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Will talks about ‘lifeboat’ strategies. In other words, he speaks of planning for the worst scenarios. If minor problems occur, we’ll have the kinds of systems in place, and our worlds constructed the right way, so we can ride out storms. While some might see this as a morbid view of the future. But let me illustrate Will’s position with a story he once told me:

Imagine you’re a chap named Noah. God says to you one day to build an ark and save the animals from a flood. You look at what you’ll need to carry out this project: lots of wood, animal husbandry skills, boat building skills, a good food supply aboard the boat.
But what if the light and voice from the clouds was in your imagination? What if it doesn’t really happen? You go back to your economics training and do a cost/benefit analysis.

If there’s a flood and you build the ark: Survival
If there’s a flood and you don’t build the ark: Destruction
If there’s no flood and you build the ark: End up with a big boat, a pile of food, a boat-building business, a sawmill and sons who’ll probably end up becoming vets due to having to learn how to care for all the animals
If there’s no flood and you don’t build the ark: You go about life as normal before the light in the clouds spoke

Whether the flood happens or not, you’re ahead by building the boat. So being a rational person, as the economists would define you, you build the ark.

What Will illustrates in the story is that the measures we should take to minimise our exposure to damage, and our reliance on things beyond our control, are going to – even if the world around us doesn’t go pear-shaped – benefit us in the long-run. So is there a valid reason not to do them?

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2 Comments

  1. I like Will’s analysis. Obviously you need to be selective about which ‘lifeboat’ strategies are required and practical.

    In IT security, it’s irrational to spend a $100,000 on firewalls to protect information assets which are only worth $5,000- and even if you did, it still wouldn’t protect you from a stupid user or malicious employee. You’ve mitigated A risk but not ALL risks.

    So the cost/benefit analysis is crucial in determining where best to direct your limited assets and energy.

    Likewise, I wouldn’t spend vast sums stockpiling food and water for something which is an extremely remote possibility….though making an emergency pack with enough to keep our household going for a week has been in the back of my mind since the recent tempest in Novacastria.

    On reflection, I can think of three situations in my life when such a thing would have been very beneficial. So for me, that’s about once every 10 years.

    Thanks for the reminder. I’m interested to know what other ‘strategies’ may be worthwhile.

  2. I vote for learning to swim.

    The animals will take care of themselves.

    Noah aside though, I think there’s a danger in building up great huge edifices of protection for imagined disasters. I’m beginning to thing that developing flexibility and a light touch count for more than any amount of preparations.

    Back to Noah, it seems to me that his situation only worked out because God specifically told him a flood was coming. If he’d built that boat and ended up looking at the business end of a volcano we wouldn’t think he was so clever.


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