Policy Resistance and the State of America

This post was an idea conceived after reading about policy resistance in the textbook for my Systems Thinking and the Learning Organization class: Thinking in Systems by Donella H. Meadows. It could not be more timely considering the recent judgments of the supreme court and subsequent emergence of constitutional experts.

Think of health care as a stock*: we feed our money into insurance programs or directly to doctors and hospitals, the stock grows or shrinks depending upon usage, and enables us to go to the doctor at a reduced or increased cost.

* This is a major simplification of health care and I am not an expert, but like everyone, I have my opinions.

However, as of July 2011 this stock has 311,591,917 inputs and simultaneous outputs feeding and draining the system. Not to mention the multiple external parties that make money from the level of the stock. The larger the stock, the greater the profit.

Enter policy resistance as described by Meadows:

“When various actors try to pull a system stock toward various goals, the result can be policy resistance. Any new policy, especially if it’s effective, just pulls the stock farther from the goals of other actors and produces additional resistance, with a result that no one lies, but that everyone expends considerable effort in maintaining.”

Basically, the more you try to manipulate a stock to adhere to your individual or institutional goals, the greater resistance you will face from the other parties that feed and benefit from the system.

I am reminded of Newton’s laws of motion, specifically the third law:

“When two bodies interact by exerting force on each other, these action and reaction forces are equal in magnitude, but opposite in direction.”

Policy resistance is a modified form of Newton’s third law in that the reaction is exponentially greater than the action exerted to change the level of a stock.

Now that the supreme court has made a decision upholding the legality of President Obama’s health care law, I expect the opposition to exponentially increase its level of resistance.

So, what is the solution to policy resistance? Meadows expresses a somewhat utopian viewpoint that might have worked when the book was written, but seems all out impossible in today’s partisan world of politics:

“Let go. Bring in all the actors and use the energy formerly expended on resistance to seek out mutually satisfactory ways for all goals to be realized–or redefinitions of larger and more important goals that everyone can pull toward together.”

An excellent definition of the behavior of bipartisan politics, but sadly missing in today’s world.

Are there solutions to the level of policy resistance that the systems of America face? I believe there are and they each differ on the feasibility of implementation and amount of violence exerted by a massive collective of pissed off individuals.

  1. Peaceful revolution in the spirit of Gene Sharp.
  2. Violent revolution in the spirit of the Revolutionary War.
  3. Give up.
  4. Wait for the resistance to run out of resources.
  5. Wage a propaganda war to shift the behavior of the masses to reinforce the behavior of the resistance.

These are but a few options, some of which I endorse and others of which will be an option of last resort in the minds of the few in power.

In the meantime, I continue to raise my level of understanding (stock) by learning (input) and expressing what I see (output).