Shared Discretion

It often feels like people are constantly complaining that problems no longer get solved, that nothing ever happens. But why is that? In the age of the internet, should it not be easier to get things done?

To answer this question, we can take a quick look at a few traditional ways to get things done.

The first way to make changes in your community is to make noise. Call the newspaper, print flyers, talk to people.  If you raise enough awareness of the problem, it can motivate individuals to do their part out of personal concern or pressure the powers that be into acting.

However, the rise of internet media has made that harder to do. Many people get much of their news from the internet, meaning that a local newspaper might not have enough readers to actually compel change. In addition, the fact that more of our time is spent in front of a computer means that there are fewer opportunities to engage with the people who live around you.

Another way to enact change is through individual leadership. Sometimes, a heroic individual will step up and solve the problem on his or her own.

Allowing an individual to take charge, though, is a roll of the dice. Modern problems are rarely solved by the actions of one person, or even one sector of society (e.g., government), and while an individual might have the right skills, resources, and connections to get things done, that is not the case frequently enough that it makes for a lousy strategy. Furthermore, individual efforts often venture into a thicket of hidden agendas, pet ideas, and overblown egos, where they are doomed to fail.

What remains is the middle ground: a committee. We all know what happens when we make committees—the group takes a few months to agree on a general description of the problem, then a few more months to recommend the most obvious plans of action, inevitably requiring the formation of a new committee, which takes a few months to agree…

But there is something missing from traditional committees as we are accustomed to seeing them.

Take special note of the term ‘shared discretion’.

This is a phrase which we are all likely to see and hear much more frequently in the future as we move into a new era of much greater efforts to resolve conflicts and get decisions made for the public good.

We are more and more used to phrases today like ‘cooperation’, ‘collaboration’, and ‘joint decision making’, but ‘shared discretion’ means something more.

In the course of thinking through how people can accommodate various points of view, Richard Zeckhauser, a Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, came up with the idea of ‘shared discretion’ to differentiate how certain processes of working together can work differently and better than traditional methods of finding group solutions.

Shared discretion is an arrangement in which all the participants in a decision making process have agreed that the responsibility to make decisions will belong to all of them. They first agree that any failure to reach a timely conclusion will be all of their failure. And they agree the plaudits or blame for the consequences of their decision will be shared equally among them.

Such an arrangement leaves no room for a participant to drop out or dissent openly, which participants can (and often do) in more traditional committees. It is somewhat similar to how certain juries are required to return a unanimous verdict. The structure drives the whole group to enter into genuine, serious exchanges in order to find the common ground, which is always there somewhere.

If used properly, shared discretion can ease stagnation, deadlock, and frustration. The costs to modern society of such deadlock are enormous. Work is being done to estimate those costs, and while there is not yet any hard evidence of the benefits that could be reaped by ensuring that our decision making processes  involve shared discretion, it stands to reason significant benefits are there.

Experience repeatedly illustrates that decisions that result from shared discretion are better and more sustainable than decisions made by individuals or committees that do not agree to share discretion.

Of course, the assignment of blame and credit rarely works out so simply, as both are complex social and psychological phenomena (would that we had a shared discretion sauce we could sprinkle into everyone’s food!), but if a group can truly come together and agree to work with shared discretion, then it is far more likely to solve the knotty problems that plague modern communities.

On the website of The Intersector Project, you can read forty case studies of shared discretion in action, as well as explore and use a toolkit for creating collaborative solutions of your own.

People who talk together work better together.

People who share discretion solve problems better.

No time like the present to start!


Trading Sardines?

The world we are living in gets funnier and funnier by the day, depending on your definition of funny.

As the Trump story slides deeper and deeper into the mud, it gets harder every day to figure what it will take to get to impeachment.

One would have thought that “high crimes or misdemeanors” [the Constitutional words for the basis of impeachment] would include treason and/or outright lies by a Presidential candidate to the public in campaigning for the office about what transpired between the candidate and Russian officials relating to interference in that campaign.

Today many people, who neither voted for or like Trump, are uncertain if interference in the election by collusion with Russia is likely to get Congress to impeach.

Evidently the presumed conclusion is that party loyalty will prevail. One has to wonder what it will take to bring Republican members of the House and Senate to their senses and vote to save their own political fates in forthcoming elections.

This recently brought to mind a funny, but telling, story about a commodities trader who had bought a lot of sardines figuring the price would rise because the fishing had been slow and supply constrained. He was ‘long’ a freight carload of sardines and then the price fell sharply so he had the freight car sent to the RR station nearest his home.

He went with his son on Saturday and broke the seal on the car door, took out a crate, opened it and then opened a single can of sardines. Immediately a grin crossed his face and he said to his son “We are in luck; these sardines are rancid.”

