Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 14: considering the perils of “technically sweet solutions”

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on June 29, 2020

This is my 15th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-13, plus its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I began this series by briefly and selectively outlining and discussing a succession of five specific case study examples of large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment projects, with that including both primarily positive role model, and primarily cautionary note negative examples. And in keeping with real world complexities as they arise in any contexts as large and complex as these, I selected examples there that combined both positive and negative features within them. Then I broke away from that expository pattern in Parts 10-12 to offer at least a first draft take on a set of general principles that I would argue should enter into any overall better practices guide for selecting, designing and carrying out such initiatives.

My goal here is to turn back to the specifics by reconsidering another historical example that I have previously looked into in this blog in an earlier series: an attempted greening of the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa through development of a system of deep drilled artesian wells (see Planning Infrastructure to Meet Specific Goals and Needs, and not in Terms of Specific Technology Solutions 1. I was initially planning on addressing this in Part 13 to this series, but I broke with my initial organizational outline of it there, to add in a first step, anticipatory note as to what might arise from the COVID-19 global pandemic that we face now, as efforts are made to reopen and to rebuild, and with at least significantly scaled national infrastructure efforts all but certain to be included there. I will turn to and discuss my Sahelian example here and now, and will do so with the issues and challenges noted in that inserted Part 13 in mind. And I begin that by offering a general note regarding infrastructure programs and projects in general, as more fully addressed in Parts 10 through 12:

• I did not focus on specific technologies in those three postings for a reason. Technology changes and advances as new innovations emerge and advance, and as older tools and materials and approaches for using them become legacy and then disappear from any current or anticipated use. And even when a technology is still of use, it might or might not apply to the specific infrastructure initiatives and their needs that might be under consideration – or under immediate here-and-now development.
• But human involvement and human impact can be taken as an ongoing, automatic given.
• I have been discussing the now six infrastructure contexts that I have raised and selectively considered here, from a human and an interpersonal perspective because those are the true constants that can be found in any and all such endeavors. And ultimately, success and failure: immediate and long-term can only be measured in such terms.

To bring this lead-in note up to date here, that is most certainly the perspective that I espoused in Part 13. And I will continue pursuing it here too, using this example to further expand upon what that it has to include if it is to offer any real value.

Read my earlier posting about this unfortunately negative, cautionary note example, and how it came to fail and in ways that led to significant loss of life, and to expanding environmental degradation. Read it with these at least seemingly simple questions in mind, if nothing else, as we face our current COVID-19 context and both intranationally and internationally:

• When we reopen and recover and rebuild from this crisis, what long-term challenges that it has brought to light will we address and how?
• And what longer-term and wider reaching challenges will we exacerbate, if not create outright from that if we only take a short-term, here-and-now perspective as we plan and prioritize and carry through on whatever infrastructure and related efforts that we do enter into?

I offered some briefly stated points of conclusion in my above cited 2014 “greening of the desert” posting that I repeat here for their renewed relevance:

• If you are to develop and institute an effective infrastructure change societally, you need to do so in ways that will gain widespread support and that will meet real needs. So you have to be prepared to make this work on a short timeframe and with a clear vision for moving forward.
• But at the same time you have to plan and develop and monitor and fine tune with an acute awareness of longer term considerations too, and with an awareness of what I would call, based on the above-cited narrative, potential water challenges. And these are always problems that are readily perceived and understood – in hindsight, but that can prove much more difficult to see or anticipate in foresight. Even the most devastating such problems can seem to arise from unexpected directions.

Let’s consider what that second point and its cautionary note means, in the context of that African based example. Providing water to a parched land and with a goal of enriching the lives of the many peoples of a large multinational region, is a noble goal.

• The people who set out to do this, sought to do good and they made every effort to actually do so. But they treated this as a strictly technological problem: one of digging wells and of controlling water flow so as to enable the effective use of it in the communities that would arise around those wells.
• But the technological was in fact only one aspect to this, that was crucially important to consider and address there. It was at least as important to consider the historical and the sociological context of this and of the people of this large and widespread region.
• Would this project have been carried out as it was, if cultural anthropologists who really knew the peoples of this region and who spoke their languages, had been brought into its planning and from the beginning?
• It was well known as long established fact that this region: the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa, was repeatedly, consistently recurringly faced with periods of rain and even if just in more limited quantities, interspersed with periods of parching, withering drought.
• All the puzzle pieces that went into this failing were known – including the fact that this vast pool of underground water was not being replenished from the outside and in any way, so it was a fixed and limited resource that with time would be exhausted.

This was an infrastructure project that was developed and instituted as a good and even noble effort. It was grounded in the best of intentions. But the blinders-limited failure of its planning, and the failure to understand or even see the pitfalls that it would have built into it from that, made this a tragedy and even an inevitable one. And circumstance had it that those wondrous deep drilled artesian wells began to run dry precisely as one of the region’s more severe if predictable droughts set in.

In retrospect, that confluence was at least partly predictable too. When the land became parched and the people of those artesian well-centered communities needed extra water for their now much larger herds of cattle and for their own larger numbers too, they opened the spigots as wide as they could, accelerating their race to deplete the reservoirs that they were tapping into for this. Drought in a way set the schedule for this failure.

• What types and sources of expertise should have been included in any such conversations, as this project was being planned?
• Looking to the first of those above-repeated bullets points from my 2014 posting (as edited here for this discussion), how can you best meet the needs that such a project would seek to fulfill, and gain buy-in and support for it and in a way that would not conflict with the basic understandings and the basic traditions of the people there, who would be most directly affected by it?

The largely nomadic herdsman communities of the Sahel were intelligent, and wise in the ways of their ancestors. But as vitally important as it was to gain their buy-in for whatever would be done, they were still largely illiterate and they did not have the educational background: the basic facts in their community knowledge bases, to understand all of the crucially important issues there. This does not mean they could not have been informed, and certainly if the information that they needed had been shared with them in their languages and in ways that they would see as making sense.

• So if you are to develop and institute an effective infrastructure change societally, you need to do so in ways that will gain widespread support and that will meet real needs, with a shared and agreed to determination of that even means, arrived at as a matter of genuinely informed consent.

Am I arguing here against deep artesian wells and against this type of project ever being carried out? No! I am arguing against simply carrying out this type of project blindly, as was arguably the case for what was done there. Am I arguing that the people who were involved in this, and either as technologist developers or as individuals and communities living in that region were odiously wrong in what they did? No! People of good will and good intention on all sides of this, made what were arguably the best decisions that they could have made there – given the information and the levels and types of insight and perspective that they could turn to as they reached their conclusions and made their decisions.

• What I am arguing is that all actually involved parties made what turned out to be fateful decisions, on the basis of faulty and incomplete information and on the basis of fundamentally limited perspective.

And if you look more widely at artesian well systems and the water resources that they can access, this project is not unique and either for its being carried out on the basis of incomplete information or for its potential for “law of unintended (and unexpected) consequences” failure.

I cite in that context, a 2001 report from the United States based Natural Resources Defense Council, concerning deep water sourced contamination in the United States, in California. The challenges addressed there, arising from those artesian well systems, came to include significant surface water contamination and with that creating what become all but intractable problems for agricultural irrigation in at least some areas of the state, along with problems with the quality of essential potable water too (see their report:California’s Contaminated Groundwater.)

As a surface water and agricultural, and a wildlife and environmental challenge example of the impact of contamination from subsurface, deep well-sourced water, I would cite selenium contamination where microscopic levels of that serve as essential micronutrients for all multicellular organisms, but where excessive levels are teratogenic poisons too. When deep sourced well water is contaminated with a nonvolatile contaminant like that and it is brought to the surface, it remains there in place as the water that conveyed it to the surface evaporates away. And more such water brings up more of it and it becomes more and more concentrated there.

I could just as easily cite examples of where farmland has been poisoned by salinization as salts so accumulate too. Israel has faced real problems of that type, and even when using drip irrigation and similar techniques to both reduce the amounts of water needed, and to help limit the impact of this problem.

I am going to turn back to a discussion outline that I first proposed in Part 6 in the next installment to this series, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out by the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of that continuation I will also discuss Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers as took place within that nation. And I will, of course, also touch on the issues of Post-Soviet Russia too and of Vladimir Putin and his ambitions and actions there too. That, and for both China and Russia, is where infrastructure development meets authoritarianism, and in a form and to a degree that has never been possible until now, so both of those sources of case study material are important for better understanding our 21st century context.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 13: COVID-19 as an emergent source of infrastructure imperative – 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on May 20, 2020

This is my 14th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-12, plus its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

As circumstances would have it, I finished writing and posted the last of three installments to this series in March, 2020, that collectively seek to offer a first draft outline of general principles, that might go into a more general purpose guide to infrastructure development per se (see Part 10, Part 11 and Part 12.) And my goal for moving forward from there was to further explore and discuss a specific case in point infrastructure development project that directly impacted upon a wide swath of nations as found along the southern margins of the Sahara Desert, that I first addressed in an earlier series here: an attempted greening of the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa through development of a system of deep drilled artesian wells (see Planning Infrastructure to Meet Specific Goals and Needs, and not in Terms of Specific Technology Solutions 1.

I will in fact pursue that line of discussion. But I will hold off on doing so until the next installment here after this one. With that noted, my now interjected goal for this posting is to at least offer some preliminary thoughts as to what the COVID-19 pandemic that we face now, is likely to lead to as its long-term recovery and beyond.

I have been actively posting on this pandemic in a series: China, the United States and the World, and the Challenge of an Emerging Global COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (as can be found at Macroeconomics and Business 2, as its postings 366 and following.) And I have at least touched upon this topic in a few other more recent postings as well. But focusing here on that specific organized ongoing series, I have been discussing the pandemic itself there, and as both a public health matter and for the politics and the governmental decisions that have sought to meet it.

• I have in that series, begun addressing the emerging issues of how we will reopen societally, from the disease containment efforts that we have variously held forth and followed, as that will differ from community to community and from nation to nation.
• I plan on discussing some specific to-address issues in upcoming installments there, that would at least be important in essentially any effort to rebuild there, as businesses and economies, and as societies in general move on from all of this as this pandemic ends.

My goal here is not to duplicate any of that, even if I do end up raising at least some of the same points both here and there. My goal here is to look at where we are now and to think out loud, if you will, about where we might go next – but from the perspective of basic lessons learnable and basic infrastructure development principles that might be applied to other development or redevelopment initiatives moving forward.

