Sunday, 8 April 2018

Success or Failure

Tomorrow, will be exactly three months to when I am eligible to claim the UK government pension. I already know at that date, I will have finished work and be on my final annual leave before officially retiring a little later in July. We have spent some time reviewing our finances to se what state we will be in. The conclusion is that I have not been that successful as there is no great retirement pot that we can live off. In fact, I may need to find some part time work just to help cover our costs. However, I really want to focus on research around peace building, economics, and computational reasoning. It would be nice to be funded for two days per week to conduct this research but we will still do some without funding after all that is how I have conducted research for nearly 20 years but maybe more on that later.
However, over the last year, I have taken to walking around my local neighbourhood as part of an objective of achieving at least 6,000 steps each day. Tomorrow will actually mark the 400thday when I have achieved that goal. But what I notice on my walks is that despite our area being in the Bournville Trust although near the western boarder, there are not signs of prosperity around here. In general properties within the trust area are well maintained but not consistently so. Just outside the trust area and the standards drop quickly. Walking through a newer housing state not far from us gives evidence of uncared for properties. Add to that the accumulation of road side rubbish (some fly tipped) and you wonder what is really so great about the United Kingdom. I am not convinced that there is much but then it is obviously better than the state which many find themselves in in Syria or some areas of Africa.
However, my thoughts have really focused on what success or failure means. I am reminded of a book in my personal library, The Logic of Failure : Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations (Dörner,1997). In his book, Dörnertalks about complex problem solving scenarios that they got participants to attempt to solve and the high failure rate at solving these problems. The reason why there was a high failure rate primarily cam down to the focus of the participants. The participants would focus on solving one problem within the scenario and ignore all the other issues. The example I always remember is building a pipeline to supply water only to find when they had completed it the community that they were supplying water for was dead because of disease or other issues.
I can reflect on my career and see that at times, I have given priority to one area at the detriment of others (i.e. I have focused on teaching related issues at the expense of building a research reputation) but that is not the most significant reason why I have not progressed research as fast as I might.
However, it is not my own career that I want to focus on here. As I reflected on Dörner’s book, I thought about the current Conservative UK government and its focus on BRExit. I wonder whether we have a government that has a single problem focus and has lost sight of the wider issues. Maybe, if it kept a wider range of issues in focus, it might not be so focused on a suicidal exit from Europe. Supposedly we are now within 12 months of exiting Europe but no clearer as to what that means other than Britain having less say in European decision making. Unlike many European Union nations, the United Kingdom still has its own currency and control over its financial markets. It benefits from the European Union funding cycles and trade agreements, and has free access to European Markets. In fact, it is difficult to see where the UK is hindered by its European Union membership. Leaving does not look like it is going to give much more control back to the UK and possibly is going to remove control since it will have no representation in the European Parliament. Is the BRExit focus causing the UK government to fail in its obligations to the home nations? My belief is that it probably is and from what I hear from economists, they believe it will have negative impact on the UK economy.
However, even prior to the Brexit vote, I would contend that the Conservative government with its neo-liberal austerity economic policies had a single focus (lower the deficit). The estimates is that this caused an average loss to the UK population in the region of £10,000 per person since 2009 (Wren-Lewis, 2018). Is this success or failure? Yes, as George Osborne celebrated recently, they achieved the governments deficit target but what was the consequences for the UK economy and the people? Was that sacrifice worth the effort? Is this success or failure?
My contention here is that the singular or narrow focus (usually around economic or money issues) of governments causes governments to fail the people and ultimately the world. We cannot solve environmental issues by focusing on economic affordability. We cannot solve housing issue by focusing on affordability. We cannot solve conflicts around the world by focusing on the economic impact. We cannot end an arms trade by focusing on economic impact.If anything, we need to recognise the limitations of our economic models and the reasons for their failure and begin to put priority on dealing with the real issues regardless of the monetary cost. Maybe, as Steve Keen (2012, p 354) says in his book, capitalismneedsa year of jubilee. However, maybe we need an alternative economic focus that allows us to hold everything in better balance.
Footnote:If you have followed my blogs, you will realise that I have not been totally dedicated to teaching and that I have pursued a lot of background reading in computational thinking, economics, and peace building. I recognise that it is easy to become very narrowly focused and to fail to see the breadth of material required to understand how we might solve world problems. My fear for British education is that it encourages specialisation of knowledge rather than a broader perspective. However, that critique may belong to a number of education systems around the world.


Dörner, Dietrich (1997) The Logic of Failure : Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Books.
Keen, Steve (2011). Debunking Economics - Revised and Expanded Edition: The Naked Emperor Dethroned?Zed Books Ltd.
Wren-Lewis, Simon (2019) The media and attitudes to austerity. Available from: Accessed: 8 April 2018.

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