Our representatives seem unable to break out of short termism and ideologically based decision making. They seem unable to find solutions that resolve crises or satisfy their electorates. In some ways it’s not their fault, we have put them in positions where they cannot please everyone and he who shouts loudest is most likely to have their view prevail. And the two loudest voices in such situations are the media, who believe they have a need to sensationalise and reinforce prejudice in order to sell newspapers or retain advertising income on TV, and the commercial interests of whichever industry feels most affected. To take but two examples:
Whatever one’s take on the rights or wrongs of the current wave of population movement it has to be considered unusual, huge and impacting an enormous number of people’s lives – both those moving and those receiving or having them pass through their homelands. And so we see shutting of borders, quotas, handouts to the Turkish government (but not Greece), the UK taking a paltry number and no agreement across the EU or indeed the UN as to how to deal with the crisis. The UK’s response is to try to improve the conditions of people in camps in states like Lebanon. Is it enough? Does it makes sense? The government, along with many others (but not Germany) plays on peoples fears by not being honest about the numbers coming into the country. The UK’s acceptance of less than 1000 people from Syria in 2015 is shameful.
Or how about the obesity debate? Scientific evidence points to the fact that sugar intake is the main cause of Type 2 diabetes and other medical issues. The NHS itself suggests that this is the biggest threat to their financial stability. And yet we have no agreed way of dealing with it. Suggestions include a sugar tax, but will that change diets and improve health?
Both these issues and there are many others like them (Greece’s mountainous debt and shrinking economy is but one other) are victims of short term thinking with stop gap solutions that satisfy a sound bite, parochial voting population.
What is needed is a systemic approach that is multi-layered with multiple time horizons along with transparency from governments. At the least each problem needs a three pronged approach:
- An operational response which deals with immediate needs and puts the problem into a ‘holding pattern’ whilst the next stage is entered into.
- A tactical approach which looks more broadly, goes beyond the immediate symptoms, and creates a short term solution that creates the space to
- Come up with a systemic solution which deals with underlying causes.
How might this work in practice? Take the two examples quoted earlier:
The refugee crisis.
- The operational response is the humanitarian need to provide shelter, food, warmth and access to medical treatment for those travelling. It does not need a promise of future settlement and it doesn’t need the arbitrary distinction between economic migrant and refugee.
- The tactical response is to ensure conditions in the nearest camps to the travellers’ homeland are improved so that people can begin to contemplate going home when circumstances permit.
- The systemic approach takes the first two as givens and works at dealing with underlying causes. Tackling issues with countries where people are so scared, disenchanted or disenfranchised deals with causes. And the answer here is not necessarily military. There are many other strategies that could assist those countries. For instance, it cannot be in Syria’s interests to see the brain drain of talented and qualified people leaving the country. Equally, for those offered a permanent new home that has to be in the context of creating the permanent infrastructure to support the newcomers. Sweden’s apology for temporarily refusing to take any more people is a salutary lesson as to how to be transparent in this arena.
Obesity – sugar intake.
Granted there are many more causes of obesity than sugar and they need to be factored into the stages suggested.
- A sugar tax combined with sugar warnings on products sends a message to consumers that consumption needs to be radically reduced
- Education on the risks to health of obesity – diabetes and amputation, poor teeth health leading to wholesale extraction, strain on the heart etc. This wont change things quickly but starts a process aimed at one constituent in the problem
- Banning added sugar in products. The food industry has known for a long time that adding sugar often makes the product “moreish” and without any moral or social conscience adds it in order to boost sales. Commercial profit should not come before the nation’s health and health budget.
I am sure that at the systemic level there are more things to take into account. In the obesity example there is obviously the need to re-think diet as a whole and the attitude to exercise particularly for children. In the people movement example, the whole issue of the divide between rich and poor nations and how they are treated would need to be brought into play.
However, the suggestions I have put forward at least shows a short, medium and long term strategy which has joined up thinking. Please can we encourage our representatives in all walks of life to think systemically and refrain from ideological responses – pleasing one group from an ideological standpoint almost always means letting another one down.