Saturday, 17 October 2015

Rightly discerning the issue

We frequently need to weigh up actions to be undertaken while considering several competing issues. Different people weight the various considerations differently based on things like the importance they place on the relevant (and sometimes irrelevant) issues, or their depth of knowledge of relevant issues.

Often more information is very helpful. Many people realise this and sometimes seek it. What seems less common is thinking through how an issue is relevant. Recently I heard a conversation concerning how many people to train for the work force and weighing up issues like,
  1. Quality of training
  2. (Future) workforce requirements
  3. Number we can train
  4. Number who want to train
In unrelated reading on unemployment I came across this quote,
People don’t need to be forced to work. People need to be helped to find a job.
This sentence reminded me of the earlier conversation as neither speaker had rightly divided the issue.

Talking the second one, the speaker is (or may be*) falsely contrasting the issue. It is not just that a carrot is more effective (according to the speaker) than a stick, rather both can be true depending on what the problem is. So within a community there exist people who do not wish to work and for them a policy that forces them to earn their income is important. Even if there were jobs, the lack of desire to work prevents them taking one up. Within the same community are people who want to work but are unable to find a job. For them the motivation is there, and forcing them to work is less helpful when there are no jobs to be had. Presumably for many people both factors may be at play: they desire not to work but think they should; and jobs are difficult to find.

The relevant point is that the quote reveals inadequate depth of assessing the problem: thinking something is either/ or when it is both/ and.

The first example was about determining which of the issues is most important in addressing the training problem. Being a free-market type guy I think train who you can and let the market sort out the issues. Nevertheless, let's consider the problem as it was posed. The failure of the speaker here is equating all these variables to the total number of trainees rather than recognising they relate to either maximum or minimum numbers of trainees. Let's say that we could estimate these numbers (which we probably can't as they derive from several factors that we cannot determine; further they are dynamic). Even so, they put different constraints on the trainee number. Taking item #1. Assuming that high quality (or a minimum standard) is what is being sort, this means that the system will have a maximum number of workers it can train. Workforce requirements however is a minimum number: they will want to train at least that many workers. Total capacity to train is a maximum number, and number who wish to train is also a (different) maximum number.

These examples illustrate the common problem of failing to fully analyse an issue. Many a discussion or argument is at cross purposes because of superficial assessment.†


*The author may be saying that people do not need to be forced to work because they all want to work; they just cannot find a job.

†The opposite tendency is to make distinctions when they are irrelevant. This does not necessarily relate to the degree of division but rather whether it is relevant. The question to ask what is being assessed or compared here.

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