The Arizona Law, The Greek Crisis, The Oil Spill
The Arizona Law
People in America are having a very emotional reaction to the new immigration law passed in Arizona, whereby police officers can stop whomever they suspect of being illegally in the state and demand proof that he is legally here. If someone is unable to show proof, he will be deported.
On one side of the fence are conservatives, who support the law, claiming it is high time the country began to control illegal immigration. They claim we should not tolerate, or deal “softly” with, people who ignore the law. Period. Conservatives have other reasons to support their position, but it starts with the fact that illegal is illegal. Period.
On the other side of the fence are liberals, who oppose the law because it violates human rights and resembles the laws of racist regimes who used racial profiling to discriminate.
To me, it is a debate between people with an (A) style of reasoning versus those with an (I) style (see any of my books on the PAEI model). President Obama’s position on the issue is clearly an (I) position, which is no surprise: His election campaign, his foreign policy initiatives, his method of promoting legislation, his selection of a candidate for the Supreme Court, all have the (I) style as a common denominator.
But either style of reasoning points to the same conclusion: that the United States is a nation in the aging stages of its lifecycle.
When the United States was in its youthful, growing stages, immigrants would arrive at Ellis Island with little or no documentation, yet within hours, they would be able to cross the processing hall into the United States.
Read the sonnet “The New Colossus” (1883) by Emma Lazarus, engraved on the pedestal on which stands the Statue of Liberty. Its most famous lines read:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Does this not apply to the immigrants of today? Apparently not. What was once welcome becomes less welcome as the nation continues to age.
I read that the teachers union in New York has finally come to an agreement with state education authorities on how teachers will be evaluated and rewarded. The agreement says teachers will be judged by the results their students exhibit on the various tests they are required to take.
But what happens when you give someone a reward or a punishment based on a measurement? Obviously, he will begin to focus almost exclusively on what is being measured. The problem is that “not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted” (an expression attributed variously to Albert Einstein and the sociologist William Bruce Cameron).
Imagine you had a spouse who measured your love by the value of the jewelry you gave her. She might become a rich wife, but the marriage will no doubt be an unhappy one.
Love should be verified, validated, not measured. The act of measuring undermines the phenomenon you are trying to measure. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle does not apply only to physics.
This type of mistake, in which we try to measure how well we are doing, is also due to (A) reasoning: It is for the sake of efficiency that we take this route. Measuring appears easy and is comforting: It gives the impression of being precise and thus scientific – even when it completely misses the point of why we are measuring in the first place.
This is also called “the street lamp fallacy”:
A man is looking for something under the bright light of a street lamp in a pitch-dark night.
“What are you looking for?” he is asked.
“I am looking for my keys,” he responds.
“Where did you lose them?”
“At the end of the street, over there.”
“So why are you looking over here?”
“Because the light is here,” he answers.
The inappropriate application of measurements can give us the precisely wrong answer rather than the approximately right answer.
The Oil Spill
Elizabeth Birnbaum, the director of the Minerals Management Service, resigned under pressure. This is the nice way to say: “fired”.
And the previous president G.W. Bush is blamed for the spill too because he fostered too many close relationships with the oil industry.
And the present President admits publicly: “I screwed up.”
Was it the incompetence of the director of Mineral Services, or the cozy attitude of the former president, or the bad judgment of the present president that caused the disaster to happen, or is it the insufficient attention to safety that the BP people exhibited? Or may be it is all of the above?
While all the above are potential symptoms of the problem they are not the cause.
The cause of the problem is structural: the organization that was supposed to approve the safety of the rig was the same government agency that gave the permits to dig for oil and was the same that collected the royalties for the government.
Do you see here that the ( P ) role is in conflict with the ( A ) role?
It should have been expected that (A) role will take “a back seat” in how the agency operated, which is what happened.
If this is what allowed for the disaster to happen, if safety controls were sloppy because of this conflict of interests, than the problem is much bigger than the present leak.
Urgently, a separate government agency should be created with the exclusive role of approving and monitoring the safe operation of rigs. Who knows how many more rigs are ready to explode too?
This structural problem that the government is badly structured does not end just with the Mineral Management Services. What about the FAA, which has the role to both promote aviation AND control how safely it operates? And what about the Department of the Interior that manages the national parks but also grants permits to exploit the land?
In some countries the department of Management and Budget is within the Ministry of Treasury. Whose interests do they represent first, of the government that needs money to function or of the country as a whole. Not strange that in those countries government machinery is growing at the expense of the national economy.
In one country I have consulted for, the environment protection agency reports to the Ministry of Tourism. Guess which interest is suffering more.
My forty years of management consulting taught me that disastrous Organizational Architecture is the cause of many organizational disasters and this is one of them.
The Greek Financial Crisis
In the 1990s, when Constantine Mitsotakis was prime minister of Greece, he invited me to do a diagnosis (a“syndag”) of the country. In attendance were members of the Cabinet, the president of the central bank, and leaders of the New Democracy party, then in power.
The diagnosis revealed that the country had a mounting deficit: The government was spending more than it was collecting. How was the deficit being covered? With subsidies from the European Union.
It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that subsidies will end someday. Nothing is forever.
I did not discover until later that the Greek statistical agency was presenting inaccurate economic figures that perpetuated the subsidies.
What is clear though is that the sad state of the Greek economy was a well-known secret. And no one did anything. Why? Because politicians want to get to power and stay in power; thus they are reluctant to make decisions that are not politically acceptable.
Did you know that Greek government employees get a bonus just for showing up at work? That Greek government employees retire at age 53 – when most people in the world feel they are still in their prime?
How did that happen?
It is not too difficult to guess.
Politicians are not statesmen. Statesmen worry about the next generation. Politicians worry about the next election.
This phenomenon of worrying more about the short-run goals and less, if at all, about the long-run goals, is a universal orientation – not limited to politics. Business leaders, it is claimed, focus on quarterly earnings. Marriages are not the lifetime commitment they once were. Our products are manufactured with planned obsolescence built in; our horizon is getting closer and closer.
Greek politicians were not the only ones to take the country into receivership. Look at the state of Social Security in the United States. Or Brazil’s government expenditures as a percentage of GNP.
Maybe Greece is only the early warning of a more worrisome global phenomenon!
Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes