In Chartbook #73, back on January 21st this year, I proposed Krisenbilder - crisis pictures - as a way of making sense of what then looked like a complicated pattern of stresses around the world scene. I proposed the schematic because it seemed a useful way of mapping interconnected forces in a heuristic way. As it turned out, it succeeding in capturing quite a lot of the dynamics that have subsequently convulsed the world.
If you adopted systems dynamics modeling of the polycrisis you lay out, you could simulate possible scenarios, such as the new strain of Covid, or relaxation of the Odessa blockade.
Also, 'polycrisis' seems to be roughly equivalent to 'wicked problems', which John Camillus contrasted with 'tame' ones:
> A wicked problem has innumerable causes, is tough to describe, and doesn’t have a right answer.
Horst Wittel and Melvin Webber boiled down the definition of wicked problems to ten characteristics:
1 — There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. It’s not possible to write a well-defined statement of the problem, as can be done with an ordinary problem.
2 — Wicked problems have no stopping rule. You can tell when you’ve reached a solution with an ordinary problem. With a wicked problem, the search for solutions never stops.
3 — Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad. Ordinary problems have solutions that can be objectively evaluated as right or wrong. Choosing a solution to a wicked problem is largely a matter of judgment.
4 — There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. It’s possible to determine right away if a solution to an ordinary problem is working. But solutions to wicked problems generate unexpected consequences over time, making it difficult to measure their effectiveness.
5 — Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot” operation; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly. Solutions to ordinary problems can be easily tried and abandoned. With wicked problems, every implemented solution has consequences that cannot be undone.
6 — Wicked problems do not have an exhaustively describable set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan. Ordinary problems come with a limited set of potential solutions, by contrast.
7 — Every wicked problem is essentially unique. An ordinary problem belongs to a class of similar problems that are all solved in the same way. A wicked problem is substantially without precedent; experience does not help you address it.
8 — Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem. While an ordinary problem is self-contained, a wicked problem is entwined with other problems. However, those problems don’t have one root cause.
9 — The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. A wicked problem involves many stakeholders, who all will have different ideas about what the problem really is and what its causes are.
10 — The planner has no right to be wrong. Problem solvers dealing with a wicked issue are held liable for the consequences of any actions they take, because those actions will have such a large impact and are hard to justify.
Kelly Levin, Benjamin Cashore, Graeme Auld, and Steven Bernstein suggested that there is a class of ‘super wicked problems’ that have some additional characteristics:
1. Time is running out.
2. No central authority.
3. Those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it.
4. Policies discount the future irrationally.
Exactly like your polycrisis.
WHY is there no arrow where the war eminates from US meddling, another showing faulty risk analysis, then another arrow showing the push of NATO borders, etc etc etc. More so arrows that show the further militarization of a purposely strong US currency... punishment to emerging nations? those having to buy commodities in dollars, use the SWIFT system, bow to dollar denominated debt??? Who's the sole criminal here? The driver of crises. America. A nation who coincidentally has a piss poor track record in recent wars. But a great track record of attacking oil and gas nations covertly or overtly- Venezuela, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Libya, Syria, add Ukraine by Proxy. Commodities as well, such as the massive lithium resource that is in Afghanistan.
More arrows, such as central banks purposely going with demand-side politics, with no desire to increase supply side... as in, you see no weekly meetings of leaders working HARD to fix supply side, supply chain, no desire to bring the youth into the workforce from 16 and up.
The arrows should also include the 2020 pressure upon stakeholders. Calling Putin a killer, calling a Suadi a killer. Allows an effing doctor in the CDC to dictate economic policy. I said it then and for two years... don't let Anthony Fauci of America's CDC dictate world economic policy. Duhhhhhhh...
It's time the world turned it's back the United States.
In light of recent events, I think we need to add the War on Women—especially the war on poor women and women of color. Whew! The polycrisis. If we add the social aspects, it becomes a vortex.
Think the historic and economic perspective is almost unique and helpful making sense of such of such complex combinations. Thank you. DA.
Seems to me the food/EM debt crisis should have a big, long arrow connecting it to EU refugee crisis on your crisis map. Does what happens in the global south really stay in the global south, or are massive increases in refugee flows the transmission mechanism to the core, especially EU and to some extent US, with all kids of political knock on effects (boost for MAGA and EU equivalents, political disunity, etc.) and challenges. France, Germany and Italy in particular are terrified at the prospect of another tidal wave of non-European migration into the EU as a result of food/debt crises. And this is surely one of the reasons they were/are reluctant to engage in long, all out confrontation with Russia.
Oh dear. This sort of nonsense looks like one of those infamous charts from Master Strategist David Petraeus
Dear Professor Tooze,
What strikes me about the diagrams/networks you provide today is that all the red boxes except the one about U.S. politics are global in nature: the climate crisis has impacts on every square inch of the globe; so, the nuclear threat, etc. The observation suggests international cooperation of some kind is an urgent need.
Chapel Hill, NC
This is kind of off & on target, but…
KRISENBILDER, aka Crisis Pictures, are everywhere these days. Everyone (especially me) is obsessed with drawing “crisis Pictures”. I once worked in a locked adolescent psychiatric unit. We did a lot of arts and crafts with the young patients. I learned how art and “play therapy” work, how they help to understand the trauma these young people have experienced. As was explained to me by our super wonderful pediatric psychiatrist, children play out their traumas over and over in an effort to gain a sense of mastery over those terrible circumstances. It’s like a broken record of hopeful conquest. In a similar way, drawing graphs and charts of the “polycrisis”, helps give us some sense of organization, a structure to hold our worries and possibly gain insight or even mastery of the situation. It’s amazing how comforting pictures and drawings can be. In a way, serious art is always a “crisis picture”—drawing crisis. It seems like such a waste of time to draw beautiful pictures that do not aspire to tell the truth, but actually aspire to coverup the truth, often under the pretext of inspiration and the lofty notion of being “positive”.
