Note — Jun 14, 2020

The Long Shadow Of The Future

I almost skimmed over this one, glad I didn’t because it’s excellent. An analysis of how Taiwan controlled the coronavirus, based on the three factors the authors identify. First is operational excellence. Not the technocrats, but actual technical experts who know how to get things done at scale, to turn a supply chain around quickly or ramp up an organization over a matter of days to start testing and tracking. The authors speculate that there might be a realignment of the types of jobs most valued, which parallels the realization by many of the importance of “unskilled work” and how essential it is. Second is the importance of socialized risk vs individualized risk, showing the benefits of data sharing in opposition to libertarian ideals and privacy advocacy fears. The third, taking a longer view of planning and risk management, is wrapped up in the conclusion which I’ll let you read but the second to last quote below is a good summary of that factor.

(The piece is at the newly re-branded, and launched in print NOEMA magazine which looks quite promising.)

The result is that Taiwan has recorded less than 450 cases and only seven deaths, despite the continued arrival of infected citizens returning home from overseas. Arguably no country has performed better, and this against long odds. […]

Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 resulted from a combination of strong, effective governmental action by a high-capacity state manned by operational experts, a willingness to prioritize collective risk and burden-sharing over hyper-individualism and a commitment to taking a long view of planning for potentially catastrophic risks. […]

Are there categories and situations where collective risk is unavoidably baked into reality and where trying to disaggregate that risk into individual micro-foundations is impossible? […]

The real challenge is not foresight itself but how to turn foresight into action — specifically, into operational readiness supported by competent operators. […]

[A]s Taiwan shows, achieving and maintaining operational competence, particularly in the face of problems of collective risk, is inseparable from the commitment to long-term planning. […]

What will matter going forward, as ever, is the capacity of political leadership to frame a long-term narrative and stick to it over time.