9.1. Institutions Are Hard to Get Right

Before we start in on the many reforms they need, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how hard it is to build strong institutions.

Before we start in on the many reforms our institutions need, in order to cope with the demands of today’s world, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how hard it is to build strong institutions.

Take a moment to think about all the things we ask of our institutions.

Keeping us safe. Keeping us prosperous. Passing hugely consequential laws. Making valuable products. Educating us. Informing us. Uniting us.

And doing that not just for a few people—for all of us.

For thousands, millions, or even billions of us.

Doing that much, on that large of a scale, is almost impossible.

It’s not a coincidence that the institutions we like to complain about the most—like the federal government or cable companies—are the ones that have to serve hundreds of millions of people.

Because even if they have a really high success rate, there are still going to be millions of unhappy, disappointed, or irate people upset at them!

And even those of us who haven’t had such a bad experience are going to hear about all those people complaining.

We can easily be tricked into thinking institutions aren’t doing a good job, based on the raw numbers of people who complain about them—even if their success rate itself is actually pretty good.

So we should be careful not to make that mistake.

We shouldn’t just assume that our institutions are doing a bad job, just because a lot of people complain about them.

We shouldn’t treat every little inconvenience as an abomination, or a confirmation of our preexisting belief that these institutions are rotten to their core.

We should actually look at what they’re doing.

Because the jobs we give institutions are so difficult, they have a huge incentive to cut as many corners as possible.

They have a huge incentive to close their ears to complaints that would require them to restructure their established way of operating.

They have a huge incentive to pretend they’re delivering on their promises—when in fact they aren’t.

And instead of shaping their organization to our actual needs, they have a huge incentive to try to shape us to the way they would prefer to operate, through marketing and propaganda.

From the very beginning of this series, I’ve emphasized that our great crisis is an institutional one.

We don’t trust the political, economic, educational, media, civic, and religious institutions we depend on.

There are more of us than ever before. And we have more complex and diverse needs than ever before.

And our institutions simply haven’t kept up.

We don’t just need a new political party in charge, or a new CEO, or some other cosmetic change.

We need to completely rethink how our institutions should function.

We need to figure out how to reach fantastic new heights in how we take care of people and manage our affairs.

And that’s what this unit of videos will be about.

 

This is the 141st in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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