by Charles Hugh Smith
Of Two Minds
One sure way to identify a system “optimized for failure” is if all the insiders are absolutely confident the system is “optimized for my success”.
I often discuss optimization here because it offers an insightful window into how systems become fragile and break down. When we optimize something, we’re aiming to get the most bang for our buck: maximize our efficiency, profit, productivity, etc., while
minimizing our costs.
To maximize our goal, whatever it is–profits, power, whatever– we strip away redundancy and buffers because these add costs and don’t boost our desired output. They create resilience, i.e. the ability to survive disruptions, but the logic of optimization is relentless: get rid of all extraneous costs, because resilience doesn’t boost the bottom line.
This trade-off–trading resilience for optimization–looks brilliant when everything goes according to plan. But when events veer outside the narrow parameters of the optimized system, the system breaks down: supply chains break, safety procedures fail, and so on.