Conclusion: from a systems perspective, there are vital reasons to enforce equal treatment for all.

Universal lessons

All systems comprise parts that interact to produce benefits for the whole system. They do this by working in concert in various ways, assisting each other to help the whole system to survive and develop and do more than just ’ the sum of the parts’.

Exceptions within systems create problems that can threaten system’s existence – imagine if your heart or nervous systems could take a rest at any time, or grow to 20 times their size, or dump waste where the body couldn’t get rid of it. Or imagine if owners of black Fords were exempt from the road rules that apply to everyone else. For systems to remain stable, they need all of their elements to adhere to the same rules, otherwise the system’s performance becomes unpredictable so that the entire system could be threatened.

When we change our physical performance (e.g. running) then our lungs, heart and circulatory systems all change their performance to allow the legs to use more oxygen and eliminate more waste. Our body’s parts collaborate by sticking to common rules for overall performance, call for more oxygen – lungs work harder and so on.

The same requirements exist for human organisations. They need to conform to particular rules and requirements so that the whole organisation can operate predictably and usefully.

Let’s take a brief look at how failing to treat all equally (exceptionalism) is disrupting our world.

US international relations

Since the Bush administration started its policy of pre-emptive war, torture and foreign occupation, the Middle East and related areas have become hugely unstable. Much of South America is now organising to protect itself from US policies. Oil prices have increased, in part due to uncertainties about supply occasioned by war. Various countries now find themselves deeply involved in foreign wars that appear to have no end (Afghan failure), wars that we appear to be able to neither afford nor win. All this to allow the US to do what it wants without reference to the rest of us. Their exceptionalism also extends to climate change where they set a dreadful example for others.

US exceptionalism, has placed the US at odds with many of its former allies, lowered trust in their government, and mired countries in wars that offer no escape.
In the course of all of this, there has developed a massive loss of confidence in the US as a global leader.

US finance

By exempting much of the US investment banking and finance industries from regulation and effective oversight, the US government has created the conditions for its own financial collapse. US bankers created and sold complex financial derivative products that no-one understood, yet were bought around the world based on trust in the US system.

Many of those financial products are now seen as near worthless, so bankers who bought on trust will not be anxious to repeat such an experience. Confidence and trust are now diminished.
Worse yet, no-one really understands how to fix the problems. Because the finance industry was self-regulating they are the only people who know what they’ve done – if they kept any records! Now the US appears to be held hostage by its own finance industry, relying on them for a fix when that industry has little or no understanding of the overall requirements of the country and its economy.

Their answer appears to be some kind of ‘cargo cult’ offering the the bankers in the hope that the problems will go away. From a systems perspective, the problems won’t be corrected until and unless the government removes the root causes of the problem. Allowing one group of bankers to drive the finance system unchecked by social needs is one of those causes.

The political effects of favouring the finance industry are a massive loss of confidence in the US government by its citizens and by other countries, coupled with a major shift in global power. A serious recession is also forecast by many economists.

Tasmania

Various Tasmanian governments have exempted the forestry industry from the environment, planning and disclosure laws that apply to everyone else, then compounded the problems by making the industry self policing and self regulating. Additional exceptions were created for the pulp mill project, with the mill operator being shielded by special Acts (PMAA) and exempted from normal planning assessment by the RPDC.

Troubles have been arising for years as other industries, communities and businesses find that forestry operations conflict with their requirements. The resulting business environment is significantly less predictable for non-forestry groups and consequently less secure as an investment. The losses that such problems may have created for Tasmania are both unmeasured and unknown. Health costs (3) and costs to deal with log truck accidents are similarly unmeasured and unreported.

Hiding from the problems doesn’t make them go away, it just alienates the population.

Exempting one industry from the rules that apply to everyone else, and freely subsidising them, has created major political and social divisions in the State. It has also weakened the forestry industry by detaching it from the free market and making them reliant upon taxpayer largesse.

There has developed a massive loss of confidence in the State government with 83% of people believing that the State government neither listens to them nor acts on their wishes.

Symptoms of dysfunction

From these examples we can see common outcomes of exceptionalism include:

 Longer term destabilisation of the wider system with increased crisis potential
 Government losses of control over system performance
 Destabilised investment and trading environment
 Increased community concerns and democratic ‘deficits’
 Increased costs and risks to the entire social grouping
 Threats to the exempted groups themselves
 Loss of confidence in the government

The fact is that the political preference for deregulation is antithetical to systems performance and viability.

Interestingly, the parts of a system that are made exempt also come under threat because the health of the system of which they are a part is a necessary part of their own survival.

When governments allow a group to be unregulated, no-one can predict how the whole system will perform because the unregulated component’s actions make overall performance unpredictable, because unforseen consequences proliferate throughout the rest of the system.

Deregulation of the financial system in the US has led to a huge fiscal collapse as unforseen problems overtake the entire country. Worse yet no-one knows what to do.

Because the US finance industry was deregulated – only they have any understanding of what they’ve done which results in them appearing to be the only people who know what to do next – the reverse of what is needed.

The ideology of deregulation has led to a severe crisis in the entire US system with no-one really having the skills or knowledge to correct the situation. It has also been virally transmitted to much of the rest of the world as banks everywhere discover that many of the ‘assets’ on their books are worth nothing like their booked value.

These are some systemic reasons why everyone should be treated equally and that exceptions should only be made in times of absolute crisis. Exceptions made at other times create their own crises.
In Tasmania, the idea of an ethics or anti-corruption Commission needs to be informed by standards and principles that help Tasmania to develop its economy.

It would be wise of the committee dealing with those matters to assure that principles such as equal treatment for all are a part of their recommendations.

Watch this space

Mike Bolan
http://www.abetteraustralia.com

Mike is a complex systems consultant, change facilitator and executive/management coach.

1. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2008/10/02/1222651267524.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1
2. http://www.news.com.au/mercury/story/0,22884,24439872-3462,00.html
3. http://cleanairtas.com/couldyou.htm

Note. The author welcomes constructive criticism and new information that adds to our understanding of these matters.

Mike Bolan

Equal treatment for all has long been a philosophical and political catch cry. Our governments claim to be committed to equality only to appear hypocritical when they favour particular groups.

In recent news it is becoming increasingly apparent that by failing to offer equal treatment to all, we are inadvertently crippling our social, environmental and economic system, even creating the conditions for the collapse of our system of government.