Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2011, Hull, UK, Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS

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Post Globalization: Economy, Systems Science & Academy

Jon Li


1.     The global Internet means turning everything around so that you are the center of the universe, and it does revolve around you.  The future poses many questions about our sustainability.  Now what do you do? 

2.     Post Globalization, chaotic unpredictable economy, with escalating data pollution.

3.     Pre-Globalization businesses and institutions are structured as rigid bureaucracies that focus on retaining the status quo over adapting to a changing environment.

4.     A scientific tool, called the Viable System Model, lays out an empirically derived map of the communication/information/decision flows that are necessary and sufficient for sustainability, whether a person, a machine, a work group, an organization, or an economy. The closest similarity in the history of science is what the “cell” became as the basic unit for biology (Robert Hooke, 1665), VSM is for social science.                                                                                                                        The VSM was invented by Stafford Beer in England in the 1950s to identify communication problems in a steel mill.  The VSM model of ONE single layer of a bureaucracy allows you to identify distinctions in relation to that layer’s metasystem and its subsystems. Several different layers’ communication conflicts can then be identified, and the structure redesigned so that some of the communication conflicts can be dissolved. We can now turn to a concept of management that has the power to manage, that is to say, it may do something now so that the future will be different from the future that would otherwise have been.

5.     To be sustainable in the 21st century, organizations must become more flexible and adaptive in new ways that the global internet encourages to the point of necessity not only for sustainability, but increasingly for survival at all.


The word that dominated the 20th century was “growth”, and it has brought us to the point of global concern about the future.  The word that encapsulates that concern for the future is “sustainability” which is broadly defined as the capacity to endure - elastic in the short run, resilient over time; in ecology, how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time; for humans, improving the quality of life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting eco-systems; human organizational sustainability is defined in terms of viability.


In Cradle to Cradle: Remaking how we make things architect William McDonough advocates changing how we design and build everything so that it is either biodegradable or technically recycleable – redesign how we make EVERYTHING.  In too many areas, the only solution is to do a much better quality job with a much smaller quantity of resources and effort.


Old Standards are Crumbling: The global economy suffered a meltdown September 2008 that has been masked by the US TARP bailout.  All of the major countries in the Euro are running an accumulating deficit, ranging from Greece’s 130% of the country’s annual gross domestic product, and Italy’s 130%, to Spain’s 72%, France’s 92%, and Germany’s 80%, and all are growing worse.  The Euro depends on Germany, but support is fading: according to a recent German poll, 20% thought the Greek rescue was right, and 47% opposed it.  When Germany shifts back to the Mark, the Euro will disappear. 


The US dollar has been growing trade deficit since 1993, and is held up with debt to the Chinese.  The Chinese economy focuses on quantity at the expense of quality.  China is poisoned by political repression and environmental tragedy: Of China's 1.3 billion people, at least 400 million breathe heavily polluted air, and over 300 million have no safe water supply.  According to official statistics, about 30% of China's rivers are so dirty they aren't fit for even industrial or agricultural uses, let alone human consumption. More than 75% of the water in rivers flowing through China's urban areas is unsuitable for drinking or fishing.  Sixty million people have difficulty getting access to water, and almost three times that number drink contaminated water daily. 

            The modern Chinese economic miracle of sustained growth, at per capita GDP increase of 7% per year for the entire 1978-2005, is the most sustained period of rapid economic growth in human history.  But “Growth must be sustainable to deliver its benefits” and China has not figured that one out at all. According to a 2000 report by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, pollution costs the Chinese economy anywhere from 3 to 8 percent of GDP each year. In addition, ecological damage potentially costs another 5 to 14 percent. Even at the low end of these estimates, environmental damage is roughly equivalent to annual economic growth, meaning that the economy is producing no net national wealth at tremendous long term social and ecological expense.


The Viable System Model is a lens for looking at effective communication, especially between humans.  At this time in history, most human organizations have poor communication channels, especially about adapting to the future.  The VSM is a filter to help identify what would be useful, from now on.  The mission of VSM is to identify an improved state of well-being, what Aristotle labeled “eudemony” and Thomas Jefferson called “the pursuit of happiness”.


As important as political democracy is, it is meaningless if we don't have economic democracy as well.  As a working definition, “economic democracy” is a structured information environment where economic resource decisions are publicly transparent, so that a decision reflects who benefits as well as who pays, and individuals are held accountable for the consequences of group actions.


