Category Archives: Random Reflections

What Kind of Hole Are You In? And Why?

The familiar line goes: “When you’re in a hole, what’s the first thing you do?”.  And the follow-on is: “Stop diggin'”.  I beg to differ.

“Stop diggin'” is the third thing you might do, contingent on circumstances.

The first thing one must do is to recognize that one is in a hole.  Known in military and managerial  jargon as ‘situational awareness’.

The second thing one must do is to ask “Why am I in this hole”.  Call this contextual understanding, which ought to be an integral part of situational awareness, except too few leaders bother to get to this point before rushing to action.

The third thing one must do is to ask: “What am I going to do about it?”  Strategy.

So let’s get back in the hole, and ask ourselves these questions:

What is my situation?  Oh, I’m in a hole.  And what kind of hole?  Is it a fox hole?  A grave? A sinkhole?

If I’m in a fox hole, why am I here?  Heavy fire? Approaching tornado? Evading detection?  I may want to keep digging.

If it’s a grave, and I’m still cognitive, I might want to ask the unlikely question of why I’m investing effort in digging a grave.  For myself? For someone else?  Just to have one handy?

If it’s a sinkhole, I’d better call for a rope or a ladder p.d.q.

The moral of the story is that not all holes are bad.  Some are of necessity, Some are of circumstance.  But how we need to deal with them depends on why we got there and what is the imperative to get out.  A sinkhole poses more immediate need for action than a foxhole, and a grave may be beyond discretion.

Except for the grave, sooner or later we’re going to have to leave the hole, whatever it’s raison d’etre.

The relevance of this mental meandering is that we find ourselves in a number of holes today, apparently without situational awareness, contextual awareness,  or strategy.

In race relations in the United States, and religious and ethnic strife around the world, we are apparently electing to dig ourselves graves, not only for the newly deceased, but for the society at large which refuses to confront the futility of its values.

In our economies, we are struggling to dig foxholes, unaware that our actions are really grounded in sinkholes.  Greece, for some reason, comes rushing to mind, although I also have an uncomfortable feeling about the Chinese for much more complex reasons.

In Clim-Ergy, we are have achieved a curious dyslexia, creating  sinkholes and believing they are safe ground, as in nuclear energy and fracking, and building higher on vulnerable seashore destined for sea level rise.

In the Middle East, we have created a sinkhole, and in a desperate effort to fill it with bodies and other resources, have managed to make it deeper.  Everyone in the neighborhood is busily digger each other’s metaphorical graves, oblivious to the truth that the graveyard is itself a sinkhole of their own collective election.

An exploration of holes would not be complete without the most famous of holes: the black hole.  It’s fame lies in its mystery.  It is a construct about which we can speculate, but of which we do not definitively know.  We can detect its dimensions,  hypothesize its mass, but we remain largely clueless of its dynamics.  Observing one from the outside, we can sense its power to draw matter into it with no apparent escape.  We observe it with awe, as external observers, but with no apparent appreciation that it is our own ultimate destination and destiny.

Metaphorically, it reminds me of our economy, and perhaps our greater society.

There are a number of other holes we might ponder, physical and metaphorical, but with the benefit (or detriment) of this meditation, I leave it to the reader to continue his/her personal quest for enlightenment.  However, I would advise proceeding with a shovel and ladder,  just in case.

Onward.

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The Myth of the Job Creators, Risk Takers…and Other Capitalist Fairy Tales

It should be clear to all by now that the notion of Business as job creators is a myth.  Really, it always was.  But it was a myth on which the business community has built its privileges, perquisites and general sense of entitlement.

The truth is, it is the consumer who is the job creator:  until the consumer has a need or want to be fulfilled, there is no need for supply, and no need for jobs to create that supply.  There is no business. We might add: the biggest consumer is the government, on behalf of the rest of us.  I didn’t place the order for the latest aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, but I’m glad it provides its measure of protection in a hostile world.

But there is a strange irony today.  There are many needs and wants, but still not enough jobs to fulfill them.

And why is that?  Because the consumer has been substantially stripped of the wherewithal to support those needs and wants with the loss of jobs, the stagnation of incomes, the deterioration of asset base, and the resultant lack of security about the present and future, in the shadows of a past darkened by deception.

