Complexity

This piece doesn’t really tell anyone how to think like I do, but it is one of the few articles to acknowledge the existence of complex systems and their dynamics, by the ever-excellent Zeynep Tufekci.

As it turns out, the reality-based, science-friendly communities and information sources many of us depend on also largely failed. We had time to prepare for this pandemic at the state, local, and household level, even if the government was terribly lagging, but we squandered it because of widespread asystemic thinking: the inability to think about complex systems and their dynamics. We faltered because of our failure to consider risk in its full context, especially when dealing with coupled risk—when multiple things can go wrong together. We were hampered by our inability to think about second- and third-order effects and by our susceptibility to scientism—the false comfort of assuming that numbers and percentages give us a solid empirical basis. We failed to understand that complex systems defy simplistic reductionism.

Such a great article. She is one of the few — the very few! — who understand how complex dynamic systems function and their fragility. She isn’t writing about the economy here, but rather the initial response to Covid-19. However, the same lessons apply. Even the “experts” don’t really understand it and are now proffering all sorts of takes that will turn out to be wrong, just as occurred for nearly two months with Covid-19 (remember all the “face masks don’t work” and “seasonal flu is way worse” flapdoodle?). Yes, even economists. Perhaps especially economists.

And I love that she said this is not a Black Swan event, which it is not. It was, as she noted, “predictable and predicted.” We knew it was going to inevitably happen, just not exactly when. That is definitionally not a Black Swan event.

Now we’re seeing what happens when we don’t “overreact” to a grave threat. We’ll see it again when climate change really starts hitting hard — except that’ll be a hundred times worse.