He ran to the phone and called the seller and said the sale had to be cancelled because legally the sardines ‘were not fit for the purpose for which they were sold’.

The seller objected and asked “How do you know?” The buyer said he had opened a can and they were rancid. The seller said “You did WHAT?”

The buyer reiterated the facts.

Then the seller said those sardines were never intended to be eaten “they were trading sardines, not eating sardines—TOO BAD!”

It’s almost like Trump never really intended to be elected to be President, but to have fun teasing the whole world about such a crazy idea.

So let’s send Trump back with the rancid sardines and start over!!


Weather and Whether Trump

We noticed this week that the National Weather service that is part of NOAA which is part of the Department of Commerce, which is part of the Trump Administration, did something which he, the President, NEVER does apparently as a matter of principle.

The weather service apologized—I think unnecessarily—for being partially wrong about how bad the recent snow storm would be. Perhaps the Secretary of Commerce, who presumably knows Trump well enough to offer a word of advice, might suggest that Trump might want to emulate the practices of the weather service.

Trump’s wiretapping allegations were ludicrous at the outset because Presidents alone cannot order a wiretap, and as has been demonstrated by his inability to provide any evidence and his fellow Republicans’ refusal to back him up at all.

Trump, the chief executive of the United States, baselessly accused his predecessor of the worst presidential crime since Watergate. Trump slandered Barack Obama, and though Trump seems clearly incapable of apologizing or admitting a mistake, his refusal to do so continues to erode the trust that many Americans want to have in our government and deepen the divide between our communities and allies.

Whether or not Trump will follow the lead of his Weather Service remains to be seen.

That he should apologize to the former President seems already beyond clear.

Three No Trump

While I am no real expert at the game of Bridge, I have learned that the best/cheapest bid to win a hand is ‘three no-trump’, but despite the advantage given in the rules to cheap no-trump bids, three no-trump is one of the most difficult bids to make with any regularity.

What does any of this have to do with anything else?

Since last fall, I have tried to swear off too many Trump-related blogs, but I still find myself drifting back to the Trump stump. I have wondered if I am off-base or if the Trump subject has genuinely become so pervasively dangerous that there really is no other public issue of comparable significance at the moment.

Allowing for a wide variety of opinion and views about Trump and his plans, it is still my view that we are all experiencing something that is not only unprecedented but that is putting the country at risk economically, socially and physically. That is the 3 TRUMP BID: Economic, Social, and Physical danger.

Economic: at the moment, Trump’s push on taxes, regulation, and spending is putting inflationary pressure on the economy when we are already near full employment. That puts the Fed in a position to raise interest rates to counter that upward pressure. And in the meanwhile a lot of Trump’s most ardent supporters are among those who will be injured the most and become ever more upset with their own lives and world.

Social: The second crack at immigration curtailment already appears to still be running afoul of our legal system as well as creating widespread uncertainty and difficulty among many minority peoples. The empowering of so many billionaires—who are personally unfamiliar with the real world– to steer the rules about the population in many aspects of their lives—in education, health and general social activity is sharpening  social divisions across the whole country creating much more divisive feelings and thoughts.

Physical Danger: With Russia in a peculiar position vis-à-vis  Trump and North Korea getting increasingly aggressive, our military is now destined to get much more money, which in turn increases the risk that a showdown somewhere will become unavoidable, despite the fact that such a showdown would endanger American lives.

Comparing the Trump era in the US in the world to the game of bridge may seem silly or even trivial.

We must remember, however, that the game of bridge requires careful, quick thinking and a good, strategic approach to playing the game.

The BIG game of life requires the same in SPADES but today seems to be getting a series of erratic, often self-contradictory actions.

Perhaps taking a few bridge lessons would do Trump some good; 1)he would have less time to tweet,  2) he might learn a few basic things to help his Presidency and 3] that THREE NO TRUMP is at least one too many!

Also remember that President Eisenhower was a serious expert bridge player.

When Did We Last See this ‘Movie’ about Washington?

Quick answer: 1974! The name was Watergate.

Watergate was a bungled break-in to steal Democratic files.

Trumpgate was clearly a bungled effort to engage some kind of surreptitious Russian support to aid his Presidential campaign. Whether such action was illegal or not, is irrelevant at this point, because of the crude attempts to cover them up; this vividly indicates that they did not want anyone to know what they even tried to do, whether it actually worked out or not.

The White House’s argument that there is/was nothing to see is on its face ridiculous, because, if there was in fact nothing there, there was nothing to hide. Make no mistake; it should be clear to all now that some things were actually being hidden.

During Watergate, it took several months for the Congress to thoroughly unpeel the onion and reveal the break-in. This new onion looks likely now to unpeel somewhat faster.