Meanwhile, we are told that the 1%, ensconced in their cyber-castles, are sitting on a Trillion in cash, wringing their hands about where to deploy it in the world of uncertainty they created while amassing it.  These self-styled risk takers are afraid to take risk.

In their corporate modality, we are told that US companies are parking $2 trillion in cash off-shore to avoid taxes.   Where off-shore, I wonder, if they’re concerned about risk?  Europe, Japan, Russia, China, India? Or some lesser entity perhaps, with even less substance and safeguards against a black swan event that might reduce those safe-havens to financial sink-holes?

Yet the economy is slowly clawing back because the Little People, as the late Leona Helmsley so affectionately referred to them, are slowly clawing their way back.

This might happen faster if the self-styled economic elite were to swallow their fears, reinvest their funds in their society, and reap the benefits that come from that good old velocity-of-funds transfer thingy that we learn about in Econ 101.  But that would take some brains, and faith in the system that served them so well while they studiously rigged it to their advantage, and then abandoned it..

Meanwhile, they sooth their fears by  consuming luxuries for affirmations of their status, going home to read how the luxury end of the markets in cars, homes, restaurants and Other Stuff, is out-performing all other segments, and satisfying themselves that they’ve made a contribution to the general improvement of the economy.

I could talk about the myth of competition too, but I’ll save that for a later time.

I have no animus against capitalism, the private sector, free enterprise and competition.  The latter three are critical to a functioning democracy, and a vibrant economy.  But Capitalism, like Communism before it, is rapidly becoming a brittle, failed economic religion that its high priests can no longer defend with credible results.

The question then is what comes next.

*  *  *

Every so often, I look back on blogs past to see if my thoughts of yore have been ratified or rebuked  by subsequent events.  Below are links to a set of blogs I dubbed ‘Capitalist Papers’, posted between March, 2008 and January, 2011. I will leave you to be the judge.

Onward

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Capitalist Papers 1 – Random Reflections on the Decline of Capitalism

Capitalist Papers 2 – Corpocracy and Agency

Capitalist Papers 3 –  The Cost / Benefit of Trust 

Capitalist Papers 4 – Eulogy for the Consumer – TEOTWAWKI

Capitalist Papers 5 – Information Please – Reconsidering the ‘Efficient Market’ Hypothesis

Capitalist Papers 6 – The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

Capitalist Papers 7 – CPR for the US Economy 

Capitalist Papers 8 – Capitalistic Cannibalism – Self-Destruction by Self-Consumption

Capitalist Papers 9 – Asymmetric Class Warfare

Capitalist Papers 10 – The Future of Capitalism 

Regeneration

If there is one thing that makes New Years Eve special in a worthwhile way, it is that it opens a New Year with new possibilities, no matter how horrendous the year-ending may have been.  I was reminded of this yesterday in a year-end post by George Friedman on his blog Geopolitical Weekly.

He noted the five most significant international events of 2014 (excluding the escapades of Kim and Kanye, and Taylor Swift). The fifth one on his list caught my attention: It is best presented in his own words:

5: The Births of Asher and Mira

I was given two new grandchildren this year. For me, this must be listed as one of the five major events of 2014. I am aware that it is less significant to others, but I not only want to announce them, I also want to point out an important truth. The tree of life continues to grow new branches inexorably, even in the face of history, adversity and suffering. The broad forces of history and geopolitics shape our lives, but we live our lives in the small things. As much as I care about the other four matters — and I do — I care much more for the birth and lives of Asher and Mira and my other grandchild, Ari.

Life is experience in the context of history. It is lived in intimate contact with things that history would not notice and that geopolitics would not see as significant. “There are more things … than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Hamlet said to his friend Horatio. Indeed, and their names are Asher, Mira and Ari. This must not be forgotten.

As a grandfather of one with another approaching,  I share his hope that, among all the despair and dysfunction around us, we can behold in the young the innocence and potential and hope that still exists for our species and all that we touch.

And so, at this recurring yet special moment that joins the past with the future, I hope we can find common ground in creating a future worthy of the young who are about to follow us, and who deserve no less an opportunity than we have enjoyed, and hopefully better.

Wishing you peace, good health and well-being in the coming year.

Onward

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New Beginnings

The standing quip about Alzheimer’s Disease is: ‘…the nice part about it is you’re always meeting new friends’.