Think of this posting as both a brief and selective case in point example with its more topically specific narrative, and also as a continuation of my Parts 10 through 12 general principles draft presentation. And with that noted, I begin it by repeating three basic general principles that I have variously approached and offered repeatedly now, in those earlier installments:

• The first of them is that a need for infrastructure development, or at least a focused recognition of a need for it and a willingness to pursue it, can serve as a wedge issue, opening up conversations and forcing the recognition of what might otherwise be and remain unconsidered larger scale, longer term needs.
• And a second of them is that the true stakeholders of any infrastructure development or redevelopment effort must include those who would be most directly affected by and impacted upon, by whatever it done or not, in accordance with its plans and execution.
• And they need to both have a voice in this, and a genuine opportunity to buy into it or to challenge it – and with the two faces of that, meaning their having a seat at the table when planning it and when benchmarking it and when setting its overall goals and in ways that would at least reasonably meet their needs too.

I have at least briefly touched upon these issues: these points of principle in my above cited ongoing series on COVID-19, and I will continue to do so there. And as a starting point here, for this posting’s narrative, I pick upon on a fundamentally important historical point that I have raised there several times now, that should inform any planning and any activity carried out on the basis of that planning, in our emerging here-and-now:

• Look to the 1918 flu pandemic and where it caused the greatest immediate harm as a public healthcare crisis, and look to where it caused the greatest long-term economic challenges too – challenges that were never really fully addressed.
• Poor and impoverished communities: underserved communities going into that crisis paid a far heavier price from it than did their wealthier counterparts. They were less able to socially distance and otherwise contain the pandemic and its spread. They were given less support in rebuilding and reopening. And yes, this disparity of resources and of opportunity and of outcome, and both during that pandemic and after it did follow racial and ethnic lines. There was bias and discrimination there, that in the United States, matched both Jim Crow law segregation in the South and the just as real if sometimes less overt discrimination of the North as well.
• And that exact same pattern is emerging here and now as we see the numbers of cases of COVID-19 infection grow and grow and as we see its mortality numbers consequence from that. Who are the frontline workers who carry out essential work through all of this, whether that means working in supermarkets and food stores, delivering to wholesalers and to those retailers and directly to peoples’ homes, working in sanitation and collecting and taking away the trash, …. The list is seemingly endless. And yes, this also includes a great many frontline healthcare workers too. And remember: their rates of infection with this virus have become lower than is found in the general community now, as personally protective equipment has become widely enough available – finally. But these people spent the critically dangerous period in which this pandemic was first really taking off, and certainly in hard-hit communities, trying to make do without anything like adequate masks or other personally protective equipment, having to reuse and reuse the same supposedly single-use masks again and again and for up to weeks at a time.
• Once again, poor and underserved and largely minority communities are being hit the hardest by this pandemic as a public health crisis. What will happen? What will be done as this immediate crisis ends, and as priorities are set and funds and other resources are allocated, in the longer term rebuilding that will follow?
• I add, with that, another news story reference in support of these points, and certainly for how it validates the here-and-now concerns expressed as we face this pandemic: These N.Y.C. Neighborhoods Have the Highest Rates of Virus Deaths. “Race and income are the key factors that decide who dies from Covid-19 and who survives, city data shows.” Comparable findings are coming to light for a wide range of other comparable communities in many other places as well.

I want to make a very important point of distinction here that I expect to see blurred in much of the public discussion to come, and certainly as politically motivated and supportive decisions are argued and debated and finally decided upon:

• I have written in this blog for years now, of how remote working will become an eventual normal and for many types of work and for many types of business. I have in fact been arguing a case for how that will become the basic normal and for many types of business and for many types of work that would be done for, or at least through them. See as an example of that, my 2012 series: Telecommuting and the Marketplace Transition to the Telecompany, as can be found at Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2 as its supplemental postings 39 and following. This pandemic has brought that already developing trend into sharp and even compelling focus, and in a way that will not revert back to any pre-COVID status quo ante when this crisis ends. An increasing number of businesses are already starting to say that work from home and telecommuting options will still be supported and even required and for an increasing portion of their workforces as a part of their new normals to come.
• Online sales and online marketing that is built around an increasing online marketplace model, have expanded out for their share of both business-to-consumer and business-to-business activities. That will not end when businesses can reopen again, as disease containment efforts end.
• And online meetings and other alternatives to business travel will become much more of an expected normal than they ever were before.
• Why would anyone want to live in a tightly packed urban or similar setting for career purposes, if they can and will carry out much if not most of their work remotely anyway, and can find and live in less expensive, more open and inviting communities while doing so – and in communities that offer schools for their children and other attractions that at least match anything they could find if they physically stayed closer to their business’ “home office”?
• And robotization of more and more types of work will continue and at an increasingly accelerated pace.

These and a wide variety of others that I could offer here, are all about the What of what will come, and even inevitably so. They are all about new trends and accelerated ongoing trends that are already becoming visible at least in outline for what is to come, as businesses and as their employees find ways to better address the challenges of their current within-pandemic here-and-now. But my focus here is on the Who of what will happen, and probably inevitably so, coming out of this. And that brings me back to the story coming out of that 1918 pandemic, where old inequalities and in educational opportunity and in healthcare availability and more, were simply allowed to perpetuate. Will we see remediation of these challenges as re-revealed, yet again from this pandemic? Or will we see a next level downwards repetition of that for what are in fact just later generation iterations of the same people who were left out back then?

Look at my What of what example bullet points with that question in mind. Communities that are only offered more limited educational opportunities are not going to be birthplace sources of large numbers of potential employees who have the skills and experience needed to capture those new online or mostly online, largely white collar jobs. They are the people, and their children will be the people who are in the line of fire (or of being downsized – fired), when those increasingly ubiquitous robots replace.

The economy will recover and businesses will reopen, even if a significant number of them have closed their doors for the last time now, as working enterprises, because of this pandemic. A great deal of new and next generation developed and improved infrastructure is likely to come of this and both as governmentally supported effort and as private business sector initiative. Completion of the much vaunted 5G network system is just going to be one small part of that. But what will be done to include a wider range of those who should be seen as and included in as essential stakeholders in all of this?

I am offering this as an off-schedule posting to this blog and as an interjected installment to this series. And I will return to this complex of issues in later postings here. Meanwhile, I will return to my initially expected narrative flow and write my next installment here: now set to be Part 14, to go live when I initially planned on having this number 13 in this series go live. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 12: a first draft discussion of general principles and practices 3

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on April 24, 2020

This is my 13th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-11, plus its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I began this series by successively offering five specific case study examples of massive infrastructure development and redevelopment efforts, and with my selection there designed to span both the positive and negative of what can arise from that. I then stepped back from a focus on the more detailed specifics of those efforts, in Part 10 in order to at least begin to present a first draft take on a set of overall guiding principles that I would argue, need to be addressed in any effective large scale infrastructure program, and for both its planning and for its execution and follow-through. I reconsidered the first four of them in Part 10 and Part 11 in this manner. And I turn here to complete this phase of this overall discussion by similarly mining the fifth and final of those case study examples for generalizable lessons learnable too:

• The New Deal as carried out in the United States as a response to the Great Depression (see Part 7, Part 8 and Part 9.)

What are some of the basic, transferrable lessons that can be found in this case study? I would suggest two of them as a starting point for this posting:

• The first of them is that a need for infrastructure development, or at least a focused recognition of a need for it and a willingness to pursue it, can arise from the context of a specific and more focused here-and-now challenge. Rephrasing that to more fully express this point: an immediate, here-and-now challenge and effort to address it can serve as a wedge issue in both clarifying and compellingly arguing a case for pursuing and addressing what might otherwise be unconsidered larger scale, longer term needs. It can open the door to what might begin as more here-and-now remediation, that would of necessity expand out beyond what would normally be the outer limits of business-as-usual political will. And that can hold particularly true when that more focused need that would initiate this is very compelling, and when even just an organized effort involved in pursuing that larger effort would arguably offer value for addressing it.

In the case of the New Deal, to explicitly take that out of the abstract, president Roosevelt and his administration saw a compelling need to bring more and more people back to work, in the face of massive nationwide unemployment and an economy that was spiraling in failure for lack of sales and manufacturing as driven by that, and for a lack of cash flow and liquidity and economic activity. People were out of work and businesses were failing; no one could afford to buy anything from them. Roosevelt’s infrastructure projects were seen as tools for jumpstarting a correction to all of that challenge.

Instituting massively large scale government led infrastructure development and redevelopment efforts could and in fact did create jobs, and both for the people directly hired into those “make work” infrastructure projects, and for private sector businesses that now needed to hire workers of their own so they could supply the materials and other resources needed to carry out those large projects. And economic need and opportunity spread out from there, with people suddenly having income and money again, and with them buying new cloths home goods and more again and with them needing bank accounts again too. And with that, those banks now had money again that they could loan out to all of these newly active businesses, further expanding this recovery.

I have just oversimplified a very complex and nuanced story there, but the basic points raised in it are valid. In this case study example, the compelling driver for those infrastructure projects was in their likely capacity to help end the then catastrophe of the Great Depression. And that part of the New Deal’s overall solution did work; it did serve as a core component for the New Deal’s overall success. And beyond that, it proved to have real value that lasted for decades beyond the end of that economic crisis too.

And while anything like an adequately detailed discussion of this point would take several entire postings on its own, I could readily argue a case for concluding that Roosevelt’s infrastructure building and rebuilding programs, along with directly related measures that connected into and supported them, went a long way toward making it possible for the Allied Forces to prevail in World War II, defeating first Nazi Germany and then Imperial Japan. They gave the United States the infrastructure level resources that proved essential if that country was to become the arsenal of democracy, as proved essential for safekeeping Great Britain from falling to Nazi invasion.

• The second basic transferable lesson that I would offer here is that it is not always even going to be possible to plan out what has to be done in any real detail, let alone how best to carry that out, at least on the basis of strictly a priori understandings and decisions.
• Complex projects as addressed here, are always going to be works in progress and both for what has to be done at any given point in time and for how that might best be carried out, as circumstances and opportunities change, as resources free up or become scarce and as immediate here-and-now priorities shift too.

Roosevelt entered into his great infrastructure rebuilding efforts, and as one of what became the defining outcomes of his presidency, as a remediative response to the Great Depression and as a means of bringing his country back to work and with an economy to support that, that would make it possible. And absent any clear path forward as to how to achieve that, he experimented by instituting and testing, and then retaining and expanding, or discarding a succession of government agencies and programs. In many respects, the infrastructure development and redevelopment of his New Deal succeeded because he was willing to take an experimental approach in planning and execution, and with allowance for refining all of that as his overall program proceeded – instead of attempting to lock all of that into the constraints of preconceptions that would in most cases have proven flawed.

