Resilient Communities are the Foundations of a Resilient America.

We Know Who Owns the Problem – Who Owns the Solution?

Excerpts from a December 29, 2012 article in the NY Times…

“After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc with power systems in the Northeast, many consumers and public officials complained that the electric utilities had done far too little to protect their equipment from violent storms, which forecasters have warned could strike with increasing frequency…But from a utility’s perspective, the cold hard math is this: it is typically far cheaper for the company, and its customers, to skip the prevention measures and just clean up the mess afterward.”

In other words, you and I own the problem of living without electricity; someone else owns the solution. But before we get all huffy about the electric utility not solving/preventing our problem, we have to recognize that the utility has to answer both to their shareholders and to state regulators.  Shareholders don’t look kindly on gratuitous expenditures with no return on investment.  State utility commissioners – who must approve any increases in rates – specifically those needed to make upgrades to the grid (e.g., burying power lines), historically have not looked kindly on rate increases not directly tied to the costs of generation. We know who owns the problem; but who owns the solution?

Another example…

My daughter works for a vet – prototypic small business. Over the last few years, she’s worked 35-45 hours per week. Starting this year, her employer is cutting her back to no more than 29 hours per week, to avoid the ObamaCare penalty. The vet doesn’t like it, but it’s the only thing that makes financial sense for the practice. My daughter clearly owns the problem; who owns the solution?

These are classic wicked problems. They cross boundaries of scale, of community sector (and sometimes of good sense!), and require concerted action among several people or organizations. They are tests of our resilience, at the individual, the community and the national level.

These two examples have one thing in common – well-intended government action with unintended consequences. As our President promised dramatic action on gun control, climate change, income inequality, and scores of other problems at his inauguration, I was moved to wonder what the unintended consequences will be? What rude beasts may lurk in his actions? Who will own the problems they cause? Will we be resilient enough to solve those problems?  And, most important, who will own the solutions?