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Views from the Prairie

January 2023

Separate or Together?

Many people quit their job and go off on their own only later to get a board of advisors, join networking groups and trade associations. Britain left the European Union but a number of other countries are trying to join. The Texas Republicans voted to leave the US but thousands of others are trying to get in. Methodist churches are leaving the denomination. Separate or together, which is better? That all depends on what you value. "Network Effects" also play a role.

Many people who control natural resources such as farmland or oil and gas resources have a fierce independence. They need to protect those resources and naturally support separation. It can be quite satisfying to think that we don't need anyone else.

Does separation help everyone? Not necessarily. The costs of "Brexit" are still being compiled, but recent estimates put a 4% per year cost to the total British economy and small businesses in Britain claim an 11% cost. Since small businesses are the engine of the future, that suggests that "Brexit" will be costing Britain more and more over time.

The Methodists have a median age of 65 which means that they have a deeper split between the young and old. If the churches do not find a way to serve the young urban working families, the churches will be closed in twenty years.

On the Great Seal of the United States of America, we have the phrase "E. Pluribus Unum". The meaning is, "out of many, one". We have built a great country out of different states, many peoples, and radically different ideas.

Some reasons for our success are that we have a common currency, federal laws, common patent system, and easy movement between the states. Because of these, ideas and cities have flourished.

Business networking groups tout the economic value of networking. Some businesses that participate in networking get 80% or more of their business through such groups. People working together for common purposes can help each other succeed. Business people need all the advice and outside knowledge they can get.

"Network effects" describe how when more and more people interact with each other, new ideas, new businesses, and new ways of making money appear. The more people who interact, the more value is found in the connections. This is why large cities have value even though they have more crime, more diseases, and much higher costs. Large cities bring people together to generate new wealth. Larger free trade regions build more wealth.

Separate or together depends on what we value and on how quickly our circumstances change. When our environment changes, we have to learn new skills and new ways of dealing with this changed environment. No amount of separation can protect us from all changes. In a changing world, we often do better together with other people who can help us.


After years of drought, California is finally getting some rain. Some might say too much rain. Those who had adapted to the drought conditions watch their preparations float away. There are those who are destroyed by events and those who pivot, dance, and find a way out no matter what happened. Resilience is the ability to find a way forward through any and all circumstances.

Resilience is far more than having good defenses against calamity. As the Mississippi river has repeatedly shown, no matter how high we build the dikes, the river will someday overflow the dikes and flood the land. It is not possible to defend against all events.

Planning hard against one kind of event often leaves us vulnerable to other kinds of events. The French army planned a huge defense against an invasion from one direction only to have the invasion come via another route. Dikes to defend against floods fail as the river silts up and the land around the river subsides. Recently, a number of companies who had been hiring for huge growth have announced layoffs as the business is not growing that fast or is shrinking. Places that have very strong password rules can get hacked via other ways.

There are two parts to resilience, information and action. We need information on what disasters might impact us. We need to have the flexibility to act differently when something happens. Many a place that attempts to respond in the same old way, gets "drowned" in the "flood".

Disasters come in many different forms and from different directions. We do well to balance our defenses as well as allow for changes. Being able to change quickly is often better than "bulking up" to defend.

Risky World

ChatGPT is an AI system that is making a splash in how easy it is to use to generate halfway good essays, pictures, and code. It also makes stupid mistakes and the code it writes is not very secure. AI systems like this take a lot of power to run and require huge amounts of input data to "train". AI systems may use more power that cryptocurrency mining which may limit the use of AI.


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