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Populist politicians lead us in the wrong direction in a complex world

The ones who have a solution for everything have not understood the problem. This is the opinion of Julio Gonzalez at the University of Agder, and Professor Hartwig Eckert at the University of Flensburg. They have edited a new book about management by objectives and decision-making processes. 

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Professor Jose Julio Gonzalez at the University of Agder, flanked by Professors Ines Heindl and Hartwig Eckert from the Unviersity of Flensburg. Heindl and Eckert also succeeded in being admitted as members of the Agder Academy of Sciences and Letters when they visited the University of Agder.

“We often create new problems every time we try to solve a particular social problem. It is one of the paradoxes of our modern and complex society,” says Jose Julio Gonzalez, Professor at the University of Agder (UIA).

The book, Zielverführung, is for the time being only available in German. In it, Gonzalez and four other researchers from five different disciplines attempt to show how, when politicians meet complex social problems with simple measures, it leads to at least as many new problems created as solutions.
“We discuss how complex problems can be met with solutions which reduce, rather than increase, social problems,” says Gonzalez.

Management by objectives is necessary

Gonzalez and his colleagues use the terms telic (goal-oriented) and anti-telic in order to explain how new solutions can also throw up new problems. Political measures often seem anti-telic: instead of solving the problem, the measures implemented make it worse.

“Clearly defined goals are important for success with all types of project. The goals often become hazy and then it is the rule, rather than the exception, that political measures work against their intention – anti-telic,” says Gonzalez.

According to Gonzalez, this social development has, in a sense, moved far ahead of people’s mentality and conduct.

“Human beings can think and act in complex ways, but in practice we ignore the goals we have set ourselves and slip back into simple patterns of behaviour that only worsen our problem”, says Gonzalez.

Road construction, the national health service, and peace assignments are amongst the challenges discussed in the book.

“We spend millions developing roads, but we hear nonetheless about long traffic queues every day. We invest millions in the health service, but yet an increasing number are being hit by lifestyle diseases, and we carry out peace assignments which lead to civil wars and terrorism,” says Gonzalez.

Politicians are populists

People’s expectations and the simplications of the media are, according to the researchers, reasons behind the preference for simple solutions.

“In many countries, all politicians are populists, and it is the media and the voters who almost force them to turn out that way. We expect simple answers and solutions,” says Hartwig Eckert, Professor of English and Linguistics at the University of Flensburg.

He believes that normal political practice is to seemingly have a solution for everything.

“However, implementing measures within complex social systems leads to both desired and undesired consequences. The ones who think they have a solution to everything, have understood nothing,” says Eckert.

In a global, complex world, it takes time to analyse all the effects and consequences of our actions. “The challenge is getting politicians and other decision-makers to set clearly defined objectives. Once this is done, they must pursue their goals and not run from them,” says Eckert.

More research not required

Cover of the book Zielverführung Wer für alles eine Lösung weiss, hat die Probleme nicht Verstanden, Hartwig Eckert and Jose Julio Gonzalez (eds.)

“We know what makes people sick, but people are not becoming healthier. We do not need more research on forms of treatment. We must put into practice everything we already know,” says Ines Heindl.

She is Professor at the University of Flensburg, and is a nutritional expert and one of the contributors to the aforementioned book.

Heindl believes that society needs skilful teachers and a well-developed educational system in order to ensure that we make use of the knowledge of which we are already in possession.

“We know what is healthy for people, but schools and the educational system do not communicate this to the pupils. We have the knowledge and we know the syllabus, which tells us how to live healthilty. But we do not, to a sufficient extent, put this into practice,” she says.

Furthermore, according to Heindl, the national health service is adapted to too great an extent to the sick, rather than the healthy.

“It is all well and good that hospitals are adapted to sick people, as they should be, but from a holistic perspective, the health service should really be equally concerned with preventing disease and strengthening healthy food and life habits,” says Heindl.

A belief in the future, in spite of everything

The researchers believe that collaboration and education are the way to go in solving the challenges of tomorrow.

“Multidisciplinary collaboration ensures that we see the case in question from different perspectives. This book contains contributions from such different fields as linguistics, nutrition, sociology, psychology, ICT, mathematics and modelling. We must succeed with educating future generations, otherwise we will fail,” says Gonzalez.