This is a discussion about re-conceptualizing our information world – so that the social systems work.  About turning the economic information system inside out, so that instead of it being difficult for everyone, make it so intuitively useful that it is commonly practical and easy to obtain whatever information you need.  Anatomically, a fig fruit is surrounded by its skin, all covered; if you invert it, and expose the fruit with the skin at the bottom, it is a strawberry.  This idea is to invert the global economic information system so that it is easy to use.  For everybody.  Turn the global economic information system from a mystery that you spend your life losing out to (the “fig” that you cannot see into) into a transparent information structure that is designed for the user (the “strawberry” that you can see all the good parts whenever you need them).


WikiLife/WikiEconomy: a computer information idea for creating a global grassroots economy.  Basically it is a dynamic information catalogue for all the parts of a woman's life: income, food, housing, health care, transportation, clothing, education, media, entertainment, taxes, managing the economy, public services, infrastructure, utilities.  That information matrix has components that scale up physically/geographically: family, 10; neighborhood, 100; village, 1,000; community, 10,000; district, 100,000; and region, 1,000,000. Matrilineal? 

Let’s face it: 3000+ years of patriarchy has failed.  Socially, ecologically and evolutionarily.


The main purpose of this model is for the INDIVIDUAL to be able to have a standard grid for her to put all of the important information in her life in an organized way.  It needs to be supportive of different scales of data, for unique people, to help her organize her way out of her problems and challenges, social, organizational, and economic – both as a consumer and as a producer.


Most of the global economy is hidden, and in a lot of trouble.  This is a mechanism to turn the global economy inside out, so that most of it is transparent, and manageable. WikiLife/WikiEconomy is like the strawberry: you can see everything you want to look for.  It is an information structure that allows many people to fill in the beginning of cells of a decentralized economy at the neighborhood, village & community levels locally, while other people will discover what is actually happening in the larger economy at the regional, state, national, continental and global levels. It would need to focus on the local community that makes up the environment of an individual and their extended family.  Recognize tribal connections without allowing cultural traditions to prevent self-determination by every woman and her children.  And it would need to be able to take into account the national/international economy.


Praxis: Consolidate California State Master Plan for Higher Education: One board/administration/budget: University of California (10 campuses), California State University (19 campuses), Community Colleges (108 campuses); coordinate regionally, cut administration in half.


Praxis: The University of California at Davis is the premier agricultural research institution with a recognized mission of global responsibility.  This is a proposal to apply the Viable System Model to bring the campus of 30,000 students, 1900 faculty and 15,000 staff to a real time information system in two weeks, Design and Implementation. Outcomes: build a Viable System Model of the Planet for multi-species sustainability as the campus mission (“external”); build a Viable System Model of the University of California at Davis decision flow (“internal”); be able to measure 12 indicators daily (each made up of 10 indices) for both mission and decision process; total of 264 daily measures.

Subexperiences: the first VSM models of the Planet and of UCD will be like black and white Polaroid pictures from the 1950s, probably a dozen layers - that is what it looks like on the web site at the beginning of Design Week.  By the end of Design Week, the web model is like Polaroids that have been painted over with water colors.  Monday 8 am Implementation Week, part of it is iMovies, and part of it is Garage Band.  By the end of Implementation Week, most UCD administrative staff should experience the web site as the coolest thing that Steve Jobs and James Cameron (“Avatar”) didn't think of first.  Faculty, students, researchers, prospective students and their parents, the public and elected officials should feel like they are inside.


Praxis: Every community on the planet is now in an economic survival mode.  This is a proposal to build a model of our (Davis's) economy, and the Tahrir Square Egyptian economy, and for a different set of challenging reasons, the economy/ecology of Northern Japan, with the idea being to build out of the rubble of the current information chaos towards a more sustainable future.  The better you can understand the reality of the current situation, the more likely you can have a useful discussion about improvements and a course of mutually agreed future action.  Too much of current decision taking is based on long obsolete data being presented as useful information.

Since the first of the year, a lot has changed in the world as the Middle East has taken on new meaning.

Tahrir Square was an anonymous car roadway and parking lot that squatters turned into many things:

-            foremost, it is a real world symbol for the aspirations of the Egyptian people;

-            Tahrir means freedom, so it is also a state of mind;

-            History was earned there with courageous people sacrificing for the future;

-            It can become a metaphor - for a respected place, in the tradition of the Greek Agora, a place where community is manifest;

-            A safe area within a school, sometimes the whole school grounds, defined by the users.


To the question of quality, Stafford Beer’s answer is discovery, personal and social.

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