When the Republican leadership, finally and irreversibly, sees that the public understands the gravity of what happened, they will have to cut and run to save their own skins.

The standard test for impeachment is “high crimes and misdemeanors”, which basically means whatever Congress says it means. (And if fiddling with a foreign power to get involved in a presidential election is not a high crime or misdemeanor, we will never know what is!)

Happily, this scandal is beginning only about a month into Trump’s new and already doomed presidency, because he has yet to wreak the full havoc he had in mind.

Cover-ups are usually stupid mistakes. That Trump felt enough concern about whatever was really going on to try to rewrite the history of the election is starkly revealing. A case could be made that his crime was serious enough to nullify the election. That is very unlikely to happen because there is nothing in our Constitution that deals with such a situation. Accordingly, we should begin now to prepare to deal with President Pence.

As wacky and dangerous as our new president has revealed himself to be,   so far he has mainly thrown a bunch of poorly crafted and loosely aimed thunderbolts from his personal Olympus.

The big stuff on taxes, protectionist trade practices, immigration reform, healthcare reform, and national security have barely budged and require the Congress to get in on his act.

The Republican Congressional leadership is increasingly edgy and nervous that, if they do not watch out, they just might be joining the president in history’s dustbin by 2018.

It is still early enough, however, to believe that a Pence presidency just may come to pass fairly soon. While his administration probably would be even more conservative than Trump’s, it also could be more rational, manageable, and fundamentally sensible. Pence is no dunce; he can read news and polls and will want to have a successful presidency. Therefore he seems highly unlikely to go crazy.

A lot of Democrat liberals worry that he is too conservative. That may be right. But he is sane and a realist. And when he finally can stop pulling his forelock in the Oval Office and actually get behind the desk, we will likely see someone who can work compromises with the Congress and across the aisle.

Therefore, the efforts to thwart Trump’s erratic behavior should at this point be aimed at slowing everything down until he is gone, and then get to work with Pence to work out a sane agenda to get things back on track before the midterm elections!

If Only the World Were Like Wollman Rink

In an effort to understand the way Donald Trump operates as a government official, all you need to do is go back into his history with New York City’s Wollman Rink.

In the 1980s, Wollman Rink was a disaster. The rink had become a very popular attraction in the park but after nearly 30 years of abuse it was no longer usable. The City then closed the rink in 1980 for what was intended to be two years of renovation. Six years later, the renovations were still not complete, and the costs had ballooned way out of control. Trump, who had just taken over The Plaza, took a personal ‘interest’ in the skating rink, which was directly across the street from his new property.

Then Trump stepped forward and offered to fix the rink on his own dime in six months, on the condition that he run Wollman thereafter. All he demanded was complete freedom from all regulations and rules. The city, at the time, embarrassed by the rink’s failure, acceded to his demands.

Trump then, to his great credit, did the job in about four months, well below the City’s estimated time and costs, and ultimately cost him a fraction of what the city had expected to have to pay. Perhaps this may be some evidence of what rules and regulations really cost?

It would be a good idea for him to work hard on the other related goal of rebuilding appropriate regimes of rules and regulations. To explain, for example: if a rule says a railing must be 30 inches high, and a mistake is made and it ends up 29 inches , does it make sense to tear it down? Of course not! So the RULE of all RULES—the rule of reason—has to kick in and  exceptions must be made and  appropriate fines paid to remind  offending folks that there is a cost in making mistakes—even little ones.

The downside of that nice little story is that his experience with Wollman taught him a very sinister and terribly dangerous lesson—that if he could get rid of ‘damnable’ rules and regulations he could get anything done cheaper. (Hello, Houdini, where does the other half of that pretty woman go when you cut her in half?)

It is a lesson we now see him trying to put into action during the first weeks of his presidency. Executive Orders, most without essential coordination with requisite other parts of ‘his’ executive branch, were thrown down from his Mt Olympus (the White House) one after another.

One about immigration was immediately stayed by the Federal Courts.

Others were mainly precatory demonstrations for PR purposes.

He is fast creating the impression that he truly does not know either the role of a President or how the Presidency actually works.

Wollman Rink appears to be still at the heart of his misinformation and misunderstanding of how to get things done in government. He seems to fail to realize that the rules are not automatically suspended for him simply because he was elected President. Perhaps rules are now constitutionally more important to protect the whole country. And, voters really are fascinated by where the other half of Houdini’s assistant ends up.

No doubt regulations and rules have gotten out of hand, BUT our world would become chaotic and unlivable without appropriate regimes of rules and regulations.

These explanations, of course, do not explain all of Trump’s zaniness. No single message could possibly do that!

But, it does set out a path for one to use to try better to understand this confused and disoriented “so-called president”.