Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mutually Cost-enhancing Objectives (MCEO’s): hiding the “Elephant-in-the-Room.”

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. -- Saul Alinsky
Mutually cost-enhancing objectives," MCEO’s, are objectives which are operationally or politically unlikely of being fulfilled simultaneously, because progress made toward one tends to undercut the progress made toward the other. Pursuit of MCEO’s is the mechanism of cost-benefit conflict.

People in most undertakings have encountered such beasts, and not infrequently, for example:
a. you often can’t gain speed for a vehicle and cut fuel costs at the same time;
b. you can’t achieve both great muscle strength and running speed; and
c. on a fixed budget, you can’t accumulate savings and also spend profligately.

However, MCEO’s tend to be the “invisible bugs” in educational or other social programs. Particularly in situations where there is a delicate political balance needed to maintain organizational stability, MCEO’s tend to be the “elephants in the room” that are deliberately disregarded, discussion of which participants are dissuaded from pursuing -- “We don’t go there,” is the warning given. (To see how this may work, see Reconstructing Assumptions.)

Is your political candidate’s opponent a womanizer? If your own is, also, “you don’t go there” -- in public at least. Less newsworthy, of course, is the conflict between the objectives of having all kids achieve a high school diploma and college entrance; or between graduating college and finding high quality employment, or, even, providing adequate medical care without reducing those who provide or need it to poverty.

Some MCEO combinations seem unavoidable: e.g. every birth predicts a future death; every option exercised means others are foregone. But perhaps many MCEO’s can be softened by innovative procedures that avoid ultimate mutual cost generation. That hope has long sprung eternal even in the face of hard experience. But such hopes must not rest solely on mere assumption.

For some issues on cost-benefit conflicts in historical context, see Clabaugh & Rozycki (1986) School Reform via Teacher Professionalization: Is it Cost-effective?

--- EGR