"Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system" by Donella Meadows

When I first started reading this paper, I was convinced that this was another paper from an arrogant expert in their field convinced that their area of study is the most important of any. However, the more I read, the more I started to be convinced that Systems Design may actually be that important. Ranging from the fields of economics, politics, social systems, and engineering, understanding Systems Design and the counter-intuitive ways systems operate seems imperative to developing or running any form of complex enterprise.

What struck me most about this paper is the way that it related to COVID. Especially in the sections on feedback loops, the way she describes a positive feedbacm loop either running its course, or being stopped by extreme action to prevent it is exactly what all the talk a few months ago about flattening the curve is about.

My one concern with the paper is the lack of acknowledgement of the demands implicit in manipulating some of these leverage points. For example, she repeatedly mentioned that in an ideal systems design world, we would be fighting to slow economic growth and population growth so that the systems dependant on these have time to adjust. However, this seems to gloss over the consequences of slowing economic growth – people starve and die until the systems adjust. The same is true for yer example of low income housing. While it creates inequity in the long term, removing it from expensive cities means that some people move away, but many stay and struggle, eventually ending up with no money in their pockets while they are pushed out to the poorer outskirts of the city.

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