And so too it is with the beginning of each year.  Each one is filled with new possibilities. And each year we go through the ritual of performing the autopsy on the year ended and prognosticating on the year to come.  During the past two weeks I have contemplated partaking in this ritual, struggling to conjure insights that would be worthy of screen real estate and your time.

Here’s my take: The Year 2014 will be different.

…and you can take that to the bank.

I had considered seeing the Wolf of Wall Street, but concluded that three hours of vulgarity and debauchery after watching Congress’ behavior from afar was redundant and a poor investment of time.

There is little that can be said about the serial failures of many of our societal institutions that has not previously been said and need not be repeated because it will not likely be heeded, though that will not likely deter me from future posts.

I am something of a media junkie, scouring the web for diverse morsels of insight that makes some sense of an apparently deranged and self-destructive planet.  Still searching.  I’ve totally given up on TV, either for insight or entertainment, and much of what I once followed on the web I have come to discard as vacuous, deceptive, self-promoting or ignorant.  While my profession makes me by definition a data junkie, I have long concluded that ‘less is more’.  Selectivity is key.

And so, with this in mind in crafting the first post of the new year, I choose to recycle greater minds than mine to share thoughts from other times that may serve as immortal apps for the human spirit, and do not require a strong signal from the nearest cell tower, and may recharge the battery of the spirit, drained by the ‘battery’ of our culture.

*  *  *

The first offering is from William Faulkner’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize.

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work–a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.  So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin.  But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand where I am standing.

Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it.  There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?  Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.  He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid: and , teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed–love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse.  He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, and victories without hope and worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.  I refuse to accept this.  I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.  He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.  The poet’s, the writers, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.  The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.

*  *  *

The second offering is from Rudyard Kipling, and is useful for daughters as well as sons.

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired of waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Enough said. Be well and safe and sane in this new year, with the hope that ‘different’ is better.

Onward

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Assumptions

Management, personal and organizational, is built on assumptions, as much as on resources and processes. Outcomes are more often determined by the quality of assumptions than by any other facet of management.

A recent article on blood pressure medication and hypertension  added yet another chapter to a trend in medical thinking. It joins other recent revisions of medical practice on mammograms, prostate treatment, cholesterol guidelines and vitamin supplements in challenging accepted wisdom on proper guidelines and protocols for health management.

These revelations can be viewed in one of two ways: we can assume that the changes in policy are the result of medicine catching up with science in data-based efficacy of treatment, a major goal of the Affordable Care Act.  Alternatively, the cynic might argue that these various revisions of policy have in common a desire to control cost; not to enhance outcomes.  The question is: do the facts challenge current assumptions and support the policy change, or is the policy change accommodating other desired assumptions.   Put differently, are we now building policy conclusions based on credible facts, or merely swapping assumptions to satisfy new policy focus?

*   *   *

Let’s take a look at energy. In 2008 the International Energy Agency, (IEA) did something it had not done previously. It commissioned a study of 800 oil fields in non-OPEC countries where reliable data was available to get a fact-based assessment of the actual rate of depletion. Up to that point, it was making projections for its developed nation (energy-consuming) clients based on assumptions of depletion rate; not data.  Surprise, surprise, surprise! The data showed depletion rates double what had been previously assumed. Is that a problem?  It was thought to be then. But not any more, because fracking will save us from the trends in conventional reserves….if you believe the assumptions of availability, depletion rates based on current technology, costs of production (ignoring environmental wild cards and availability of water resources that could greatly affect that outcome).

*   *   *

One of the famous assumptions of recent memory was the belief that the people of Bagdad and greater Iraq would welcome their American ‘liberators’ with open arms, and, after a brief sojourn in country to clean up some debris and put some responsible adults in place, the US could withdraw without an extended and costly ‘occupation’.  Not quite.

*  *  *

When jets were scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base in response to the evolving events of 9/11, it was reported that they originally headed out to the Atlantic to meet an as-then unidentified threat because it was ASSUMED that it MUST be external.  It couldn’t be internal. Except it was.