And this brings me to a third transferable lesson that correlates very closely with the above two, and both as a point of organizational understanding and as a success driver. And it is one that also connects to the ownership and impact considerations raised in Part 11 when discussing the Marshall and Molotov plans:

• Buy-in is vital, and with that actively involving the people and the communities who would actually be impacted upon by all of this.

In this light, the Marshall Plan can be considered a success in ways that cannot be claimed for the Molotov Plan. This point of distinction rests on the question of who was looked to as being the most important stakeholders for those redevelopment programs.

• Yes, the United States government sought out a rebuilding approach that would safeguard American interests. But they did so in terms of better meeting the interests and the needs of the peoples and nations of a Europe that would be rebuilt too, and as a means of bringing them back to self-sustaining stability in the process. The basic underlying assumption there was that a stable and secure Europe would help to safeguard the world, the United States included.
• The Soviet Union developed and pursued their redevelopment plans in their new Eastern European sphere of influence from a much more entirely self-serving, and I would add short-sighted perspective and with what can only be considered entirely Russia-centric goals. The peoples who would live with the fruits of their Plan in the nations where they carried it out in, were more geopolitical pawns in all of that, than anything else as a result.

So in one sense, as discussed in Part 4 and Part 5 of this series, both of those massive undertakings were successes. But that can only hold true in one particular sense, and if this success-defining criterion is not considered. They can both be considered successes only if the leaders and decision makers of Washington, DC and of Moscow were the only stakeholders who had to be considered, or who should have been considered.

And with that, I invoke a fourth basic transferable lesson and it is one that fully applies to all of the case study examples that I have offered here, or that I have touched upon elsewhere in this blog. And it reflects a basic principle that I have repeatedly raised in a business and organizational context through this blog too: the value, and the trap-creating potential of unexamined and automatically presumed axiomatic “truths.”

• Think through what you assume and particularly where you would more usually take those points of understanding for granted. And when you see problems developing that appear to be at least partly structural to what you are doing and seeking to do, ask yourself what you might be axiomatically presupposing – and where and how those beliefs might be failing you.

Certainly in retrospect, Russian presumptions as to what “success” means in what they did in Eastern Europe in their Molotov Plan created long-term, otherwise avoidable challenges for them. And their presumptions as to who the full range of stakeholders were in that, who had to be addressed and for their legitimate needs, created a source of fundamental weakness that drained the Soviet Union of necessary resources and that built discontent into their basic empire-shaping fabric, that at least helped to bring them down. The fruits of that Plan rotted away and the Warsaw Pact collapsed in 1989, their then former Soviet masters prostate and unable to prevent any of that from happening. And the Soviet Union itself fell two years later.

I stated at the end of Part 11 that I would complete this first step offering of more general principles in this posting and that I would continue on as outlined in Part 6, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out by the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of this continuation I would also discuss Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers as took place within that nation. And I would, of course, also touch on the issues of Post-Soviet Russia too and of Vladimir Putin and his ambitions and actions there. That and for both China and Russia, is where infrastructure development meets authoritarianism, and in a form and to a degree that has never been possible until now, so both of those sources of case study material are important for better understanding our 21st century context.

I will in fact delve into those topics in at least some detail in what follows. But before doing so, I will return to reconsider and comment upon another now-historic infrastructure development project that had vastly far-reaching consequences that I first wrote about in 2014: an attempted greening of the Sahel region of Sub-Saharan Africa through development of a system of deep drilled artesian wells (see Planning Infrastructure to Meet Specific Goals and Needs, and not in Terms of Specific Technology Solutions 1.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 11: a first draft discussion of general principles and practices 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on February 21, 2020

This is my 12th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-10, plus its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I began this series by successively offering five specific case study examples of massive infrastructure development and redevelopment efforts, and with my selection there designed to span both the positive and negative of what can arise from that. I then stepped back from a focus on the more detailed specifics of those efforts, in Part 10 in order to at least begin to present a first draft take on a set of overall guiding principles that I would argue, need to be addressed in any effective large scale infrastructure program, and for both its planning and for its execution and follow-through. I focused there, on lessons learnable from the first two of five case studies addressed up to here in this series:

• Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, and its aftermath: Part 1 and Part 2, and
• The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and its subway system in particular there: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.5 (as cited above) and the addendum note appended to the end of Part 6.

And as promised at the end of that installment I continue that first draft effort here, this time focusing on the third and fourth of those case studies as sources of lessons-learnable insight:

• The Marshall Plan as briefly discussed in Part 4 and Part 5, and
• The Molotov Plan as discussed in parallel with that in those same postings.

And to bring this connecting text into sharper focus, I add that addressing these case study examples, and certainly in the context of this series, would of necessity call for a reconsideration of what:

• “Success” means in an infrastructure development or redevelopment context,
• Where I wrote of both of those programs as being successful when initially outlining them for some of their here-pertinent details – but with caveats at least implied in what that key word means.

I repeat that point of observation, even as its case in point implications are more than just somewhat odious for one of those examples. But both the Marshall and the Molotov Plans were successful and I add very much so – if and when they are judged according to the standards of those who designed and carried them out. They were designed and built for very different and even diametrically opposed purposes. And that opposition held true across a wide range of then-vitally important points of consideration and of perceived need. So their “success” differed accordingly. But both were highly successful, even if in differing and even fundamentally opposing ways.

• The leaders of United States and its Western European allies, and the leaders of the Soviet Union looked at Europe: Western, Central and Eastern, and in fact at essentially all of the Soviet Union’s territories going West to East and all the way to the outskirts of the Russian capital: Moscow itself as a veritable post-apocalyptic wasteland from the ravages of a just finishing World War II.
• The Western powers of that, saw both pressing need and opportunity to rebuild in Continental Europe and both to preclude a renewed rise of fascism and of expansionist militarism as had so recently erupted twice now: with World War I and World War II, and to prevent a threatened tide of communist expansion from the Soviet Union too.
• The Soviets looked back at the centuries of threat and invasion that their lands had suffered, leading up to this war so recently ended. And they wanted to build a protective buffer zone that they could actively defend in blunting and hopefully stopping any new attacks on their land or their sovereignty. And they sought to rebuild the areas and the nations of Eastern Europe that fell under their sway coming out of this conflict, as such.
• The Western Powers in this sought to rebuild strong and independent allies that would help carry a mutually protective burden of preventing a World War III. And the Soviet Union as the Eastern Power in this, sought to develop a closely controlled system of vassal states that would remain loyal to their Soviet masters. And they sought to do so in a way, and through treaty agreements, that would allow Soviet and Soviet-led intervention in the face of any efforts that might be made on the part of the peoples of those vassal states, to gain any real independence from this arrangement.
• And turning back to the issues noted in the second of these bullet points, it was that effort as carried out by the Soviet Union and the puppet governments of their vassal states there, that forced those Western Powers to come to see communist Soviet expansionism as their single greatest, overall threat faced.
• The United States as “leader of the free world” in all of this had the atomic bomb, and it was one of the greatest fears that the Kremlin government held, that such weapons might be used on them too, just as they had been used against Japan to end World War II in the Pacific Theatre. Russia lay prostrate at the feet of the West and while its Soviet government bluffed their strength and capabilities coming out of the war to try to deter new invasion from the West, they know it was all bluff. They built their buffer zone states accordingly, starting by positioning as large and as significant a military presence in those territories as they could muster.
• The Russians got “the bomb” too, and for purposes of this narrative it does not matter how. The important point here is that they acquired the necessary technologies for building their own atomic bombs and they then acquired hydrogen bomb technology too and quite quickly after the Americans and their Western Allies did. This balance of terror may have prevented an all out next war: a World War III, for the mutually suicidal nature of those weapons if they were ever used and under any circumstances that could lead to conflict escalation. But this only set the basic parameters for the Cold War conflict that the Marshall Plan and NATO on one side, and the Molotov Plans with its Warsaw Pact were developed within. This new reality only set the outer parameters as to how hot a conflict could be allowed between these once-briefly allies, and the basic terms that their respective redevelopment and security programs would be maintained within, and certainly up to the final disintegration of Soviet control over its now former Eastern European allies (with that formally ending in 1989 as more and more once-vassal states of their buffer zone system broke free from Soviet control.)

The key to understanding all of this is in goals and intentions. Yes, the fruits of the Molotov Plan did eventually rot and disintegrate. But that came from within the Soviet Union itself, at least as much as it did from within their so carefully shaped and so power and authority-limited vassal states themselves. And even then, that system endured for four decades. The European Union as a next generation offspring of the Marshall Plan, and the NATO of today are under a great deal of stress right now and certainly as of this writing. But they still endure and as forces to be reckoned with. Both of those redevelopment programs worked, and certainly for their immediate initial contexts and for how they addressed the perceived imperatives that brought them into being.

The more general lesson that I would cite from all of this, has its roots in a point that I made in Part 10 when I raised the question of who actually owns a large scale, widely impactful infrastructure program, with that at least strongly implying a parallel question:

• Who should own such a societally involving and societally impacting endeavor?

I would argue that ultimately, the only valid answer to that question is “those who are directly affected by it, and with an emphasis on those who are most directly affected.” I would argue that from a moral perspective, if nothing else, any valid answer to that can only be found in those who pay the costs and reap the benefits of a development program as the people and the communities that they comprise, who have to directly live with it and its consequences. And the moral calculus there can be more complex and challenging than any financial calculations that might be entered into in realizing such an endeavor.

To bring this point into what is hopefully a sharper focus, consider a simpler system example that has played out many times now: the possible construction of a massive hydroelectric dam that would make it possible to build an electrical power grid in a region that has never had reliable, wide ranging power available of any sort. On the positive side and for many, this might mean what amounts to new ways of life becoming possible. And when this is accomplished using hydroelectric power instead of coal fired or other heavily polluting power sources, this can mean long-term environmentally sustainable change too. But on the other side of this, are all of the people and all of the local communities that have lived on the land and who have called it home, and for generation after generation – who reside in the large and extensive valley system that would be flooded to up to several hundred feet in depth as a new manmade lake would arise behind that dam.

Those people would lose their homes and their heritage. The land where their parents and grandparents lived – the land where their ancestors going back perhaps many generations lived and were buried would be lost, as would their places of worship, their schools and so much more. Their living community would cease as they scattered. That is why I refer to this as a moral challenge as well as an economic and a technological one.

