NewslettersAugust 18th, 2020
PG #64: “Be ruthless with systems, be kind with people”
"Be ruthless with systems, be kind with people"
Michael Brooks, 1983–2020
I’ve been really struggling this week, knowing what is going on here in Melbourne, and knowing bits and pieces of what is going on in the rest of the world. In a week of bad news, in a year of bad news, in a decade of bad news, it’s really hard to think of what to write about.
The other reason I’m struggling with the newsletter this week is that I’m worried I’ve got a bit repetitive in general: my schtick seems to be “we already know the solution, dummies!” Recently I’ve written or been speaking things like:
We already know the solution to poverty: give people money.
We already know the solution to homelessness: give people homes.
We already know the solution to climate change: a green new deal.
We already know the solution to our economic woes: doughnut economics (plus a green new deal, for good measure).
And I’ve said it before many times: ‘innovation’ doesn’t always mean doing something new; sometimes the most innovative thing you can do is apply the obvious solution that is right in front of you. This isn’t always easy of course. Sometimes that solution needs to be revealed in a compelling way before you can see it.
To take my somewhat trite ‘We already know the solution to poverty: give people money’ as an example here: the current pandemic has made it abundantly clear that a) poverty is no moral failing, it’s the inevitable outcome of an unjust and fragile system, and b) governments can mobilise resources and change economic systems extremely quickly to stop people falling into poverty, if they want to.
By one estimate, the raise in the ‘jobseeker’ rate in Australia lifted more people out of poverty (~425,000) than any other government action in our history.
So: the crisis has revealed that we can act quickly and compassionately (in this case to a sudden influx of unemployment) if we choose. What else can we react this quickly to if we treat it like it’s not an individual moral failing, but a systemic problem? How about homelessness? How about climate change?
Of course, what real innovation takes is political will to change the status quo, and this is usually the most difficult step. First you have to treat a crisis like the crisis that it is.