What really got us into this mess?

Blame the bankers for greed, criticise politicians for poor regulation or financial authorities for bad oversight: these are popular reactions to the appalling effects of the Credit Crunch and each of the accused were parties to the debacle but are they the real cause?

Put the justifiable anger and hurt aside to consider a more simple explanation: the Credit Crunch is the (perhaps inevitable) result of a system that has become so complex that few if any individuals had sufficient grasp of its implications on vulnerabilities.

Nobody ever sat down with a piece of paper to design the international banking system. Going back to the times when basic money-lending became formalised into institutions, banking has been a product of random development based on what has proved profitable, governed by a succession of internally and externally imposed disciplines.

Take one aspect of the cause of banking woes – the American sub-prime mortgage market. The system had become so complex that many chief executives of banks were unaware of their exposure.

Those who aspire to provide overall control of a complex system have to devise a monitoring system that delivers significant information for decision making and that data has to be edited down into what can be handled by their intellect. Predicably, that editing process produces errors, distorts the picture and covers black holes until it is too late.

If the issue of excessive complexity was a technical matter restricted to the banking system, there would be limited interest it it. However this blog is about much wider issues and in due course I will examine the really big decisions that our society needs to address.