Invert! Always Invert!

Mathematician Carl Jacobi’s imprecation works on more than questions. The idea is most often applied to problems and looking at from both sides. Can you study remembering? No, but you can study forgetting.

Applying it to answers works too

Suppose you have decided to control a pandemic by shutting down the economic activity in your area. You examine all sorts information. From social distancing, to masks, to crowd size reduction, to a range of sanctions for breaching the rules. Your answer lacks depth.

Should you expect no cases and no deaths? Not if you spend any time in the real world.

Have you assessed all the costs you are imposing within your answer? No.

What would the counter-factual answer tell you?

You should examine the other potential answer. Do nothing.

That leads to other questions. Is the likelihood of cases spread evenly across all age groups and locations? Almost certainly not. The situation was known a little from results in other countries. For example Italy. In that situation most adverse consequences were confined to the elderly,  particularly those in institutions.

Two clues to a response.

  1. How should we protect the elderly from infection?
  2. How confined should the indoor space be before it’s a problem?

Other things that could be known albeit not clearly,

  1. Might some people get it and have little or no effect on them?
  2. Are any treatment protocols better than others?
  3. Is it airborne? or on surfaces?

The humility question

  • Is my decision to shutdown in homage to a need to be seen to be doing something?

To be fair

In the beginning, there was too little information available to make reasoned and clear decisions. The familiar “fog of war” problem. Almost no one could have known what to do.

But, now we have 14 months of experience and know much more. Has that changed the social methods?

What we learned

Few people are good at making decisions when presented with incomplete information. Especially when the problem is potentially serious. That’s why humility matters. In “foggy” situations, certainty is a problem. You run the risk of catastrophic outcomes.

The difference between people who are better at solving problems with little information, is people who are good at it tend to be less concerned about being right. They test small. They can quit doing things that don’t work.

Other people, often bureaucrats, and often politicians, are obsessed with being right. This group tends to rely on models. The models provide pseudo-certainty. Models add nothing to the fact collection.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of data resources about what happens, to whom, how long it takes, and what you can do about it. It is a vanishingly small probabilityt hat if we knew all of that 14 months ago, we would have chosen the path we did.

Notice who makes the decisions. So far the ones who benefit themselves by so doing.

The advantage to inversion

You can assess four things.

  1. The pandemic cost. What is the cost to do nothing?
  2. The pandemic response cost. What is the cost to do whatever it is you decide?
  3. Who should decide?
  4. If you cannot be transparent with the information you have, why not?

There are very few complex problems that only one solution approaches work. Creative solutions require finding meaning and eventually new solutions.

That requires transparent results form the tests already conducted.

I help people have more income and larger, more liquid estates.

Call or email in Canada 705-927-4770



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