*  *  *

At the time of the collapse of Lehman and the tottering of AIG, it was reported that a market of $57 trillion in notional value of credit default swaps had built up on the assumption that any holder could get rich on some issuer’s possible misfortune, but no one considered the possibility that the entire Ponzi scheme could be subject to call at once in a cascade of events. Similarly and a decade earlier, the famous Lloyd’s of London, whose membership of ‘names’ (members whose financial resources would ultimately be called upon to meet claims of insureds) was ‘democratized’ to extend prestige (and financial obligation to assume risks) to mere mortals, nearly went down the tubes in the nineties with a series of major losses that exceeded the expectations and assumed financial capacity of the institution.

*  *  *

I understand that Alan Greenspan’s assumptions about the capacity of the private sector for self-regulation have caused him a scintilla of discomfort, but not nearly as much as the rest of us. And how about the underlying assumptions of Mr. Laffer’s trickle down theory of economics.  I’m still waiting at the faucet for the trickle.  Like many, I ain’t laughin’.  But were those ever really credible assumptions, or merely cynical guises for the gullible?

*  *  *

My own personal introduction to the power of assumptions recalls my nascent professional development at my university. I entered as a chemistry major, and soon decided to abort that mission for the glamor and excitement of a career in accounting.  I scored a 27 on my first accounting exam. Fortunately, I was not alone in the class, which was taught by a graduate student teaching assistant whose teaching chops were beyond speculation.  I met with her, as did many of her other casualties, to complain that many of the questions were ambiguous, incomplete in the facts provided, or unclear as to the intended result to be produced. I asked her to clarify, for the benefit of the next exam, how I might better approach such issues.  (I still retained a glimmer of hope that I might yet be among the few, the proud, The Accountants!). “If you’re unclear on the question, just make an assumption and document it in your answer”, she offered.  Somewhat dazed and confused, because the profession of accounting does place some value on clarity and precision, I followed instructions. I assumed my way to a B, and survived the course and the TA. And the rest, as they say, is history.  The Power of Assumption!

Except, the Real World has a nasty way of challenging assumptions, and often shredding them. Hence, the well-worn definition of ASSUME, which I assume I need not repeat here. So it behooves us to vigorously attack our most cherished assumptions about matters most dear to us, and not outsource the effort by default to some external force or circumstance to prove us wrong.

Make it a New Year resolution.

Onward

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Timing Isn’t Everything, But It’s Critical

One of the critical elements in defining a controlled process is to specify the performance standards under which it will be judged. Among the basic performance standards are:

–  Quantity (how much to produce, how many transactions to process)

–  Quality (how good)

–  Cost (at what value)

–  Time (due date, elapsed time to completion, incurred time to completion)

These all play off one another. They do not exist in isolation.  You want it now? It’ll cost you more.  You want it now? I can’t make that many. You want it now? Not at the requested quality.  The imperative of ‘now’ has important ramifications for any process.  And today, more than ever, the constraint of time and the imperative of ‘now’ is the performance criterion that seems to trump all others.

*   *   *

Obama clearly understood the strategic imperative of time with respect to health care reform, but not the tactical implications of time in system implementation.  He understood that to avoid the long-term debt threat (not the faux short-term one) he must bend the health care cost curve, and he must begin now.  To improve the economy, he must get people back to work, and to do that, he must bend the health care cost curve, and he must begin now.  To avoid erosion of his initiative from relentless political attacks, he must advance it into reality so that it cannot easily be undone, and he must do that before he leaves office, and he must do that sooner before its intangible promise fades from public commitment under the withering fire of political assault; and the passage of time is not his friend.

What he and his team obviously did not understand, or would not acknowledge, was the tactical reality of producing a systemic platform to quality and quantitative standards within the time constraint of strategic considerations.  And here we are.  In such cases, time is not a destination, but a marker on a journey.  Best understood and communicated in that perspective. Too many CEOs fail to understand the limits of compressing time in the real world.

*  *  *

Meredith Whitney misunderstood time in her failed prediction of collapse of the municipal bond market.  She may yet be right for all the wrong reasons, but she blew it by being specific about timing, and without caveating the prediction on critical collateral factors that would be necessary for the result. Two factors which probably contributed to blowing her timing were the ARRA program which pumped money into municipalities and in many cases did more to prop up sagging budgets than prime the economic recovery; and Quantitative Easing (QE) which propped up the stock markets and inflated pension portfolios that might otherwise have sunk further in value and forced more municipalities to the wall sooner.  The imperative of continuing QE likely has less to do with keeping Wall Street happy than with keeping fresh lipstick on the pig of state and municipal finances.  In this case, the injection of value has ‘bought’ time, but not necessarily results.  It may only delay the inevitable.