Should we “professionals” working with these young patients have told them to tear up their negative, disturbing drawings and do more “cheerful” work?
No, we did not.
Instead, we celebrated their truthful works by putting up an art show in the hallway of the unit for all to see.
Pictures of whole families without arms or hands, a large black heart, a black panther on a tree limb that had been severed from its tree and floated mysteriously next to it.
Their works were not aiming for the “art market”, they were aiming to share their experiences.
Cheerful pictures were not cheerful to them.
They had already tried that.
As a Chief Risk Officer in financial services, I'm grateful for posts like this Adam. Might you add energy and food security impacts on large nations like Nigeria, Pakistan, and Egypt - with their knock-on effects (populist unrest, crackdowns and forced migration).
Adam - really interesting and thought provoking - thanks. I'm no geopoliticist or economist (retired bean counter) but I wonder if there is a way of looking at this that separates out entities or groups that are influencing or influenced by risks/crises. Humanity acting collectively can solve these crises subject to natural disasters and aliens! The problem posed by moving past the unipolar moment (for better or worse) is that there are I think n x (n-1)/2 possible bilateral relationships between n entities. Looking at life in terms of solving problems - the fewer the entities with conflicting interests the easier the solution assuming the solution is capable of being "good"? Sequencing? Trust building? Institution building. We seem to be living through a period of fragmentation.
From the charts it seems pretty obvious what should be done by our policymakers if they had any common sense: stop any and all interference in the Ukraine war (its not our business, Putin is not Hitler), abandon the Net Zero superstition and all its derivative cults, stop and reverse mass immigration and asylum seeking, ignore China and all UN institutions (but now I repeat myself), leave Covid alone (can't stop a respiratory virus anyhow), reduce taxes massively (starve the State and grow the private sector) and resume or increase drilling/fracking/coal and nuclear energy. Basically: reduce the State (and the EU ) to pre-1945 size, stop and reverse all forms of Statist interventionism both domestic and foreign, withdraw from multinational / globalist institutions, go back to laissez-faire capitalism with a few breaks to avoid oppressive behavior.
These look like neo4j representations of graph databases. If you want to put data on the arrows or nodes, graph databases allow for that and might allow for quantification of the relationships that you are outlining. See Neo4j.com for more info.
on the upside, nuclear Armageddon will take out the coronavirus, or else it will have to adapt to cockroaches.
Is there really any threat of nucleal escalation?
If Putin were to use nukes - how many? how big? what targets?
Oh, and if a nuclear power plant was impacted, what impact does that have? A second Chernobyl? Even worse nuclear contamination from the fuel or nuclear waste being distributed across Europe, and maybe blowing back over Russia itself?
Assume I small nuclear weapon. At Kyiv? Lviv? These are mostly civilians. The government would likely collapse. Would NATO countries/troops rush in to fill the vaccuum, trying to beat the Russians from advancing to their borders?
Neither the US, France or Britain will retaliate against Russia itself.
China, India and other countries would be truly horrified at the use of a nuclear weapon against a non-nuclear state.
How would Russian citizens react?
Would the Russian military actually carry out the order to nuke Ukraine? Its a war crime no doubt. They might fear escalation against NATO and the US.
OK - so what about firing just one nuke, and make it against a military target? Not going to do much damage since there are few areas like a Pearl Harbour to kneecap the Ukrainian military. Might likely toughen Ukrainian resolve and bring in NATO and the US. Would still cause China and India etc. to abandon relations with Russia of any kind.
Putin would go down with Hitler as an evil war criminal if he bombed Kyiv or Lviv. even bombing a civilan target will make him evil in the eyes of history, and even of his own people. He might be overthrown by his military instead of them following orders.
In short - I do not see a scenario - we saw how even the fear of Trump firing a nuclear weapon caused the US military to try to prevent such an action.
I wish I could more accurately track the adoption of new terms and concepts. It'd be interesting to map the origin of the term polycrisis and what feels like a recent quickening in its adoption. In the world I inhabit (working at an NGO focused on the systemic environmental and social crises we face), the confluence and interaction of multiple drivers of destabilization > breakdown > collapse has been termed different things by different people, but polycrisis seems to be gaining broad traction. (We have also used Joanna Macy's term "The Great Unraveling" to describe the phenomenon unfolding: https://postcarbon.org/great-unraveling)
Which gets me to some more substantive feedback for you, Adam (with appreciation):
- I think you could easily broaden the drivers/forces you've identified as elements of a larger polycrisis.
- I encourage you to check out this paper by the Cascade Institute, entitled "What is a Global Polycrisis?" https://cascadeinstitute.org/technical-paper/what-is-a-global-polycrisis/
At the risk of being overly practical, I'd point out that, at the height of the Covid panic the most pressing problem for many Americans in my parts was finding toilet paper. Perhaps it would be more useful if we each built our own Klusterfucken Chart or Table for what will really matter in the event of nuclear war, intractable new viral variants, global starvation and ensuing instability, .... You will probably appreciate how useful toilet paper will be in any of the anticipated possible occurrences above, and, in all likelihood, exciting emergent events. Toilet paper will be the new Bitcoin when you are: squirting your life away from radiation sickness, dying in a pool of excrement as the next variant wipes you away in a 'hospital' with no staff, leaking diarrhea as you succumb to the side-effects of malnutrition, .... Cheers.