It summer time and so I thought I would share a thought that has been kicking around in the back of my head as I have been traveling around the world. This is outside the norm for the blog, but consider it a little summer reading. I would really appreciate your thoughts on this. Thanks for your consideration.
Thomas Robert Malthus was a 19th century British political economist who observed that populations had a tendency to go through periods of great expansion followed by brief but significant contractions/collapses driven that would reset the population at a more sustainable level until the cycle began again.
Mathlus’s name has been invoked by doomsayers for generations who see collapse as being the most likely approach to pushing the reset button.
Technologists have been fighting Malthus tooth and nail from the green revolution in agriculture that transformed India and others, to modern medicine and communications technologies that make the world smaller and more efficient. Technology has allowed the population to grow and develop without catastrophic decline for more than 50 years.
It would seem that human beings are becoming smarter and that Malthus may no longer apply as any problem we face can be solved by technology. Right ?
While mankind may be able to support the billions of people now alive and the billions that will come after them, that does not mean that the cycle of boom and bust is broken. It also does not mean that we should only measure success in terms of meeting people’s physical needs.
Perhaps Matlthus has just moved from the real world to the virtual world.
Virtual does not always mean being online.
Virtual in the sense that the next collapse may not be driven by pestilence and death. But rather a virtual collapse of the spirit, societal values, and the proposition associated with being a productive member of the society. People rioting and looting in Britain were not driven exclusively by material need, but by other motivations as well.
This is not a post about declining morals and the need to fix society. As much as it is an observation that many people are and will experience a collapse of meaning in their lives. There are others who are fighting the culture wars both literally and figuratively so I will leave that to them.
I believe that we are just beginning to see the realities of the global information based economy and the start is messy. Taking this view forward the existing status quo economic and perhaps political systems will have to collapse before new systems are able to take their place. That is a form of disruptive rather than creative destruction as we destroy what we have rather than recycle/repurpose toward realizing a future. I would rather recycle and move forward than burn our bridges as we cross into a new frontier.
So perhaps Malthus lives after all in a virtual sense and in the virtual world of capital markets, consumer sentiment, business strategies and cultural expectations.
You can see virtual Malthus at work in the nature of political discourse on all sides of the political spectrum around the world. You can see that in the chronic underemployment in modern society and graduates who have few prospects in the job market. You see it in sovereign nations whose government spending puts the world economy at risk requiring bailouts. You see it on Wall Street and you see it on main street as people believe that their difficulties are not their fault and not there’s to fix.
But there is.
It is time to stop ‘managing’ problems and start solving them. Managing a problem, the mantra for much public policy and corporate strategy, only blunts the damage. It does not obliterate it. Damage done, not matter how less painful, is still damage. Managing a problem assumes that its too big, complex, controversial. How many times have we heard that before and how much does that mindset drain a society of its confidence.
Its time that we start solving problems rathe than making them easier to manage our way through them. Managing, mitigating or having the situation under control is not the same as solving the issue. You can manage a fire, but is it not better to put it out?
Virtual Malthus exists whenever there is a collapse of spirit, confidence and capability.
Achievement is the only answer. Real achievement not feel good action intended to gain attention and recognition. You do not build someone’s spirit up by giving them feel good messages — that is Orwellian and feeds Malthus. Rather start small, make it personal.
Help someone help themselves. Give them a chance, the skills, the opportunity to achieve and hold them accountable for it. A lack of accountability is indicative of ‘managing’ your way through.
If you need help, ask for it. Not to make things better, but to make things different by solving the issue. Demand the solution come from yourself as much as it comes from others. That is the best way to excel rather than just exist.