*  *  *

I have previously written about timing and Clim-Ergy, the interplay of climate and energy issues. CO2 emissions and their consequences are moving on one time line.  Energy resources relative to economic and demographic drivers are moving on another time line. Renewable energy deployment is moving on a third timeline that needs to bend the first timeline before the second drives it beyond tolerable standards, and before the second plateaus and drives cost beyond tolerable standards.  Currently, there is no credible prospect that the third timeline will meet quantitative, qualitative and cost/benefit  performance standards within the necessary time standards, although that could change, but at the moment and in the foreseeable future, the odds are somewhere between slim and none.

*  *  *

I recently convened a meeting in my community on the subject of affordable housing. A private developer has stated that a new apartment complex he is completing could never offer rentals at the comparatively low prices he is offering if he had to buy the land at today’s prices rather than its cost thirty years ago.  Interestingly, while he is attuned to the influence of inflation over time, he is apparently unaware of the time value of his sunk invested dollars over that same period of time, particularly at market rates of return.  That proves to be a major impediment in attracting private investors to affordable housing projects, because their need for return is greater within a specified time frame.  An alternative that I proposed is for the Town to buy the land and lease it, because it can be ‘patient capital’, and enhance the economics of the overall project, bringing in much-needed diversity to the Town’s demographics and economy.  That idea is a bit foreign in our community, but again it speaks to different perceptions of time and its value in monetary terms and collateral benefits.

*  *  *

How soon do you need that ‘special something’?  The Big Box wants you to have it right now, if it’s worth your time and gas.  Jeff Bezos wants you to have anything in two days.    Why wait til Black Friday for those once-a-year Christmas sales when you can be thankful for them on Thanksgiving Day, assuming of course that you’re not a ‘sales associate’. In these instances, how much does time really matter, and what is it worth?

*  *  *

How long is a ‘long’ war? Some would say any war is too long. The US public seems to think ten years is too much in Vietnam and Iraq-istan (a.k.a. Vietnam Too) . The Taliban thinks it’s just another day in Paradise. It’s more than willing to let the clock run out.  For the US military, the calendar has run out between those two competing perspectives.  Job not done.

*  *  *

Time and education is a critical issue. Think about it. We have in our children a product that takes from 13 to 23 years to manufacture through formal education factories to a productive ‘resource’, depending on application. If one is preparing for a forty-year career, that is a reasonable investment, with hopefully a beneficial return on investment.  But if technological and economic and social uncertainties significantly truncate that timeline of application, it has significant impact on the choices and wisdom of the investment.

*  *  *

Should Elizabeth Warren run for President and in possible primary opposition to Hillary Clinton?  For Hillary, time is running out.  For Liz, as for Barach before her, the time might not be right because she may not be ready with a broad enough portfolio or a sufficiently diverse and competent team to make ALL the right moves. But also, as with Barach, she faces a window of opportunity for her perceived critical issues that might not afford her the luxury of time to ‘ripen on the vine’ until ready.  Alternatively, she might be able to ‘borrow time’ by running with the ripened Joe Biden as his VP, pressing her finance issues while broadening her portfolio for a subsequent run.  Can women wait til 2020 for the first woman president in our exceptional society which has taken longer than most to advance a qualified woman to that position?  Or is it more important to sacrifice quality for time?

*  *  *

Do you want to live to be 100?  It’s not just a question of time, but also a question of quality of life and cost/benefit (to me, not to the medical-insurance complex).  Maybe in twenty years my perspective on those two factors will change, but right now I’m gunning for 85 and out!

*  *  *

And let’s not forget time and love.  Diana Ross sang that you can’t hurry it.  Mike Jagger (the taliban-ista of love) opined that it was on his side. The Outsiders sang it won’t let them wait that long. It’s all a matter of perspective.

*  *  *

The value of time is not the same for everyone, but it must be understood, and the understanding must be communicated clearly, whether it is with an employer, a client, an investor, a society, a lover, or one’s self.

Thank you for giving me your time.

