Fuck you, artificial complexity!

The universe is a pretty complex phenomenon. So are the biosphere, quantum mechanics, the functionality of the brain and many other natural phenomena. And yet, during the course of human “civilization” we have acquired an admirable body of knowledge on all of these matters, cutting through the seemingly complex appearance of the world and advancing our knowledge exponentially by the hour. We have deciphered the human genome, sent humans to the moon, and soon enough we will find a cure for cancer and develop fusion power.

However, at the same time that many intelligent human beings make most laudable contributions to the advancement of human knowledge, modern society is doing its best to impede an even faster advancement of knowledge or, much worse, the useful application of such knowledge for the benefit of humankind. The main reason I see for this is what I call artificial complexity, that is, complexity created by humans, draining valuable intellectual and manual resources away from more expedient causes.

Artificial complexity is everywhere: complex organizations function ineffectively, trying to adapt constantly to new management theory fads, creating tons of rules and regulations, installing “compliance officers” and stomping out any creativity that there may be; vague and pullulated legislation causes uncertainty for consumers, publishers, businesses and public representatives, leading to a large number of unnecessary legal battles; financial regulation enables financial institutions to obfuscate their genuine undertakings; complex medical insurance systems drown medical doctors in paperwork; a verbose and diffuse tax code causes exasperation for small businessmen as well as citizens ; patent law kills innovation all over the place and costs lives in developing countries; and lastly, copyright laws prevent easy access to knowledge and prevent teachers from copying teaching materials – these are but some aspects that are part of this insane complexity game that all of us have been playing far too long.

In an ideal world, it should be rather simple: let teachers teach, let scientists experiment and research, let doctors and nurses attend to their patients and so on – without impeding them unnecessarily and abominably with more and more artificial complexity. Let us put lawyers, tax advisors, business consultants, media advisors, bankers, legislators, lobbyists and the like out of practice and channel these resources to useful purposes, further advancing society and making this world a tad bit more livable.

In 2011 there were roughly 670 thousand teachers and 340 thousand practicing medical doctors in Germany. Compare this to approximately 660 thousand employees in the financial sector, 160 thousand lawyers, 90 thousand business consultants and 90 thousand tax advisors and you get an idea of what is going awry in modern society.

The State is not a Business – Der Staat ist kein Unternehmen

Deutsche Version
Uli Hoeneß, the current president of Germany’s premier football club FC Bayern München, and himself the co-owner of a Bavarian sausage factory, likes to be lauded as a straight-talker. Hence, he frequently proclaims apparent truths in the public arena, and he can usually be certain that the tabloids and a large faction of socio-political commentators will commend him for his straight-talking.

So, in yesterday’s prime political talk show “Günther Jauch”, he said something that many straight-talkers before him have said, namely, that the state is a beast that ought to be starved and that the government should reduce public spending and borrowing. Quote:

“[…] The state and the economy have to learn to operate like a business – and to reduce spending. It mustn’t be the case that we still and continuously increase our [public] debt. Spending must be cut.“

Hoeneß surely isn’t the first person to suggest that the state ought to be run like a business; but given the positive feedback in parts of the German media, he is among the more influential people to make this argument in more recent times, at least in Germany.

The question I always have is why people who are capable to think for two seconds actually buy this argument, that is, that a state run like a business would be more prudent with public finances and that this would lead to balanced budgets. The argument is so ridiculous, I almost wonder why this even requires any discussing at all. But here we are – and I’m just briefly going to outline why this argument is entirely self-defeating.

My rebuttal consists of two simple arguments:

  1. The state is not a business
  2. Even if it were (or if it were run like one), it should run large deficits (probably higher than is currently the case in most countries)

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