The TASC List: Connecticut turnaround

Here’s some encouraging news about the outlook for our state. The situational path to “dismal depths” may be changing — and the improved results may happen sooner than we think. Why?

Industrial and urban dynamics (see Jay W. Forrester) or more generally system dynamics treat the complex interactions and multiple feedback loops involved in certain activities — where counterintuitive behavior may actually result from the application of otherwise common-sense solutions to problems. That is, “topsy-turvy” outcomes often attend approaches that seem like reasonable remedies.

Urban renewal actions in the U.S. typically produced exactly the opposite effects from expectations. The underlying flows, factors, and real vectors of change — all extremely difficult to snapshot, pin down, or indeed estimate for modeling purposes — sometimes overwhelmed the other variables, and often had counter force influences on the outputs.

So here’s the message. The Connecticut economic model is extremely complex, even when viewed as an aggregation of well-known factors. And other important influences are certainly unknown, or invisible, to both economists and outside observers. Grinding change and raw upheaval are both underway at every moment. Like a lake can overturn with only the merest temperature gradient change, the apparent external effects can literally reverse in the briefest interval of time.

Consider in-bound migration to our state and job growth in an important nexus of employment potential. These two factors could change almost overnight if New York City, for example, modifies its crime prevention/reduction apparatus (see stop-and-frisk progress) and its population and some business headquarters immediately take steps to find a safer set of neighborhoods. Positive economic bounce immediately.

If other economic “climatic” factors receive a similar stimulus from, say, a natural disaster in adjoining states, the discovery of even more corruption in government or corporate affairs in other domains, a rise in “apparent” attractiveness of our overall educational opportunity base, or some productive packages of recognition and reward for achievement are well applied, then we may find some surprisingly positive results.

The spiral is not inexorably down. It may be reversing itself at this very moment. The seeds of recovery are already implanted in this region’s current cycle of recession. They include:

1 In-state migration; populations seeking better neighborhoods to raise families away from high-crime rates;

2) Job growth; we have a multi-month record of increasing jobs at this moment;

3) The apparently visible attractiveness of a high-quality education system;

4) Physical removal from the ocean coastal shoreline and storm surge inundations;

5)  Reinforcement of elasticity in the power grid/networks;

6)  Area low priority for terrorist targets, attacks, and interruptions;

7)  Excellent and widespread water distribution systems in a normally non-drought geography;

8)  Good air quality, superior crop-growing conditions, widespread forestation and open spaces;

9)  Highway network and rail connections that form a well-structured transportation capability.

Some of these factors are reinforcing to current trends, some are balancing agents to other effects, and some directly counter what may appear to be irreversible consequences. They mirror the relationships all complex systems include, and even amplify the outcomes when combined with other variables. They may be self-referential, resistant to policy or manipulation, structurally insensitive to change — or at times insignificant. The point is that they are often unpredictable, and difficult to assess.

But this short list is simply offered to suggest that behaviors, policies, and influences are at work in our current economic system, along with well-known indicators of traditional “strength” and “health.” Some are causes of economic improvement or decline. Some are symptoms. All are interactive in sometimes surprising ways. We live in a non-linear world with countless built-in feedback loops. In a corporate setting it might be possible to model or simulate the manufacturing or industrial activities that drive outcomes from positive to negative, or from financial success to bankruptcy. Here in Connecticut, we must continue to survive on intuition, insight, and the judgment of our elected officials.

But there exist these encouraging signs and signals of recovery; we’ve listed only a few. They offer the promise of better days ahead, with or without the involvement or influence of the political element. They are shaping the future now, below the surface and in complicated ways, for a stronger Connecticut tomorrow.

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