The Best Decisions Involve Many People.

Can any person have a clear view of the big society picture? There are many that claim to have, but when we look at their training and their experience, we come away with a more narrow picture. They may be specialists in their field but lack knowledge of everything possible.

Some people

Some of us have very wide life experiences and well-curated knowledge. People like Winston Churchill – soldier, war correspondent, politician, statesman, adventurer, author, painter, and bon vivant. Churchill had the ability, the knowledge, and the experience to be an exceptional contributor to the 20th century. .

There are other contributors also born, like Churchill, in 1874, Guglielmo Marconi, G.K. Chesterton, Harry Houdini, Robert Frost and Honus Wagner to name some you may recognize.

The question becomes a simple one.

Would you want Churchill to make all your choices for you? Probably not. No matter how talented, we are all narrow compared to the world.

How narrow is an engineer? Marconi might have been a grade elementary school teacher, but it seems unlikely. A pastor, a farmer, a baseball player, a lawyer? Perhaps an economist. The most talented people are not good in many fields. Usually just one, rarely three.

We each know it is difficult to be very good in even one field. Society-wide decisions have elements even the most skilled and experienced have never seen or studied. That’s why top-down decision making is prone to secondary effects. “Unintended consequences.” There were more things to know that mattered than were addressed in the decision.

The alternative

The other choice is bottom up. Let the people make the decision by organizing themselves in ways that work. It intrigued me that people who put sidewalks on the campus of a university don’t just pave where the grass has been worn. People express preferences by their actions and the consequences of those actions. Economists call them incentives and disincentives.

People evolve durable, workable conditions that gradually change as conditions change. The solutions evolve. Engineers don’t build bridges the way the Romans did.

We can see examples of institutions that arisen over centuries. The idea of courts to resolve disputes, banks to help with the exchange and storage of money, religion to provide a higher view of life. We learn that longer term decisions must work for everyone. Acknowledging differences and cooperation becomes the fuel. We share what we know and want and can afford by what we do and don’t do.

No individual has the breadth and depth of experience of the crowd.

Where problems come up.

Some people are attracted to power. They express the power once they have it by making decisions that affect others. People in powerful positions do not care so much about the decisions as they care who makes them. In most cases they don’t have any skin in the game. Their decisions are not made to serve the same needs as those that people evolve.

The essence of the political conflicts of our day are between those who want to make decisions and impose them, and those who want to let the system make the majority of the choices.

The decide and impose crowd seems to be made up of people with theories. The other crowd is made up of people who have learned by making mistakes and recognize their ability to do so.

What about urgency?

Some problems require immediate action and someone must be in charge of making the decisions.

The key in society is the leader under urgent conditions must surrender most of the decision making power as the situation unfolds to a conclusion. Otherwise hasty decisions will continue. That requires some humility and recognition that people manage their own situation better than anyone else. They manage it even better if they have more useful information about their external context.

That’s how bottom up outcomes arise. The durable ones allow people to fit in despite personal conditions being somewhat different than the others. Long acting decisions must be nuanced. No two people are exactly alike and trying to force them all into the same box is harmful. At the very least it creates mistrust of the decision makers.

That harms everyone.

The bits to take away

Over long periods no one can make better decisions for a person than they can for themselves.

Their decisions are better if they have access to reliable information and its meaning

Each has personal counsellors like doctors, lawyers, spouses, and friends who can add meaning and have the confidence of the person. People act on meaning they trust.

That  which is imposed is opposed because it never fits everyone.


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I build strategy and fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways and alternate timing to achieve both spending and estate distribution goals. In the past I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning, have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email to don@moneyfyi.com

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