Managing social processes vs. managing the context of social processes

The Very Foundation of Conservatism - New York Times
The Olin Foundation's leaders understood that success is often unplanned, and so they focused on creating the conditions for success rather than thrusting a set of detailed agendas and goals upon grant recipients. Nobody, for example, expected that Allan Bloom's "Closing of the American Mind" would become a runaway best seller whose meaning is still debated two decades after it was published; the John M. Olin Foundation merely decided in the early 1980's that Mr. Bloom, a political theorist at the University of Chicago, was a genuine talent who deserved financial backing.

What's more, philanthropists must have Job-like patience, because in the war of ideas there are few quick payoffs. More than five years passed between Mr. Bloom's first grant and the publication of his landmark book; and few of the foundation's successes were as obvious as his case. The idea was simply to provide a steady source of assistance to conservative thinkers, who could devote themselves to writing books and articles rather than to raising cash for next year's budget.

As a liberal, I might be naturally sceptical of anything John J. Miller, a writer for National Review and the author of "A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America," has to say. However, he does bring up an interesting point. Large and/or complex systems (not-necessarily nonlinear but probably so) are notoriously difficult to manage. It is much easier to manage their environment or context (that's what central bank of country in effect does). However, because of their sensitivity to initial conditions (the butterfly effect) even this may be too ambitious if the goal is to achieve a specific target. For instance, a central bank can predict an impact on the up or down trend of inflation but not its actual value at one given time, and even they cannot exactly predict its effect on the economy. However, believing in the power of self-organization can be equally dangerous because of its predictably inequitous results (absolutely free-markets will - by definition - always produce people who are absolutely starving because that is part of their mechanism). Now, the 'solution' may be in allowing for the self-organizing processes in any system to take place (not believing, of course, in the idea that the self-organization is progressing towards an equilibrium and freely acknowledging that regulation must be a part of such a process) but actively mitigating the worst of its societal effects. The problem is that this sounds too much like the Blair 'third-way' which is not working too well. Watch this space for more musings on this subject. (Sebastian Mallaby makes a similar point in today's WP.)