• Large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment efforts, and certainly large scale initial development ones, always involve a breaking down and ending, as a prelude to any building and creating that they would be more formally defined in terms of.

Human costs as well as benefits have to be considered, and as holding high priorities in all that is planned for and in any such program. In a Molotov Plan context and in contexts of its type, that means thinking through and actively acknowledging the costs and benefits – and for whom, of what would be built. But this of necessity also has to include a compelling awareness of the costs and benefits faced, and by whom, from what would be removed and ended too.

I am going to continue this first draft note on more general principles in a next series installment where I will focus on the fifth and final case study example that I have explicitly discussed up to here in this series:

• The New Deal and its correlated infrastructure redevelopment programs as carried out in the United States, as selectively outlined and analyzed in Parts 7-9 of this series.

And then after completing that phase of this first step offering of more general principles, I will continue on as outlined in Part 6, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out by the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of this continuation I will also discuss Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers as took place within that nation. And I will, of course, also touch on the issues of Post-Soviet Russia too and Vladimir Putin and his ambitions and actions there. And that and for both China and Russia, is where infrastructure development meets authoritarianism, and in a form and to a degree that has never been possible until now.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 10: a first draft discussion of general principles and practices 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on December 17, 2019

This is my 11th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-9, plus its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have, up to here, successively raised and discussed a set of five case study examples of infrastructure development programs in this series – with a goal of arriving at and explaining a set of more general principles and practices that might be fruitfully employed in future such initiatives, moving forward. In that, think of the case study examples that I have included here, as learning curve opportunities for future infrastructure development or redevelopment efforts. And with that in mind I begin this posting by offering a general principle that would arguably derive from all of them, and that would likely belong in any infrastructure program planning guide and from its early planning-stage steps on:

• Effective next-step infrastructure planning and execution should always be grounded in a solidly reasoned, dispassionately analytical evaluation of what has been done before,
• And both for the specific context that a particular new and coming development program under consideration would explicitly build from, where there are relevant historical examples for that,
• And from prior development programs elsewhere and of other types that can still serve as role model examples, at least for key issues faced.
• And in that, “role model” can mean positive and a source of strategic and operational insight to follow, or it can mean negative and serve more as a cautionary note.
• Either way, it is important to think in terms of the long-term and in terms of development life cycles where they apply too. It is important to think in terms of how those role model learning curve examples under review took shape during their own development processes, and for what has become of them after their at least nominal completion. And it is important to think through their immediate and longer term impact, and for what has happened consequentially from them. (I will come back to this in subsequent installments to this series.)

This noted, in the course of writing this progression of postings leading up to this one, I have already at least preliminarily touched upon a number of more general points that might arguably enter into such an overarching infrastructure development approach. My goal here is to step back from the specifics of particular case in point examples, to at least begin to offer a first draft take on what would enter into such a general principles infrastructure development model as a whole, and into a best practices guide for that as a whole too. And I will do so by at least briefly considering each of the case studies that I have included up to now in this series, for more general principles that they raise.

• I write here of positive and even inspiring role model case study examples and of cautionary and warning examples, as I have intentionally offered both types in this series – as well as examples that arguably include elements of both of those more stereotypically framed types.

I begin this first draft take on general principles, lessons-learnable with the first two of the five case studies already offered here: one of which can be thought of as a largely pure example of the negative here, and one of which at the very least has negative aspects built into it. See:

• Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, and its aftermath: Part 1 and Part 2, and
• The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and its subway system in particular there: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.5 (as cited above) and the addendum note appended to the end of Part 6.

Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico: Essentially the entire island of Puerto Rico was devastated by a massive category 5 hurricane in September of 2017. And all of the island’s critical infrastructure was damaged by that; much of it was effectively destroyed. The expected disaster relief and subsequent rebuilding effort that American citizens had come to expect from their national government after a major natural disaster, effectively did not take place with a Donald Trump serving as president and with his fellow ideologues leading the federal governmental agencies that should have carried this out. And the Trump administration’s wholesale dismantling of regulatory oversight meant that private sector contractors and others who did agree to carry out what government funded work was done, were not background checked before being approved for that. And they were not monitored for what they did, or for how they used the funds that they received for that work. And even now as I write this: more than two years later, there is still much to be done that should have been completed by now. Even now, some of those private sector contractors are under scrutiny and facing legal action for diverting relief funds received, for other purposes.

• It is impossible to effectively carry out an infrastructure development, redevelopment or recovery effort if is not actively supported by the people who would lead it.
• It is impossible to effectively carry out such an effort if that initiative is not actively planned and followed through upon with a goal of seeking to meet the genuine needs of the people directly affected.
• And even then, active oversight and accountability have to be in place too, and to make sure funds allocated to such an effort are not misdirected from it, and to ensure that the work agreed to is carried out and up to a sufficient quality standard so as to make anything built, viable and long-term.
• And even there, piece-by-piece efforts cannot offer overall comprehensive value if they are not planned out and carried through upon in an effectively coordinated, prioritized manner. Effective infrastructure development is always a large scale effort, that creates much of its long term value from the synergies that can be built from its component parts.

The New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority subway system: The New York City MTA and its subway system do work. The trains run and the stations in that system basically function too. But this system has been a political football with the mayor of New York City and their city government, and the governor of New York State and their state legislature fighting for control over it, and generally to their own personal political career advantages. So according to the MTA’s own publically offered numbers, it would take over $60 billion of investment just to bring the MTA’s subway system up to date for switching technology, passenger accessibility and all of the other areas where it is burdened by the broken and the obsolete – and the missing (e.g. elevators needed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.) And to pick up on that last detail, according to the MTA and their published information on this, only 24% of all subway stations in their system are currently ADA compliant. And even if this system is upgraded for that according to the full intended terms of current upgrade plans in place, the percentage of ADA compliant subway stations would only increase to approximately 35%!

• And meanwhile, some of the switching technology that manages train flow through this system and that is used to track where subway trains even are in it, between stations, dates back over 80 years now. That is where old and out of date legacy becomes all but paleontological.
• And their computer network technology, to cite another area of pronounced neglect, is riddled with system components that range from new if not cutting edge, to as old as networkable technology could be – think of the limitations that this brings, as overall systems are effectively reduced functionally, to a lowest common denominator of what the most limited and out of date of their component parts can do, as all of this has to be networked together!
• And meanwhile, competing politicians fight for credit for building the Second Avenue subway line extension, bringing the Q line up as far as 96th Street, while failing in practice to address less visible, but more crucially necessary infrastructure problems that the public rarely sees or hears of, but that affect the entire system and its safe reliability.

Large scale infrastructure programs should be seen as, and should be pursued as meeting overall societal needs. Partisan politics can only serve as poison there. This point of principle applies to both of the case study examples that I have cited here so far. And both examples serve to validate that principle as a source of significant risk-concern if nothing else, as other infrastructure programs are contemplated. And when competing politically motivated forces, in effect use such a development or redevelopment program as a battleground for advancing their own more personal interests, by for example showing how powerful their leaders are as they seek to advance their own personal careers, that has consequences. At the very least, that can only serve to skew any determination of how priorities would be set (as in my second example here) with mostly just the most politically marketable projects in it being pursued.

The next two case study examples to address here are the Marshall Plan as briefly discussed in Part 4 and Part 5, and the Molotov Plan as discussed in parallel with that in those same postings. And I will continue this line of discussion in a next series installment with a reconsideration of them as a source of general principles.

• In anticipation of that discussion to come, I will of necessity reconsider what “success” means in an infrastructure development or redevelopment context, where I wrote of both of those programs as being successful – but with caveats at least implied.

I will follow that with similar reconsideration discussion of the fifth and final case study example that I have addressed up to here: The New Deal (see Parts 7-9). And then after completing that phase of this first step offering of more general principles, I will continue on as outlined in Part 6 of this series, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of that I will also discuss Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers. I will, of course, also touch on the issues of Post-Soviet Russia too and Vladimir Putin and his ambitions and actions there. And that and for both China and Russia, is where infrastructure development meets authoritarianism, and in a form and to a degree that has never been possible until now. And I raise in anticipation of that discussion to come, a question that will of necessity arise in my immediately next installment to this series too.

• Who ultimately does own, and who should own a massive infrastructure development undertaking as it creates massive societal impact and in ways that can even fundamentally shape what can even be possible, and for many?

I fully expect to cite other case study examples at least in passing in the course of this overall narrative to come, with that including references to infrastructure programs and initiatives that I have already discussed in other series (e.g. see Planning Infrastructure to Meet Specific Goals and Needs, and not in Terms of Specific Technology Solutions, as can be found at United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) as its postings 25 and loosely following.) And my goal here, as of now, is to conclude this series with a second draft update to this general principles posting.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 9: the New Deal and infrastructure development as recovery 3

This is my 10th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-8 with its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have, up to here, made note of and selectively analyzed a succession of large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment initiatives in this series, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. And as a part of that and as a fifth such case study example, I have been discussing an historically defining progression of events and responses to them from American history:

• The Great Depression and US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts that he envisioned, argued for and led, in order to help bring his country out of that seemingly existential crisis.

I began this line of discussion in Part 7 and Part 8, focusing there on what the Great Depression was, and with a focus on how it arose and took place in the United States. And my goal here is to at least begin to discuss what Roosevelt did and sought to do and how, in response to all of that turmoil and challenge. And I begin doing so by offering a background reference that I would argue holds significant relevance for better understanding the context and issues that I would focus upon here:

• Goodwin, D.K. (2018) Leadership in Turbulent Times. Simon & Schuster. (And see in particular, this book’s Chapter 11 for purposes of further clarifying the issues raised here.)

As already noted in the two preceding installments to this series, the Great Depression arguably began in late 1929 with an “official” starting date usually set for that as October 29 of that year: Black Tuesday when the US stock market completed an initial crash that had started the previous Thursday. But realistically it really began as a true depression and as the Great Depression on March 13, 1930 when the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act was first put into effect. And Herbert Hoover was president of the United States as the nation as a whole and much of the world around it, spiraled down into chaos.

