Do we really think we can just bolt some sort of “government 2.0 module” onto steam-era bureaucracies and magically bring them into the 21st Century?
Sure, our governments served us fairly well in the 20th Century, at least in the West. They beat the bad guys in WWII, brought us through the scary Cold War and delivered health and prosperity our grandparents would have found unimaginable.
Not to mention Windows ME.
But times are changing. We’re starting to notice that things don’t work as well as they used to. We’re spending taxpayers’ money bailing out economies only to have bankers suck out more bonuses anyway. Conferences intended to agree on Climate Change action produce… well… nothing concrete. Sydney’s suburban railway network is slower than in the 1920s!
Having invested so much time and money on these institutions, though, we’re reluctant to let them go.
This is the sunk cost fallacy.
The Concorde is the classic example. Long after it must have been clear to the French and British governments that no-one was going to buy this aircraft, they continued investing in it simply because they’d already spent so much and didn’t want to lose those “sunk costs”. Yet those costs were gone, no matter what. To continue spending was irrational.
The same happened in the Vietnam War, where US President Lyndon Johnson kept committing thousands of troops after he’d realised the cause was hopeless and America could not win.
I’ve written before, in Risk, Fear and Paranoia: Perspective, People!, that change is being held back by, well, fear and paranoia. But this morning I stumbled across Umair Haque’s The Builders’ Manifesto. He’s got it in one.
20th century leadership is what’s stopping 21st century prosperity.