a bit dated, but it also is not. We do need to find original sources, and far too many important issues in our world are clouded by the lack of them.

The internet is a wide, rolling river of information. It can be treacherous and dangerous to wade into if you’re not careful. If you’re looking for a cool drink of truth, the muddy brown of this mighty Mississippi of data often has a harsh stench of bias bubbling along with the waves. What can a reader thirsty for knowledge do?

The answer is to seek the source – the cool, clear stream that feeds into the torment at the headwaters. I call it the “Urquelle”, a German word meaning “original source” favored in the mountains and rolling hills that are the source of so many great rivers in Bavaria and Bohemia. This process of seeking out primary sources is valuable not just for writers, for whom primary sources have long been a staple of good, useful prose. As surely as reading is writing, today’s discerning reader should also seek the Urquelle.
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Trade Deficits Tell Us Something

The US trade deficit in goods jumped a solid $80 billion per year in 2018 to $878 billion, a net increase of 10% over 2017. This rather abstract figure is naturally spun to reflect either a rebuke of Trump and his policies or as a sign that the economy is particularly strong, depending on your perspective. From the point of view of China, it’s a sign that they might well be “winning” a trade war.

Is that what any of it means? The long answer is no, of course, but it begs the question as to what any of it actually does mean. It’s important to put the trade deficit into context and reach a deeper understanding of the flow of money around the world. The resulting analysis does show that there is a problem in the world, a fundamental imbalance, but does not tell us how much we should be worried about it.

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Work Redefined

What has been called “The best job market in half a century” is reason enough to revisit this piece from three years ago.

Is technology a net creator or destroyer of jobs? The question is as old as the Industrial Revolution, when workers in mills found themselves put out of work by large industrial looms. In France, they threw their shoes (sabots) into the weaving machines to destroy them – the origin of the term “sabotage”. The protests didn’t stop the machines, however, and the workers had to find something else to do in an ever-changing economy where machines did more and more work.

Today, the pace of technological change is faster than ever, with new gadgets coming into our lives constantly. Automation is also transforming our lives, with new robots and artificial intelligence replacing workers constantly. Are today’s productivity gains tomorrow’s unemployment? Increasingly those who study technology in our lives and the popular media are coming to the conclusion that yes, workers are net losers in the race against tech. And this is not a partisan issue.

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Getting Past Anxiety

When anyone is confronted with a new situation, it’s only natural to want to treat it just like something that they have experienced before. There may be a few tweaks necessary, of course, but can’t this just be handled like everything we’ve ever done before?

Anxiety in today’s world generally comes from a realization that this isn’t a good idea. The feeling is likely to come from the guts than the head, being an intuitive feeling more than a thought. But it’s there. This can easily be preyed on by hucksters looking for loyalty of various kinds as they shop solutions in search of problems. “This isn’t anything new,” the arguments always go, “It’s that THEY don’t want to do the right thing.”

There has to be a better way. And there is.

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Cynefin, a Sense-Making Framework

The world is changing constantly. This causes tremendous anxiety everywhere, and for good reasons. Many of the systems we depend on to dispense wealth, understanding, and happiness appear to be broken. People everywhere have to adapt to a new level of complexity brought about by dealing with other people and cultures who do not respond according to assumed values and behaviors.

One solution is to run shrieking to the hills, away from this world and into a land where the old assumptions and known practices still work. Another is to deal with the situation, one way or another, and master at least some sense of order in your own life.

But how? Here is one tool for analyzing new situations which steps out of the assumptions and best practices and beyond the many solutions in search of problems.

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