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Systemic Uncertainty, Meet Fragility

Systemic Uncertainty, Meet Fragility

That’s the problem with fragility: everything looks fine on the surface until a crisis applies pressure. Then the whole rickety contraption collapses in a heap..
Life is inherently uncertain, but systems that were once considered certainties have increasingly become uncertain. Social Security is one example; recent polls reflect widespread doubts among Millennials and Gen-Xers that there will be any Social Security benefits left for them by the time they reach retirement age.
This doubt is fact-based; as the number of retirees swells, as Medicare costs soar ever higher and the number of full-time jobs paying into Social Security/ Medicare stagnates, these pay-as-you-go programs break down; Social Security is already paying out billions more than it collects from employers and employees.
Uncertainty is one thing, fragility is another. The socio-economic systems we rely on are also becoming increasingly fragile and prone to failure, for an entirely different set of reasons than those driving uncertainty.
Changing fundamentals drive uncertainty. The nation’s demographics and stagnant wages for the bottom 95% are extremely unfavorable for pay-as-you-go programs like Social Security and Medicare; their future is uncertain because the inputs and outputs are changing.
Fragility is a function of systems being thinned by cronyism, self-serving insiders, fraud, lack of transparency, lack of competition, monopolies, profiteering and a decline of quality. Systems that become too costly due to the above dynamics are hollowed out as everyone seeks some way to reduce the costs. Redundancies are stripped out, staff is slashed to the bone, senior managers with the most experience are pushed out to lower payroll costs, quality control is whacked, and inferior inputs are presented as equal to the higher quality inputs that they replace.
When these weakened systems are under pressure or face a crisis, they crumble. Shoddy materials fail, inexperienced managers make hasty, ill-informed decisions, the barebones staff is overwhelmed, equipment that wasn’t properly maintained to save money breaks down, and so on.

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