Why We Are Starting This Lead Article With An Advertisement

William Krehm

It could be because in the midst of our boasted wars for freedom of thought, it is that only in paid ads is there freedom in the ways that we are allowed to use our minds in the official areas of crucial thinking.

We quote from the full-page IBM advertisement in The Wall Street Journal (1/12/08, "The Roads to a Smarter planet"): "In 2007, for the first time in history, the majority of the human population lived in cities. And this urbanization is accelerating. By 2010, there will be 59 metropolitan areas with populations greater than 5 million – up 50% from 2001.

"Many of those city dwellers will be driving cars, and the products they consume will be arriving in trucks.

"In the U.S. alone, 3.7 billion hours are lost every year to people sitting in traffic, and 2.3 billions gallons of fuel – enough to fill 58 supertankers – burn needlessly at a cost to the economy of $78 billion each year.

"That isn’t smart – but it can become so. The systemic nature of urban transportation is also the key to the solution. We need to stop focusing only on pieces of the problem: adding a new bridge, widening a road, putting up signs, establishing commuter lanes, encouraging carpooling or deploying traffic copters.

"Instead, we need to look at relationships across the entire system and all other systems that are touched by it: our supply chains, our environment, our companies…the way cities and people live and work. Traffic isn’t just a line of cars: it’s a web of connections.

"‘Smart traffic’ isn’t yet the norm, but it’s not some far-off vision of tomorrow. In many places, IBM is helping to make it happen today.

"In Stockholm, a dynamic toll system based on the flow of vehicles into and out of the city has reduced traffic by 20%, decreasing wait time by 25% and cut emissions by 12%. In Singapore, controllers receive real-time data through sensors to model and predict traffic scenarios with 90% accuracy. And in Kyoto, city planners simulate large-scale traffic situations involving millions of vehicles to analyze urban impact.

"All of this is possible because cities can infuse intelligence into their entire transportation system – streets, bridges, intersections, signs, signals and tolls – which can all be interconnected. They can reduce congestion, shrink fuel use and cut CO2 emissions.

"Our rapidly urbanizing planet depends on getting people and things from here to there. In the 20th century, that meant freeways from state to state and nation to nation. In the 21st century, ‘smart: traffic systems can be the new milestone of progress.’"

Now the most remarkable thing about this is that what is actually discouraged in allowing proper routes, bridges, channels not blocked so much by the flow of excessive traffic, as in noting that different roads cross and tangle. As a result they may be left not overused, but underused. That could be solved by a discipline known as systems theory. By this the human mind itself to sorting out when and what roads are in demand for what purposes. And for that subsystems have to be identified and arranged to work in harmony without tripping over one another. Each of these vital subsystems had to function individually and in concert, or cars could not budge. Much as the different parts of a car internally. There is the fuel system, the motor, the electrical system, the brakes, the mechanical system. Only when the car had passed such multi-system tests, could IBM and the others have attacked the problem of overcrowded highways throughout the world. For they would have served no purpose.

But there are further steps in this harmonizing of the different subsystems of vital problems. And this requires recognition of a whole range, you might even call it hierarchy of systems that must be respected.

Considered as a whole, it requires highly developed skills of mind. That is essentially what mathematics are about. From the solution of simultaneous linear equations that we learned to handle in our first year high school, to Albert Einstein identifying velocity as another dimension of space.

It is when we fail to put these myriad and ever multiplying systems that our society requires in place, that we fall down with so resounding a crash that could very well be a death notice for our civilization. What ties together the multiplying variety of ever more embracing systems is the economy – both through the government sector and the private sector. There was a time when the effort was made by the Club of Rome to bring systems theory into economics. However, there were predictions expressed by conventional economists that if oil prices were raised high enough there could never be a lack of oil. Courses in system theories had actually set up on many universities. But the course of economics was set with an eye on a quite different star.

The work of a generation of economists who tried brining systems theory into our economy has been buried and forgotten.

The problems overwhelming us can clearly not be left to balancing of supply and demand achieved by our banks setting the proper interest rates to handle such problems.

William Krehm

– from Economic Reform, January 2009