There are those who revile Hoover for his failure to effectively deal with or even fully understand and acknowledge the challenges that the United States and American citizens and businesses faced during his administration, and certainly after his initial pre-depression honeymoon period in office. And there are those who exalt him and particularly from the more extreme right politically as they speak out against the New Deal – and even for how its programs helped to pull the country back from its fall. All of that, while interesting and even important, is irrelevant here for purposes of this discussion. The important point of note coming out of that is that unemployment was rampant, a great many American citizens had individually lost all of whatever life savings they had been able to accumulate prior to this, and seemingly endless numbers of business, banks and other basic organizational structures that helped form the American society were now unstable and at extreme risk of failure, or already gone. And the level of morale in the United States, and of public confidence in both public and private sector institutions was one of all but despair and for many. And that was the reality in the United States, and in fact in much of the world as a whole that Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced as he took his first oath of office as the 32nd president of the United States on March 4, 1933.

Roosevelt knew that if he was to succeed in any real way in addressing and remediating any of these challenges faced, he had to begin and act immediately. And he began laying out his approach to doing that, and he began following forward on that in his first inaugural address, where he declared war on the depression and where he uttered one of his most oft-remembered statements: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Roosevelt did not wait until March 5th to begin acting on the promise of action that he made to the nation in that inaugural address. He immediately began reaching out to key members of the US Congress and to members of both political parties there to begin a collaborative effort that became known as the 100 Days Congress, for the wide ranging legislation that was drafted, refined, voted upon, passed and signed into law during that brief span of time (see First 100 Days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency.) This ongoing flow of activity came to include passage of 15 major pieces of legislation that collectively reshaped the country, setting it on a path that led to an ultimate recovery from this depression. And that body of legislation formed the core of Roosevelt’s New Deal as he was able to bring it into effect.

• What did Roosevelt push for and get passed in this way, starting during those first 100 days?
• I would reframe that question in terms of immediate societal needs. What were the key areas that Roosevelt had to address and at least begin to resolve through legislative action, if he and his new presidential administration were to begin to effectively meet the challenge of this depression and as quickly as possible?

Rephrased in those terms, his first 100 days and their legislative push sought to grab public attention and support by simultaneously addressing a complex of what had seemed to be intractable challenges that included:

• Reassuring the public that their needs and their fears were understood and that they were being addressed,
• And building safeguards into the economy and into the business sector that drives it, to ensure their long-term viability and stability.
• Put simply, Roosevelt sought to create a new sense of public confidence, and put people back to work and with real full time jobs at long-term viable businesses.

Those basic goals were and I add still are all fundamentally interconnected. And to highlight that in an explicitly Great Depression context, I turn back to a source of challenge that I raised and at least briefly discussed in Part 8 of this series: banks and the banking system, to focus on their role in all of this.

• The public at large had lost any trust that they had had in banks and in their reliability, and with good reason given the number of them that had gone under in the months and first years immediately following the start of the Great Depression. And when those banks failed, all of the people and their families and all of the businesses that had money tied up in accounts with them, lost everything of that.
• So regulatory law was passed to prevent banks and financial institutions in general, from following a wide range of what had proven to be high-risk business practices that made them vulnerable to failure.
• And the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was created to safeguard customer savings in the event that a bank were to fail anyway, among other consumer-facing and supporting measures passed.

The goal there was to both stabilize banks and make them sounder, safer and more reliable as financial institutions, while simultaneously reassuring the private sector and its participants: individuals and businesses alike, that it was now safe to put their money back into those banks again. And rebuilding the banking system as a viable and used resource would make monies available through them for loans again, and that would help to get the overall economy moving and recovering again.

• Banks and the banking system in general, can in a fundamental sense be seen as constituting the heart of an economy, and for any national economy that is grounded in the marketplace and its participants, and that is not simply mandated from above, politically and governmentally as a command economy. Bank loans and the liquidity reserves and cash flows that they create, drive growth and make all else possible, and for both businesses, large and small and for their employees and for consumers of all sorts.
• So banks and banking systems constitute a key facet of a nation’s overall critical infrastructure, and one that was badly broken by the Great Depression and that needed to be fixed for any real recovery from it.

This is a series about infrastructure, and the banking system of a nation is one of the most important and vital structural components of its overall infrastructure system, and for how banks collectively create vast pools of liquid funds from monies saved in them, that can be turned back to their communities and for such a wide range of personal and business uses if nothing else. But the overall plan put forth and enacted into law in the 100 Days Congress (which adjourned on June 16, 1933) went way beyond simply reinforcing and rebuilding as needed, banks and other behind the scenes elements of the overall American infrastructure. It went on to address rebuilding and expansion needs for more readily visible aspects of the overall infrastructure in place too, and for systems that essentially anyone would automatically see as national infrastructure such as dams and highways. Roosevelt’s New Deal impacted upon and even fundamentally reshaped virtually every aspect of the basic large-scale infrastructure that had existed in the United States. And to highlight a more general principle here that I will return to in subsequent installments to this series, all of this effort had at least one key point of detail in common;

• It was all organized according to an overarching pattern rather than simply arising ad hoc, piece by piece as predominantly happened before the Great Depression.
• Ultimately any large scale infrastructure development or redevelopment effort has to be organized and realized as a coherent whole, even if that means developing it as an evolving effort, if coherent and gap-free results are to be realized and with a minimum of unexpected complications.

That noted, what did the New Deal, and the fruits of Roosevelt’s efforts and the 100 Days Congress actually achieve? I noted above that this included passage of 15 major pieces of legislation and add here that this included enactment of such programs as:

• The Civilian Conservation Corps as a jobs creating program that brought many back into the productive workforce in the United States,
• The Tennessee Valley Authority – a key regional development effort that made it possible to spread the overall national electric power grid into a large unserved part of the country while creating new jobs there in the process,
• The Emergency Banking Act, that sought to stop the ongoing cascade of bank failures that was plaguing the country,
• The Farm Credit Act that sought to provide relief to family farms and help restore American agriculture,
• The Agricultural Adjustment Act, that was developed coordinately with that, and that also helped to stabilize and revitalize American agriculture,
• The National Industrial Recovery Act,
• The Public Works Administration, which focused on creating jobs through construction of water systems, power plants and hospitals among other societally important resources,
• The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as cited above, and
• The Glass Steagall Act – legislation designed to limit if not block high risk, institutional failure creating practices in banks and financial institutions in general.

Five of the New Deal agencies that were created in response to the Great Depression and that contributed to ending it, still exist today, including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Social Security Administration and the Tennessee Valley Authority. And while subsequent partisan political efforts have eroded some of the key features of the Glass Steagall Act, much of that is still in effect today too.

And with that noted, I conclude this posting by highlighting what might in fact be the most important two points that I could make here:

• I wrote above, of the importance of having a single, more unified vision when mapping out and carrying out a large scale infrastructure program, and that is valid. But flexibility in the face of the unexpected and in achieving the doable is vital there too. And so is a willingness to experiment and simply try things out and certainly when faced with novel and unprecedented challenges that you cannot address by anything like tried-and-true methods. A willingness to experiment and try possible solutions out and a willingness to step back from them and try something new if they do not work, is vital there.
• And seeking out and achieving buy-in is essential if any of that is going to be possible. This meant reaching out to politicians and public officials, as Roosevelt did when he organized and led his New Deal efforts. But more importantly, this meant his reaching out very directly to the American public and right in their living rooms, through his radio broadcast fireside chats, with his first of them taking place soon after he was first sworn into office as president. (He was sworn into office on March 4 and he gave his first fireside chat of what would become an ongoing series of 30, eight days later on March 12.)
• Franklin Delano Roosevelt most definitely did not invent the radio. But he was the first politician and the first government leader who figured out how to effectively use that means of communication and connections building, to promote and advance his policies and his goals. He was the first to use this new tool in ways that would lead to the type and level of overall public support that would compel even his political opponents to seek out ways to work with and compromise with him, on the issues that were important to him. So I add to my second bullet point here, the imperative of reaching out as widely and effectively as possible when developing that buy-in, and through as wide and effective a span of possible communications channels and venues as possible.

I am going to step back in my next installment to this series, from the now five case-in-point examples that I have been exploring in it up to here. And I will offer an at least first draft of the more general principles that I would develop out of all of this, as a basis for making actionable proposals as to how future infrastructure development projects might be carried out. And in anticipation of what is to follow here, I write all of this with the future, and the near-future and already emerging challenges of global warming in mind as a source of infrastructure development and redevelopment imperatives. Then after offering that first draft note, I am going to return to my initial plans for how I would further develop this series, as outlined in Part 6 of this series, and discuss infrastructure development as envisioned by and carried out the Communist Party of China and the government of the People’s Republic of China. And as part of that I will also discuss Russian, and particularly Soviet Union era, Russian infrastructure and its drivers. And my intention for now, as I think forward about this is that after completing those two case study example discussion, I will offer a second draft-refined update to the first draft version of that, that I will offer as a Part 10 here.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 8: the New Deal and infrastructure development as recovery 2

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on August 4, 2019

This is my 9th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-7 with its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have, up to here, successively addressed and discussed each of a set of four large scale infrastructure development and redevelopment initiatives in this series, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. And as a core foundational element to this narrative, I began discussing a fifth such case study example in Part 7, that I will continue elaborating upon in at least selective detail here:

• US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts to help bring his country out of a then actively unfolding Great Depression.

I focused in Part 7 on some of the underlying causes of the Great Depression, and both for clarifying for purposes of this discussion as to how that historically transformative event arose, and for more clearly stating how and why Roosevelt was challenged as he sought to orchestrate a real recovery from it. And at the end of that posting, and in anticipation of this one to come, I said that I would turn here to quantify the bank failures and their timeline to more fully present the economic challenges faced, as a completion at least for here and now of an underlying cause-oriented discussion as to what motivated a need for the types of infrastructure and related changes that consequentially took place. And I said that I would then discuss Roosevelt’s New Deal as a massive recovery effort, and one that had within it a massive infrastructure redevelopment effort too.

I will in fact delve into those issues as outlined there, continuing my discussion of relevant overall economic background issues in the process, as part of that. But before doing so and to put what follows into clearer perspective, I am going to step back from the specifics of this particular case study to make note of a fundamental aspect of large scale infrastructure development projects and their underlying driving needs in general, that this case study in fact can be seen as highlighting, for its core importance:

• Most people: with a significant proportion included there of the people who would plan out, approve and fund, and carry out large scale infrastructure projects, focus on what is physically built from scratch or replaced with new, and on the visible end-results of infrastructure development per se. This makes sense insofar as these are the aspects of essentially any such large scale initiative that are lastingly visible and that are going to be directly used and long-term.
• But just as importantly, and certainly during early planning and support building stages for realizing such accomplishments, and for when this work is being carried out, are the behind the scenes economic and financing-based considerations and all of the rest of the politically driven decision making processes that are required to make any such development project happen. They shape the What and the When and the How and the By Whom of what in fact can be done, and consideration of them must be included too, in any inventory of what is included in such work, and in any understanding of what is accomplished from it.
• So, for example, in my Great Depression example, I could cite Roosevelt era initiatives such as the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) with its explicit physical infrastructure building efforts, and I will in fact do so as I proceed with this case study. That is important here in this case study narrative. But the context and context-building effort that made programs such as the CCC possible, and that made even attempting it challenging, have to be considered and included here too.

