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One of the many calculations going on in the background within varied historical contexts is the relationship between efficiency and resilience.  Consider arch construction from Roman times and now.

The Roman arch has a distinct set of design principles that focus on the utilitarian principles of usefulness and longevity in public infrastructure.

 

The modern arch.

 

Same concept, but now a different formula has been employed, as different ends are in mind. Aversion to overbuilding, a focus on form rather than utilitarian concerns.  Public architecture most certainly, but will these arches last centuries?  Doubtful.

 

So, from here we can extrapolate the notion of the interplay between efficiency and resiliency, the Roman arch being the model of resiliency and the modern arch being the exemplar of efficiency.  Neither is wrong per say but rather, each work displays what qualities are needed at a particular point in societal history.

Fast forward to the present.  And yes, the present we speak of is the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020.  Like the Spanish Flu before it, the Coronavirus is rapidly burning through the various world populations.

The societal systems we have built are mostly modelled on the basis of maximizing efficiency, as efficient systems with capitalist societies are usually quite profitable.  Jill Richardson writing in Counterpunch describes the model we are using for much of our economy.

“I went to business school 20 years ago. We learned about the efficiency of “just-in-time” supply management.

The goal was to cut costs by ordering inventory “just in time.” That way you don’t pay for all the extra, costly warehouses to store weeks or months of supplies. The example we were given was that if a certain large corporation’s supply chain shut down, they’d only have enough materials on hand to keep up production for four days.

Efficient? Yes. Resilient? No.”

Economic design decisions, like societal design decisions reflect the social priorities and needs of a people at a particular time.  When paradigm shifting events happen, like a pandemic, the shortfalls of the system are revealed.

“My business school taught social Darwinism: survival of the fittest. The beauty of capitalism, we were taught, is that everyone competes for business and the competition drives innovation, while the least efficient companies go out of business.

It was an outlook that Ayn Rand would endorse: the most generous way to behave is to be selfish, because by doing your part to compete, you are doing your part to drive innovation and efficiency for everyone.

This crisis is pulling back the curtain on unfettered laissez-faire capitalism, showing that we are actually interconnected. And it’s far more serious than toilet paper.

A stark shortage of personal protective equipment has left health care workers without enough to go around. In my town, hospitals are organizing to receive donations from anyone who has a box of face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves at home.

In short, they’re relying on community resilience where for-profit efficiency failed.”

Our capitalism system is a marvelous at maximizing efficiency, but when the base rules and global situation changes, the once successful model (should) quickly lose its lustre.

“In normal times, we justify a form of capitalism in which competition means accepting inequality and suffering in the name of improving efficiency for all. We accept that some face poverty, hunger, and homelessness, and we’re okay with it because of a myth that it’s natural, or better for everyone (or else caused by the moral failings of those who suffer).

Continuing to believe that myth now will cause millions of deaths worldwide. Instead, our only hope is pulling together to help others through shared sacrifice and collective action.

Resilience isn’t always profitable. But we need it now more than ever.”

We will need to adapt our models and societies for this new base set of conditions.  A foundational requirement in the new normal will be building a higher level of cooperation in society and the fostering the willingness to critically evaluate the old paradigm and correct the models that do not jive with the new social reality.  Building resilience into our societies must become a priority otherwise the pandemic lessons of 1918, and 2020 will need to be relearned at a great cost to human life and progress.

 

 

” Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.”

A new model is necessary to mitigate future crisis, it must revolve around the idea that a formula weighted more toward resilience is necessary for a sustainable future.

 

 

 

 

 

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