Economy & Politics

How bureaucracy and technocracy rob us of progress

Artificial intelligence symbol image
Artificial intelligence symbol imagePete Linforth from Pixabay

To manage means to decide – to do things today that will have a positive effect in the future. This presupposes the ability to recognize connections and anticipate developments. Only those who make forward-looking decisions can act sustainably. Opinions are divided as to whether and how this goal can be achieved. Some believe that the future can basically be planned. Emil Oesch, a Swiss writer and publisher (1894 – 1974): “A person without a plan is like a ship without a rudder”, or Alan Curtis Kay, an American computer scientist: “The best way to predict the future is to know it designed yourself. ”The others believe that the future cannot be planned, as one would quote from John Lennon:“ Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans ”, or Friedrich Dürrenmatt:“ The more planned people proceed, the more effectively chance hits them, ”she can see. Albert Einstein is (presumably incorrectly) ascribed the exaggeration: “Planning replaces chance with error.”

A prime example of a pandemic

Reality is always a mixture of those things that we have designed ourselves, those that we cannot influence, and those that we have neglected to shape in good time out of ignorance or indolence. Something between fatalistic determinism and utopian free will. The current pandemic is a fine example of this. And how important it is to want to learn in order to be able to design. Despite all the recognition for the fundamentally responsible and quick action of politics, one has to attest a certain inertia of the institutions and inability of politics to develop creative and spontaneous solutions. This finding is very worrying, because crises will probably occur more frequently in the future.

It is about the fundamental problem that most decisions of importance are made under uncertainty. Risks follow a well-known distribution and are comparatively easy to deal with. In terms of quality, however, uncertainty is a completely different phenomenon. Many treat uncertainty like risk. But that only leads to the fact that we deal with uncertainty the wrong way. Deterred by wrong decisions, as has been proven time and again in economic history, we avoid uncertainty and risk. In the end, however, this is fatal because, unlike risk, there is the unexpected, the impossible and the utopian in uncertainty. Security, predictability and control are promised by the classical economics with an instrument of scientifically shaped methods and models that obey the principle of “Homo oeconomicus”, a person who thinks exclusively coolly and rationally.

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Strategic investment decisions need to be particularly well protected. They often only develop their effect far in the future. In order to make the right decision, reliable information about the then prevailing boundary conditions is required, which is entered in models and calculations. Changed behavior of the markets, economic downturns, pandemics, activities of competitors, fashions, technological leaps, regulatory requirements and much more cannot be predicted. Only historical events are facts. The input on the future is different. It is also done under the guise of numbers that suggest reliability, precision and “objective correctness”. In fact, these are highly subjective assumptions and personal expectations. Not only is it inevitably so, but more than that: the variance in these subjective assumptions about the future world is a source of progress and freedom because it creates deviant and experimental behavior. Clearly defined goals can be achieved through rule-based processes, while fuzzy goals require creativity and entrepreneurship.

Hype about AI creates hope

Bureaucracy and technocracy have stifled our imagination and freedom of action in the past. The hype surrounding artificial intelligence arouses hope of avoiding the dilemma by coping with enormous amounts of information and data and recognizing hidden relationships, avoiding or at least greatly reducing uncertainty and making the right decisions. But does the path of strict causality, cool ratio and deterministic algorithms pursued by economics and perfected by artificial intelligence really bring the hoped-for security? Is this how the code of the future can be cracked? Can predictability be established and chance eliminated? Or do we just create a sham security and an inhuman and uninspired determinism with increasing effort? Data are only representatives of a past that we have created and constructed ourselves, but they are not reality themselves, just as artificial intelligence does not promise truth and knowledge. Humans, on the other hand, are capable of forming hypotheses – a chance observation, a vague hunch or a bold guess is often enough to pursue something bigger, still undetermined and unknown. In our conformist society based on the division of labor, however, we are subject to a phenomenon that the philosopher John Hardwig calls “epistemic dependance”: We all operate in a familiar and experience-confirmed environment that permanently creates a certain dependence on knowledge.

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