In anticipation of my more general comments to come here in this series, regarding infrastructure development as a whole and in general, and with the above points in mind, I offer the following at least preliminary overarching comments:

Infrastructure development, and certainly large scale development and redevelopment projects that would fit into such a rubric, are – or at least should be driven by what can at least categorically be divided into two sometimes competing, sometimes aligned considerations:

• Human needs and meeting them more fully than would be possible absent some given infrastructure effort, and
• Economic and other wherewithal and sustainability factors and how they would be worked within, or adjusted to accommodate new needs and priorities.

The issues that I raised in Part 7 as leading up to and causing the Great Depression, and that made it a true depression and not just a recession, all fit into the second of those bullet pointed considerations. And actually carrying out the programs of Roosevelt’s New Deal and related initiatives, as he conceived them and strove to achieve them as his response to that challenge, was intended to address significant widespread unmet human needs as the Great Depression brought them about.

And with that noted, I turn back to my largely-economics oriented outline of how the Great Depression arose and as a depression: not just as yet another recession, and with a goal of laying a more complete foundation in preparation for a discussion of the “what would be done” side of this, by more fully outlining the societal context that would make that a realistically considered possibility.

I made explicit note of three dates in Part 7 that I would cite again here, as benchmarks for what is to follow. The stock market as tracked on the New York Stock Exchange was seriously challenged on Thursday, October 24, 1929 when it faced what became a catastrophic collapse in value and in underlying investor confidence. And it fell into what amounted to freefall the following Tuesday, October 29: Black Tuesday. And when the US Congress reacted to this and to what immediately followed it from public response, they did so as a reactionary pulling back with the enactment of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act on March 13, 1930 – setting off a trade barrier erecting conflict that ultimately largely shut down international trade and not just for the United States.

And to complete this timeline-based set of benchmarks, I add two more dates that should at least be kept in mind for what follows in this posting, including them here to put what I will say in what follows into fuller perspective. And I will make explicit reference to them and to the reality they benchmark, in my next installment to this too. The dates themselves are March 4, 1929 – March 4, 1933: the dates when Herbert Hoover served as the 31st president of the United States. And to round out this dual benchmark entry and at least briefly explain the relevance of it for this narrative, Hoover was elected at a time when most everyone, and both among the general public and among the nation’s leading economists, tacitly assumed that prosperity was there to stay, as an essentially immutable, reliable reality. Then half a year later the United States economy and in fact much of the overall world economy began to collapse. Hoover tried course correcting from this through presidential policy, and he tried leading a recovery from it, in an effort that lasted until late winter, 1933 when Roosevelt was sworn into office and this became his problem.

What, in at least selective numerical detail, was the challenge that Hoover faced and that Roosevelt inherited? Let’s start addressing that question with consideration of the banking system in the United States and on what happened there. Starting from the two October 1929 benchmark dates just cited, and looking out through the first ten months of 1930, a total of 744 US banks failed in the United States: 10 times as many as did in the corresponding 1928-29 period as a closest point of pre-depression comparison. And when trade barrier walls really began to spread, as more and more erstwhile national trading partners took retaliation against the new tariffs that they suddenly faced, by imposing tariffs of their own, this pace accelerated. In all, 9,000 US banks failed during the decade of the 1930’s, and close to 4,000 of them did so in one year alone: 1933. By the start of 1933, depositors had already seen approximately $140 billion of their invested wealth: their life savings disappear through bank failures, independently of any loss faced through failures of the stock market, or from lost income as more and more businesses that they had worked for, scaled back and let employees go, or failed outright themselves.

To put those numbers and bank and business failures in perspective, and to add an impact indicating scale to that, consider the following (with data drawn from U.S. GDP by Year Compared to Recessions and Events:

Year Reported Nominal GDP
($trillions)
GDP ($trillions) GDP Growth Rate % Benchmark Events
1929 0.105 1.109 NA Depression began
1930 0.092 1.015 -8.5 Smoot-Hawley
1931 0.077 0.950 -6.4 Dust Bowl began
1932 0.060 0.828 -12.9 Hoover tax hikes
1933 0.057 0.817 -1.2 New Deal
1934 0.067 0.906 10.8 U.S. debt rose
1935 0.074 0.986 8.9 Social Security started
1936 0.085 1.113 12.9 FDR tax hikes
1937 0.093 1.170 5.1 Depression returned
1938 0.087 1.132 -3.3 Depression ended
1939 0.093 1.222 8.0 WWII began; Dust Bowl ended

Notes, clarifying the events listed in this table for their meaning and relevance here (focusing on entries not already at least briefly discussed:

• The Dust Bowl was an environmental disaster brought about by prolonged drought in the heart of one of the primary agricultural regions in the United States, at a time when the banking system in place was so stressed and limited that it could not offer financial support to farmers, and at a time when the US federal government was unable, unwilling or both, to provide any significant relief. This was all exacerbated by, and in several respects even caused by widespread use of farming practices that did not and could not sustainably work, and certainly under the ongoing drought conditions faced.
• President Herbert Hoover attempted to help pull the United States out of a recession, turned Great Depression, by imposing with Congressional support, a tax increase bill that if anything worsened matters.
• President Roosevelt, pushing back against the concern and even fear of raising taxes and of even attempting tax reform during the Great Depression, and certainly given the outcomes of Hoover’s 1932 effort, decided to reframe and reattempt this basic economy-impacting, government financing approach with his own tax reform: his Revenue Act of 1936.

To put those numbers and their impact into more individually human terms, during the Great Depression the United States as a whole was hit with extremely high unemployment rates. By 1933, the overall national unemployment rate had climbed from 3% (as measured just prior to the October 1929 stock market collapse), up to to 25%. By 1932, over 13 million Americans had lost their jobs. And between late 1929 and late 1932, average incomes were reduced by 40% (see The Great Depression Facts, Timeline, Causes, Pictures.)

And Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn into office as the 32nd president of the United States on March 4, 1933. And one of his first acts in office was to formally start a 100 day collaboration with the US Congress that has become known as the 100 Days Congress, for the amount of and far reaching variety of legislation that was debated, voted upon and passed during that fast start to Roosevelt’s first term in office (see First 100 Days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Presidency.) And that is where the “what was done” in his response to the Great Depression really began. And I will continue this narrative in a next series installment with an at least selective discussion of that.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 7: the New Deal and infrastructure development as recovery 1

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on May 27, 2019

This is my 8th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-6 with its supplemental posting Part 4.5.)

I have already briefly discussed four infrastructure development case study examples in this narrative. And my goal for here is to at least begin a similarly brief and selective discussion of a fifth such case study, large scale infrastructure development (or redevelopment) initiative, as drawn from at least relatively recent history:

• US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts to help bring his country out of a then actively unfolding Great Depression.

Then after discussing that, I will turn to consider a sixth such example, with an at least brief and selective accounting of how:

• A newly formed Soviet Union sought to move from being a backward agrarian society, or rather a disparate ethnically diverse collection of them that had all existed under a single monarchical rule, to become a single more monolithic modern industrial state.

And I will of necessity find myself referring back to two other infrastructure development examples that I have already cited and explicitly discussed here, continuing them for purposes of comparison to these two: the Marshall and Molotov Plans as can be found in Part 4 and Part 5 of this series respectively.

My overall goal for this series as a whole has been to successively explore a progression of such current and historic large scale infrastructure initiatives, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. I continue developing this narrative as a foundation building outline, as based upon real world experience at infrastructure development, with that goal in mind. This type of more organized consideration, I add, will prove to be of crucial importance as we all face and societally so, an imperative to more effectively address large-scale and even globally spanning challenges that only begin with global warming and its already visible impact: challenges that history will all but certainly come to see as defining a large part of this 21st century experience and the legacy that we will leave moving forward from that. Ad hoc and one-off cannot offer lasting sustaining value for that, so regardless of where a more organized understanding of large scale infrastructure development comes from, such an understanding is needed.

I write a lot in this blog about the new and unexpected and about the disruptively new as that would call for entirely new understandings of challenges and opportunities faced, and of best ways to address them. There were a variety of issues that led to the Great Depression that people in elected office and that people with training in economics and related fields thought they understood, from their apparent similarity to at least seemingly parallel events from their past. And they were correct on some of those points, even as they were hopelessly wrong about others and with great consequence for how they sought to correct for them.

I begin this posting’s main line of discussion here by citing two such factors: one effectively more understood at least in principle if not in practice, and the other much less so and certainly when effective action could have had a positive impact:

• Pre-Great Depression bank holding companies and their acceptance of their own stock shares as preferred collateral when making loans, creating vast liquidity and reserves gaps in their systems in times of stress (and also see Banking Panics of 1930-31.)
• And tariff barriers with their effect of killing overseas markets that American industry depended upon for its very survival, and particularly at a time when local and national markets were drying up for lack of available liquidity. See in particular the Hawley–Smoot Tariff Act of 1930 for an orienting discussion as to how these business challenging and economy breaking barriers were erected.

Both of these developments happened: the first as a leading cause for what became the Great Depression for its bad banking practices consequences, and the second as an ill-considered response to a deepening recession, that made it the Great Depression for its duration and for its depths of severity.

I just identified the first of those two contributing factors: bad banking practices, as having been understood in principle if not in practice, and the second of them: tariff barrier protectionism as being less fully understood of the two. But in all fairness, faulty assumptions and fundamental misunderstandings contributed to both, and both for their occurring and for contributing to their consequences. And as I will briefly note in what follows here, these and other related failures in understanding and action fed upon each other and over a course of overlapping timeframes. And those toxic synergies made the Great Depression into the systemic collapse that it turned into. But let’s start with the banking system and its challenges.

