Saturday, October 5, 2013

Centralization Needs Decentralization

...for oh so many reasons. Yep, it doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense, and people tend to argue for one or the other depending on worldview and ideological factors. However, tempting as it is for developed societies to do important stuff or heavy lifting (economically) in terms of centralization, considerable long term risk is involved. Central control tends to work great until society reaches a point where it finally doesn't - and too much of value can be lost as a result. Plus, centralized control systems also don't work well for the lower income groups which fall outside the costs of their demands and expectations. Those societal expectations fail to consider wide variances of income, which need very different categories of product differential in order to successfully adapt.

History is of course replete with examples of centralization going too far. However, even as people remember earlier slow motion "train wrecks", getting onto alternative tracks to maintain progress is not easy. One rationale goes like this: "long term issues won't get here any time soon, besides in the long run we're all dead anyway". That mindset encourages people to bulldoze away a fuller range of potential lifestyle options, because it appears simpler - even more sensible - to do so.  Few aspects of life can soothe the worries of centralization like a "far" perspective. After all, "far" is the roof which doesn't have to be fixed when it's not raining, so why bother when other things are really pressing, now? What's more, the kinds of infrastructure which could assist "far" get caught in the struggles between centralization and decentralization.

Since I'm mostly a non fiction reader, it's not dystopian novels or conspiracy theories that caused my present concerns about the effects of excessive centralization, but simply life circumstance over the years. There is a TV show now called "Revolution" and while I don't watch it, the show's image of a world electrical grid fizzling out, nonetheless comes through loud and clear. Would society be ready if something like that actually happened? Most people who get caught standing in grocery lines whenever the electricity goes out locally, probably don't think so.

Around the time of the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid nineties, I became aware that a growing segment of society had less use for the preservation of knowledge, instead of more. Also in that same time frame, I became more aware of the fringe groups around the U.S. which were becoming anti-government in extreme and disturbing ways. Since then, I have also become concerned about losing the civilizational gains of economic exchange at too many local levels. If that were not enough, significant losses in economic participation are partly responsible for a growing level of mentally disturbed, as well. However, anyone with mental issues is less likely to find assistance today, as our present healthcare system is currently structured. Only decentralized forms of knowledge use and services can truly address these vital issues. There needs to be forms of good and peaceful rebellion, to quell the more dangerous forms.

One disconcerting element is that we really need dispersed electrical generation, in order to protect the potential of knowledge use around the world in its present form. People are going to have to organize at local levels to make that happen, even if other energy interests aren't crazy about the idea. It's just too easy for disruption to happen eventually, otherwise. If disruption were to happen now, people are not yet ready yet to pick up with really strong forms of decentralization, to repair and restore better aspects of good centralization. Much of the knowledge use which matters the most is still siloed in ways that keeps it from being useful to any but a tiny fragment of populations. Of course, that has always been one of the greater problems any civilization faces - the reluctance to publicly record and make real in the aggregate, its greatest strengths.

In the earlier twentieth century there were still plenty of economic decentralized options for lower income levels. Governments need to restore both production and consumption options for all income levels in this regard, especially at a time when government budgets for services of all kinds are increasingly under attack. What's more, by allowing innovation to happen for smaller, more portable dwellings and work spaces, economic growth in services can also occur. It is vital to create appropriate services which can be measured, recorded and encouraged, instead of lower income levels having to resort to subpar means of adaptation and giving up on productive knowledge use unnecessarily.

What aspects of government centralization are still most beneficial? Not surprisingly, measurement and recording of economic capacity is at the top of the list, and yet these areas are among the first to be threatened in times of budget constraints. However, not only do measurements of economic capacity show us what worked well previously - they also provide roadmaps for the way ahead so that better decision making remains possible. Decentralization of knowledge use and infrastructure capacity are also among the best ways to overcome budget constraints. And, the process of recording what we do is also a way to keep governments "in the loop", while we find more effective ways to take back the services challenges which government failed (miserably) to coordinate with private interests. Recent gridlock in Washington is ample proof that the process of centralized public and private coordination has all but broken down.

Most importantly, effective decentralization is not something that would be optimal at the level of states, in that state laws can be every bit as restrictive as national laws in terms of economic access. This is particularly true in terms of knowledge use, for many states utilize non-compete agreements which mean employees cannot start businesses utilizing knowledge or innovations that they engaged in through previous work.

Cities of the future could recapture the option to spread knowledge use beyond institutional bounds to the level of total population. By so doing, many city populations could engage in the spread of what would become common dialogue between disciplines. That would mean inter-domain conversations become possible, between groups which need to be able to work together for common solutions. Through decentralization, economic organization would allow cities to coordinate skills and knowledge use, so that a language between disciplines can emerge.

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