Complexity and Collapse   (July 26, 2011)

Adding complexity offers a facsimile of "reform" that actually serves the Prime Directive of fiefdoms and cartels: self-preservation.

The most obvious features of recent political and financial "solutions" are their staggering complexity and their failure to fix what's broken. The first leads to the second. Consider the healthcare "reform," thousands of pages of mind-numbing complexity which slathers on thick layers of bureaucratic control on a system which already costs twice as much per capita as competing developed-world systems.

Sadly, the "reform" simply solidifies the Status Quo fiefdoms and cartels that control the U.S. sickcare system.

The healthcare reform fixes nothing, while further burdening the nation with useless complexity and cost. The same can be said of the Dodd-Frank "reforms" of the embezzlement-based U.S. financial system. The original Glass–Steagall Act separating investment banking from depository banking was a few pages in length; by one count, Dodd-Frank requires that regulators create 243 rules, conduct 67 studies, and issue 22 periodic reports.

Meanwhile, back in reality, the Financial Elites of Wall Street and the "too big to fail" banks still have the nation (and Europe) by the throat.

Complexity is itself a tax; the maintenance cost of complexity is high, and can only be justified when the added complexity solves a critical problem of the society as a whole.

Adding ineffectual complexity leads to diminishing returns, as the complexity itself crushes the system supposedly being "improved" or "reformed."

Here is the "problem" which complexity "solves": it protects Savior State fiefdoms and private-sector cartels from losses. State fiefdoms and cartels have one goal: self-preservation. Once sufficient power and wealth (or control of wealth) is concentrated in a fiefdom or cartel (generally the two are partnered, as each supports the other), then the power can be devoted to limiting losses or encroachment.

That becomes the raison d'etre of the agency or enterprise.

Complexity works beautifully as self-preservation, because it actually expands the bureaucratic power of fiefdoms and widens the moat protecting cartels. Once the fiefdom expands to manage all those new rules, only a handful of corporations can possibly afford the regulatory reporting burdens. They are thus free to exploit the populace as an informal cartel.

I addressed some of these issues in The Cycle of Dependency and the Atrophy of Self-Reliance (July 2, 2011).

Put another way: in the competition with the private sector for scarce capital, the State and corruption always win. That's why kleptocracies and banana republics are characterized by bloated, unaccountable State bureaucracies and systemic corruption: sweetheart deals, no-bid contracts, shadow banking, shadow governance by Elites, inefficient workforces that cannot be fired or held accountable, and so on.

Real solutions require radically simplifying ossified, top-heavy, costly systems. Complexity serves to protect the existing constituencies and cartels; it allows those with the most to lose the cover of "reform." But the reform is only a simulacrum; it claims reform along with its expanded powers, but the result is system that is so complex that it loses all accountability. Complexity is the perfect moat.

This is the idea, of course: banana republics and other kleptocracies always manage to support vast State bureaucracies which enable and support private cartel stripmining of the national wealth.

Note that the Status Quo always supports complex "reforms" and dismisses radical simplification as "impractical." What "impractical" means is that various fiefdoms and cartels would lose swag and power, and that would be painful; thus it is verboten.

The single goal is preserving the revenue and reach of concentrated power centers: State fiefdoms with large constituencies and headcounts, and cartels with no competition and stupendous profits. The two are hand in glove.

But complexity does have an eventual cost: collapse. Keep adding decks to the ship and eventually it capsizes and sinks. One the ship is sufficiently top-heavy, all it takes is a small wave.

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