At a time when the creation of jobs in the U.S. is a top priority, and indeed the goal of the economic stimulus, it seems the last thing that needs doing is to explicitly reduce jobs. And yet, that seems to be just what is happening in Massachusetts.
In a move that one director of an agency which provides a day employment program calls “penny wise and pound foolish,” Massachusetts has proposed a $7.4 million cut to funding for day employment programs.
Now regardless of whether “day employment programs” are a good solution, at least they may be a solution for some. And expanding out, there have also been severe cuts to vocational rehabilitation and other employment related services, as we all know.
What interests me most about the Massachusetts article is the notion of “penny wise and pound foolish,” as well as some analysis that starts looking outside the immediate panic response to how a change in one place–cuts to day programs–affects change in another place–the use of crisis services, impact to family, a person’s ability to live in the community and resulting expensive other types of placement, etc.
The field I study, and my main Interest since earliest memory, is the complex systems field. Quoting wikipedia’s definition here which is pretty good,
A complex system is a system composed of interconnected parts that as a whole exhibit one or more properties (behavior among the possible properties) not obvious from the properties of the individual parts.
A system is a set of parts which relate to each other in some way that can be considered a whole relative to some environment (i.e. that which is not within the system). Social systems, like those involved in economies, or, smaller, employment, or, smaller still, employment for people with disabilities, are complex. They are comprised of interconnected parts that exhibit a behavior that isn’t always obvious from examining individual bits (like funding to a particular program) in isolation. So a lot of care needs to be taken to understand the parts, the whole, and the relationships before making changes that could impact the system.
When I give presentations on systems thinking, I often joke that systems thinking will someday save the world–but it’s only half a joke really.
As policy makers look for where to make needed cuts, it’s critical that they think about everything that connects to what is being cut, what the relationships are, and question whether there will be something like a cascade effect that creates even more problems than the cut was intended to solve. Short sighted, instant gratification, fixation on isolated parts, and lack of understanding the systems perspective might even be how we got into this economic predicament in the first place.
It’s important that the people who make decisions that have effects us fully understand exactly what those effects might be–long term, big picture, and in relationship to our families, communities, state, nation, and the world–before they implement the decision.