Even the leadership of the bank holding companies that failed during the Great Depression knew and understood that they should not make unsecured loans and certainly not as a matter of routine practice. They required collateral on the part of businesses and other entities that would take out loans from them, as assurance that if those loans were in danger of defaulting, they could recover at least significant amounts of their invested capital. Their mistake, or at least the fundamental one that I would cite here: the point where their understanding of this type of due diligence as a matter of principle, broke with their understanding of it in practice, came from what in retrospect can only be called their hubris. They saw themselves as absolutely secure and stable, and as a result saw themselves as organizations as being immune from market-based stress or volatility. So when their customers saw the economy that they had invested in begin to collapse and when those customers started going to their banks that they had put their savings in, and in increasing numbers, those banks were unprepared. And as their customers started lining up at their doors to take their money out, more and more of them panicked and joined the lines until their banks’ cash holdings were so depleted that they could no longer function.

I cited in my above bullet point how these holding companies had accepted shares in their own business as even preferred collateral for the loans they made. As their own systems began to fail, one member bank at a time, they found themselves as having in effect made vast numbers of loans without requiring any real collateral at all – or at least any that could still hold outside-validated value. So a bank in such a holding company might fail with others in that system finding themselves in distress but still remaining recoverable, at least in principle. But the house of cards nature of how they had all managed their businesses, in-house, as their own collateral valuation standard meant that those banks folded too. Their customers knew they had nothing real backing the loans they had entered into and they knew that the banks they had entrusted their savings in were now unreliable for that. And there was no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) or similar outside supportive agency in place, at least yet, that might have quelled the panic and stopped the cascades of failures that quickly brought down entire bank holding companies and all of their member banks.

The dynamics that led to these banking system collapses were understood in principle and in the abstract, even if no one in those bank holding companies seemed capable of turning that abstract understanding into prudent due diligence and risk management practice. The second of the pair of examples that I cite here was, and I have to add still is a lot less well understood and certainly as the current presidential administration in the United States is playing with the fire of trade wars and tariff barriers even as I write this.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a national economy. Nations operate in larger contexts and they have financially for as long as there has been international trade, and with the roots to that going back to before the dawn of recorded history. And ultimately, economies are liquid reserve and cash flow determined, and with trade shaping and driving all of that. Stop trade and you stop the flow of money and you challenge and even kill the economies involved. And that holds when considering the overall and even global economy as a whole, or when considering the portions thereof that are based in some particular country or region, but that depend for their existence on the ongoing functioning health of the larger economy that they are part of.

As just noted, even today there are people in positions of real power and authority who do not understand this. And a lot fewer seem to have understood this in 1930 when the Hawley–Smoot Tariff Act was put into law and into practice, and the American economy and other national and regional components of the overall global economy began to really collapse.

I at least alluded to timing overlap and toxic synergies in these systematic challenges in the above text, and explicitly make note of that point of detail here. The stock market of the Roaring 20’s was impulse driven for the most part and with seemingly everyone investing in it looking for quick riches. And investing in it was comparable to walking a tightrope without a safety net. But the structural instabilities and the lack of anything like regulatory oversight to limit if not prevent bad business and investment practices that characterized this early stock market, only constituted one of several systematic sources of failure, that all came to collapse together, with a pattern-setting start to that developing over a period of about one year starting in October, 1929 and continuing on to the Fall of 1930.

• To explicitly connect two points of detail just touched upon here, stocks and other investment instruments that might be counted as representing saved and invested wealth, were not necessarily considered to be reliable sources of collateral to individual banks or to their parent holding companies, for their volatility and their potential for it. But these banking institutions thought that they at least knew and could trust their own paper: their own traded stock shares as reliable collateral when making loans. So many if not most came to preferentially keep this “in-house” and asked for proof of ownership in their stock and with it used to back loans signed for through them.
• My point here is that all of the factors and considerations that I make note of here, and a lot more that also contributed to the Great Depression, interacted and reinforced each other for their toxic potential and for their eventual consequences.

The American economy and other national and regional economies in general, all took a real beating in late 1929, and with the US stock market collapse only serving as one measure of that. But these markets were actually beginning what would have seemed a long slow path back to stability and recovery. Recessions end and more recent ones of note in particular, had generally begun to significantly turn towards recovery within about 15 months from their visibly impactful starts. As one admittedly limited and skewed measure in support of that claim for what might have happened here too, consider the collapse of the New York City based stock market itself as tracked by an already relied upon and trusted Dow Jones Industrial Average as a measure of stock market performance and of public confidence in that. The stock market crash began on Thursday, October 24, 1929 with nervous investors trading a single day record 12.9 million shares and with many more trying to sell than to buy. The overall market valuation at measured by the Dow Jones average began falling precipitously.

The weekend that followed did not have a positive impact, in giving investors time to reconsider and settle their nerves. Tuesday, October 29: Black Tuesday came and by the end of that trading day, the overall Dow Jones average had fallen nearly 13%. And the stock market was effectively in freefall as investors panicked, losing their faith in the value of their investments, and any sense of safety in the security of their life savings insofar as they were invested in stock shares. (For further background information on this see for example, this piece on the Wall Street Crash of 1929.) But even the stock market was beginning to recover by March 13, 1930 as the Hawley–Smoot Tariff Act was first put into effect, as investors began buying stock shares again, looking for undervalued ones and real bargains to be gained from them. Then international trade effectively died as nation after nation began raising their own retaliatory and presumed self-protective trade barriers in response to what was going on around them and from their erstwhile trading partners. And that, to my thinking is when the actual Great Depression itself actually began. That is when what might have been just another significant recession became The Great Depression.

That overall systemic economic collapse did not take place all at once; it took a number of months for the real impact of this decision and action on the part of the US Congress to be realized. So for example, US based banks began to be stressed from panicked customer withdrawals and from larger numbers of their customers no longer being able to pay back loans, in late 1929. But many of the larger bank holding companies that failed from this onslaught of challenges, did so in the Fall of 1930 and over the next two years as the strangling of international trade really took hold with so many of their business customers – so many employers facing bankruptcy from loss of business and incoming revenue. And they continued to fail for years to come and at an incredibly impactful rate.

My goal for this posting has been to outline something of the challenge that Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced when first taking office as the 32nd president of the United States. I will continue its narrative thread in a next installment to this series where I will among other things, quantify the bank failures and their timeline to put what I am writing here into clearer perspective. And I will then discuss Roosevelt’s New Deal as a massive recovery effort, and one that had within it a massive infrastructure redevelopment effort too. Then after completing that narrative thread, I will continue in this series as a whole, as briefly noted above. But in anticipation of the next installment to this to come, I step back from the details to reframe this discussion in a second, and here-crucially important way. What Roosevelt faced, underlying and infusing all of the toxic details of policy and practice and on so many fronts, was a complete failure of an underlying world view as to how businesses and economies run, and of how and why they fail when they do that too. Roosevelt faced the problem of a broken puzzle with its pieces having to be reconnected. But at least as importantly he faced a problem of a broken and failed puzzle where its business as usual assumptions and understandings could no longer be made to apply. He had to find a way to fundamentally reshape and redefine the overall image in that puzzle too. And that is the challenge that I will write of in my next installment to this series.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 6: an orienting outline of what is to follow here

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on March 22, 2019

This is my 7th installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-5.)

I began this series with analyses of two admittedly largely failed infrastructure development and redevelopment initiatives that have received wide ranging news coverage in recent years, as of this writing:

• The US government’s efforts to help remediate immediate disaster impact in Puerto Rico and rebuild from it, coming out of Hurricane Maria in 2017 (see Part 1 and Part 2)
• And efforts to maintain and extend the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) subway system (see Part 2 and Part 3, and supplemental posting Part 4.5 as added in as an initially unplanned for update on this too.)

I then continued on from there to consider two arguably very successful infrastructure development and redevelopment programs, noting and discussing how the meaning of the word “success” varies widely, depending historically on who got to more forcefully determine what that word should mean from when these projects were first developed and carried through upon. See Part 4 and Part 5.

My overall goal for this series as a whole has been to successively explore a progression of current and historic large scale infrastructure initiatives, with a goal of distilling out of them, a set of guiding principles that might offer planning and execution value when moving forward on other such programs. My initial intention in this overall effort, moving on from Part 5, was to turn to consider China and its complexities as a next step forward in developing the case study foundation that I would require for that. But I have to add that I have also expected to see need to add more case studies to this narrative, in order to reach my overall goals for this series as a just stated. So I digress from my initial plans for how I would proceed in this overall endeavor starting here, and with that need in mind.

I am going to very explicitly and directly discuss a complex and nuanced infrastructure story that has been central to China and that nation’s history and certainly since the rise of Mao Zedong. Noting that, I add that I will also at least make note of some of China’s earlier and even more ancient history as well. And turning to consider modern China, and the China of the past few decades in particular, I will discuss how its recent and current leadership have sought to use infrastructure building and even infrastructure revolutionizing and both within their own national borders, and as a tool of international statecraft and diplomacy, in order to build itself into a true globally leading superpower.

To put that assertion into perspective with what I have offered up to here, the Marshall and Molotov Plans as already discussed in this series (in Parts 4 and 5) were more about containment and consolidation, and the development of a balanced reliability for both sides: East and West that would allow for stability and growth and for both the United States and their allies and for the Soviet Union and theirs. China’s ambitions are wider and more open ended than that, as I will discuss in detail, even if much if not all of their effort has been politically shaped and motivated too.

But once again, I have said that I will add in at least selectively detailed and framed discussions of at least a few other significant infrastructure efforts as well. And in preparation for what I will offer here regarding China, I am going to at least selectively delve into two of them:

• US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and related efforts to help bring his country out of a then actively unfolding Great Depression,
• And a newly formed Soviet Union’s efforts to move from being a backward agrarian society, or rather a disparate collection of them that had all existed under a single monarchical rule, to become a modern industrial state.

Both offer specific explanatory insight into China’s history in this regard and certainly where that country’s modern history is concerned.

Then looking ahead, I will begin exploring the above outlined China narrative thread that I have proposed developing here, with a discussion of internal reorganizing and rebuilding efforts as China’s leaders have sought to move their country from the status of primitive agrarian society to that of technologically and industrially advanced world power. And then I will consider their more outwardly facing, globally involving efforts as those initiatives have fit into and supported that overall goal for them too.