Onward

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Reality: Words that Don’t Inform

This week’s word that doesn’t inform is the word: Reality.  We all know what it means, or do we?

The gospel according to Merriam-Webster says: “the true situation that exists.”  Really?

I’ve been a fan of ‘reality’ ever since my college days in the sixties when one of my favorite pieces of bumper sticker philosophy opined: “Reality is a crutch for those who can’t face drugs.”  It was my crutch.  I found reality, as I perceived it, much more entertaining, although today it is having the feel of a progressively bad acid trip, (not speaking from experience).

The key word in the preceding sentence is the word: ‘perceived’, because it is on that word that much of our sense of reality hangs, since we rarely enjoy the luxury of having all the facts about anything to know what is real.

In my role as an auditor, I’ve been all about ‘reality’.  After all, the mission is to take a representation of some kind and validate it to substantive underlying ‘facts’ or processes that can be verified as real, true or reliable by some measure, so that investors and other stakeholders can rely on such representations for sound decision-making.

The role of ‘perception of reality’ was brought home to me yet again yesterday in an exchange of correspondence with a legislator regarding regulatory and legislative initiatives for response to long-term sea level rise and repetitive coastal damage.  In my presentations to legislators and other government officials I often urge them to align their efforts with future projected ‘realities’, and not with voter perceptions in the present, too many of which are in denial.  My argument has been presented thusly:

‘You folks can do anything you want in the legislature and Congress. Frankly, Mother Nature doesn’t give a damn. Your task is to anticipate as best you can what may happen, and deal with it in Nature’s terms, because Nature will have the final word.’

But those legislators’ constituent perceptions are legislators’ ‘realities’.  The fact that they must act now to prepare for a contingency does not seem real to them until that contingency becomes a present or very near-term reality, in which case many best responses will no longer be possible. Alternatively, the risk that voters, less informed on the issue than their legislators (in some cases) may resist sacrifices that they do not perceive (there’s that word again) as necessary is the legislators’ reality.

How do we reconcile the two? Which reality is real?  And  which ‘reality’ trumps? In our short-term, Attention Deficit Disorder, all-about-me society, the here-and-now is the only reality.

Let’s take ‘reality’ for another test drive:  Iran and nukes.  Let’s take a little quiz.  Are the Iranians really crazy, or is that more of a self-serving front to a basically rational, if brutal, power structure that is no more myopic in its world view than we? If they get nukes, will they be any more reckless than the Russians’ whose power we were able to contain through deterrence?  Are they a bigger threat than Pakistan, which has gladly proliferated technology to bad guys crazier than they?  Are they a bigger threat than the Russians who, in their current status as a kleptocracy, are possibly less capable of controlling their weapons inventory and as ethically inclined as the Pakistanis to sell it on the black market to bad guys who are certifiably crazy, or in a milder form, think they can live out the fantasy of a James Bond villain? Where are the real threats? Which threats are relatively greater?

How about the economy?  Are the 1%ers fairly compensated for their risk-taking and managerial excellence, or are they merely the most clever people who know how to legally skim value by short-changing customers, deceiving investors, and underpaying their employees and vendors the true value of their efforts through asymmetric exercise of market power?  What’s the truth? What’s the reality, and how do you determine it?  In Capitalist Theory, The Market determines it.  The Market establishes real value.  Do you think The Market is doing a great job?  How do you know?

One more test of reality and we’ll call it a day. Congress.  Now, there’s an acid trip if ever there was one.  Is the current impasse a principled defense of the Constitution and of citizen’s rights to small government and a minimal tax of their God-given freedoms and resources?  Or is it an unprincipled assault on the very fabric of our society and our shared well-being in ways that will ultimately negatively redound to us individually, if by indirect and often counter-intuitive paths? Which is the reality? And if neither is the reality in itself, where might it be in some common ground that either or both sides are unwilling to explore?  And if that common ground does not exist, what then?

Heavy stuff.  Do you feel the need for drugs?  Maybe just a little wine? Maybe a couple of glasses?

In an increasingly complex world, reality is becoming less a matter of reconciliation to facts than a matter of perspective. To the degree that we fail as individuals and institutions to see circumstances from more than our preferred perspective, we become more divorced from reality, and more exposed to the risk of failure.

What’s your reality?

Are you sure?

Onward

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