Regulation and epochs

Conventional regulation aims at maintaining objective criteria, as in Conant and Ashby. They must have or form a model or models of their environment. But if future epochs are unpredictable or the regulators are set-up for the short-term, e.g. being post-hoc adaptive, then the models will not be appropriate for the long-term, leading to a loss of regulation at least until a new effective model can be formed.

Thus regulation based only on objective criteria is not sustainable in the long-term. Loss of regulation can occur, for example, due to innovation by the system being regulated. More sustainable regulation (in the sense of preserving viability) might be achieveable by taking a broader view of the system ‘as a whole’, perhaps engaging with it. For example, a ‘higher’ (strategic) regulator might monitor the overall situation, redirect the ‘lower’ (tactical) regulators and keep the lower regulators safe. The operation of these regulators would tend to correspond to Whitehead’s epochs (regulators would impose different rules, and different rules would call for different regulators).

See also

Stafford Beer.

David Marsay


About Dave Marsay
Mathematician with an interest in 'good' reasoning.

2 Responses to Regulation and epochs

  1. sfnhltb says:

    Interesting when reading immediately after the SMUTS post – this would tend to make me think that it is very easy for regulators to act in a way that could suppress minor “burns” and leave lots of “fuel” for a future disaster. There seem to end up being a lot of competing issues – if you make clear objective rules for the regulators to follow then they will miss the next new problem, but also the companies being regulated will be able to learn and analyze these rules and find ways around them. Conversely if you end up with subjective regulations that are mostly based on the skill and expertise of the individual regulators then you mostly end up employing industry insiders that are less likely to be truly objective, and come into the regulatory side of things with the built in assumptions of the epoch (but is that any different from the objective regulations that are likely to be designed on the same assumptions?)

    • djmarsay says:

      If we view regulation as a game, then there is no winning fixed strategy for the regulator. My current thinking is that if the ‘hidden’ risks could somehow be made visible then the overall ‘system’ might be self-regulating, and if not then the might be popular support for governmental regulation. But the key thing is to highlight the risks. My reading of Locke is that this needs to be a government responsibility: it is one that they fell down on in the run-up to the crash of 2008. In the UK the practice of having academics rely on commercial funding doesn’t look too smart.

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