I offer this posting as a brief orienting installment for what is to come here, adding that I will supplement what I have just outlined above as needed, with further case study examples and related details in order to clarify and flesh out this overall discussion. My overall goal through all of this series is and will be to facilitate development of an at-least starting outline of a set of more generally applicable principles for better selecting, shaping, planning and executing large scale infrastructure projects moving forward, as will become pressingly important in the coming century and certainly as unfolding realities such as global warming demand them. After presenting the more general approach that I am leading up to in all of this, I will consider that challenge as a source of infrastructure development imperative, doing so in light of my more general infrastructure development approach. And I will also, and in the same way discuss and consider our still very actively, globally emerging internet as an overarching infrastructure system too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Addendum note update as added here on January 30, 2019:
I was not initially planning on updating my account of and discussion of the New York City MTA and its challenges here, even as this is a rapidly evolving news story as I write this series. So for example, I did not see specific need to update my note on how Governor Cuomo, with his political ambitions, has gotten his way in overruling the MTA board and its three year study on the best way to fix their subway system L line and that his plan will be followed instead, no matter how casually and quickly arrived at. (For an as-of-this-writing current news story on that, see: The L Train Will Stay Open. So What Happens to All Those Plan B’s?) But this unfolding story is not just about the ongoing consequences of this transit system infrastructure as it has become a political football. True, Governor Cuomo and I add New York City Mayor De Blasio both have presidential ambitions, but this is not all about them. It is also about lives and very poignantly it is about the life lost, of a 22 year old mother who died yesterday, falling down a flight of subway system stairs while trying to maneuver them with her young child and baby carriage.

This happened at one of the many subway stations that has never been made compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, as discussed in this series in its Part 3. See:

A Mother’s Fatal Fall on Subway Stairs Rouses New Yorkers to Demand Accessibility.

I can only hope that the title of this here-cited news piece proves accurate and for a lot longer than some single news cycle. I have noted how the deaths of MTA workers on the job, have come and gone without real public notice or reaction. When I write of infrastructure here and how it is and is not carried through upon, I am not just writing about abstract business or related systems. I am writing about real people and real lives, and in all of the case study examples that I have, will, or could include here. And the ongoing abject failure on the part of all politically contesting parties in this example, to make this system accessible or even safe, simply highlights that. The issues that I write of here are important, and in ways and to degrees that no one can safely overlook.

Reconsidering the varying faces of infrastructure and their sometimes competing imperatives 5: the Marshall Plan and the Molotov Plan, continued

Posted in business and convergent technologies, strategy and planning, UN-GAID by Timothy Platt on January 18, 2019

This is my sixth installment to a series on infrastructure as work on it, and as possible work on it are variously prioritized and carried through upon, or set aside for future consideration (see United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID), postings 46 and following for Parts 1-4.)

I began this series with two admittedly quite negative case study examples that both rise to significance for scale and impact, and that have both been well documented in more primary news and analysis sources: the failed US government led recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after the disaster brought on there by Hurricane Maria in 2017 (in Part 1 and Part 2), and the mismanagement of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) as a political football, caught in the middle between New York City and New York State politics (in Part 2 and Part 3.)

I then turned in Part 4 to consider two infrastructure redevelopment programs that I argued were both successful – according to their own politically and governmentally defined criteria, and certainly as established by the nations that led them: the American-led the post-World War II European Recovery Program, or Marshall Plan as it is better known, and its Russian-led Eastern European counterpart: the Molotov Plan.

I said at the end of that series installment that I would continue my discussion of those two programs here, to round them out for purposes of this series. And I at least begin to do so by more fully explaining why I would argue that both were in fact successful.

• The Marshall Plan was not perfect, and it did not fully put Western Europe entirely back on its own feet again, leaving a lot left for those nations to do for themselves (which was in fact, good for them as it allowed them to regain real autonomy as independent nations again.) The nations that benefited from this effort were also dictated to from it, for how they were to be rebuilt through this program and with what priorities and in ways that did not always entirely please the new emerging national governments of the region, or align with their emerging nationalistic priorities. France, as a case in point example, pushed back against this and related “foreign interference”, and the public sentiment that arose there did a lot to shape the often contrarian government of Charles de Gaulle.
• And the United States did impose a long-term presence over Western Europe coming out of World War II, and both through this reconstruction effort and through the shaping of a Western European-based mutual defense force that the United States effectively came to lead: the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as it was developed as a response to Russia’s emerging empire building ambitions. All of this support was both appreciated and seen as a source of friction too. That noted, the Marshall Plan, overall, was a stunning success, and was so on a level that had no real historical precedent.
• The Molotov Plan, on the other hand is often viewed as much more of a failure, and it would qualify as such and without real grounds for argument if its driving goals had been the same as those of the Marshall Plan. But its goals were fundamentally different, and even diametrically opposed to those of its Western European counterpart.
• The Marshall Plan was first and foremost a rebuilding effort, and secondarily, if still importantly an effort to create a new political order there so as to prevent further war. And much of that stemmed from an emerging awareness of threat of conflict and of a possible World War III, coming from the East and from Russia.
• What were the defining goals that led to and shaped the Molotov Plan: the criteria that it in fact succeeded at and until the fall of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union itself? They were secondarily to rebuild Eastern Europe, and primarily to create a defensive buffer zone separating Russia and Russian soil from a now American-led Western Europe. So the official name of the Molotov Plan was the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (Договор о дружбе, сотрудничестве и взаимной помощи). And this was first and foremost a “mutual” defense treaty, much as NATO was, but not as a separate effort from any rebuilding effort: as a primary overall goal with some infrastructure and related aid tacked on, and with that organized around the Sovietizing of all of the Eastern European governments and with a Russian military and a Russian KGB presence there to enforce that.

When did the “mutual assistance” of this play out? When was it invoked and acted upon? It was only really actively called upon when Soviet Union supportive Eastern European puppet governments came into danger from uprisings or threat of them from the citizenry of those same nations. I cite by way of examples, the abortive Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the abortive Prague Spring, or Czech Uprising of 1968. Both were widely supported citizen created efforts to achieve democratic reform and increased personal freedom, within their respective Eastern European nations. Both were seen as direct threats to Russia and its overall security. And both were suppressed by direct militarily backed “mutual assistance” support of other Eastern European Warsaw Pact member nations, with their forces acting under the orders of and the control of Russia as backed by the Russian military.

I have recently offered an at least brief and selective account of the why of this, in another series when discussing why Russia has acted so belligerently towards its neighbors from well before the rise of Communism and the Soviet Union per se. And I have been discussing there, how and why this pattern has continued since the fall of Communism and of the Soviet Union as Russia’s sociopolitical form and image too (see Rethinking national security in a post-2016 US presidential election context: conflict and cyber-conflict in an age of social media 13.) My point here, however, is more focused and specific for raising that side to Russia’s overall history. This history and the lessons that its leadership have continuously learned from it, including the searing lessons coming from a World War II that had just concluded, and the lessons from their going into a Cold War that was just taking shape, led to both the Warsaw Pact and the Molotov Plan and all else that Russia did – that the West in turn responded to in its collective thinking and acting as well.

• No one in all of this acted as if in a vacuum, and in any of this and in either shaping or carrying out these redevelopment programs: the Marshall and Molotov Plans. And both sides set their goals and their priorities and their criteria for success in them accordingly.

And with that, I finally turn to consider China, and both as it has pursued massive infrastructure development and redevelopment within its own borders and as it has used infrastructure development offerings as tools of statecraft beyond those borders as well. And I state here in anticipation of discussion to come, that the government and the Communist Party of China, and the leadership of both, have selected and shaped their plans and their goals for all of this according to their own goals and their own priorities, and yes their own hopes and fears too – just as the decision makers did who created and led the Marshall and Molotov Plans.

I will begin discussing that complex narrative in my next installment to this series. And after completing that line of discussion, with at least brief digressions into other infrastructure development and redevelopment efforts added in as necessary, I will step back to consider a basic success or fail model for such efforts, as a possible predictive resource for achieving more effective, mutually agreed to success in them and from all involved stakeholders.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 5, and also at Page 1, Page 2, Page 3 and Page 4 of that directory. I also include this in Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time 3, and also see Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. And I include this in my United Nations Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN-GAID) directory too for its relevance there.

Addendum note re. the New York City MTA and its subway system, as discussed in Parts 2 and 3: I primarily focused on the subway system and its issues when discussing it up to here in this series. But I see need to more explicitly note here, how the inefficiencies and mismanagement of this system have impact that extends way beyond the subway tunnels and stations themselves, adversely affecting all who use and rely upon this system.

This has been a long-simmering issue in New York City, and not just for those who are challenged by the failure of the MTA to become more compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), as already made note of in this series. The chronic and I have to add progressively advancing breakdown and decay of this subway system and its critical infrastructure affects all who would use it and every business that relies upon those who do. And the move that Amazon is making into the borough of Queens, as a site for a major new secondary headquarters, with the prospect of all of their new employees having to use this already overloaded system there, has only brought already ongoing concerns, and anger to the surface and in a more widely visible form (see Maybe It’s Not Taxes That Scare Off Business but Failing Subways.)

Note that the finalized online version of the title for the just-cited news analysis piece, focused on how an already over-stressed subway system can and will create increased challenges for businesses that it should be serving, and especially when a same already inadequate system is about to face whole new additional challenges. The original print edition title to this piece was: Job Growth Gets Stuck on the Subway, highlighting the impact of all of this on individual riders, and on their employment prospects. Both perspectives fully apply, and both serve to illustrate how an infrastructure development and maintenance failure is certain to have widespread negative impact, and of a scale that at the very least matches the scale of that infrastructure system itself.

Addendum note 2: Unfolding events in the politics of the New York City MTA prompted me to offer an initially unplanned-for add-on installment to this series, between the time that I wrote and posted its Part 4 and when I wrote and uploaded this Part 5. So I added that in as a Part 4.5 addendum posting. And events have continued to unfold that I decided I should make note of here in order to bring that narrative up to date.

I begin this continuation of that note by citing three news and analysis pieces from the New York Times:

Is the Fix for the L-Train Apocalypse Too Good to Be True?
Cuomo’s Risky L Train Fix
Cuomo Swooped in as L-Train Savior, but M.T.A. Rejected Similar Approach Over Safety Concerns

The bottom line from this is that the MTA claims and with documentation to prove their point, that they considered the type of “solution” to the L Train problem, that governor Cuomo is now pushing. They studied its feasibility and its risk and benefits issues in detail. And they had already rejected it as creating too much risk, as well as for its effective lifespan limitations as a workable solution. But this is not about engineering solutions to a complex and pressing infrastructure maintenance and repair problem and it is not about the risk or benefits of possible solutions under consideration, or possible approaches for realizing them. This is about politics and political ambition. And for governor Cuomo it is likely that this is about the soon to arrive 2020 US presidential race and his desire for higher office. He is focusing on short-term MTA rider approval for stopping a complete shut-down of the L Line during its repair. And he wants to look presidential in how he does this. Other considerations, of necessity have to carry lower priority in the political calculus that this entails.

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