Everything is more costly when rushed

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

Rory Sutherland's 'must read' Spectator column this week quoted some "excellent thinking" from the Italian complexity theorist Luca Dellanna:

Two days ago, the EU parliament approved a ban on new fossil fuel cars starting in 2035. While I like the idea of greener cars, I’m not too fond of a fast and complete transition.

Let me use the metaphor of the Summer Olympic Games – an event with attractive economics during the planning phase that predictably overruns its budget by enormous amounts (an average of 213 per cent!). The Olympic Games are the only infrastructural megaproject that always has cost overruns. Why? Partly because it has inescapable deadlines – and everything is more costly when rushed.

I am terrified that putting an artificial deadline to the electric transition might cause a similar scrambling, making it more costly and worse executed than otherwise.

This "everything is more costly when rushed" is surely a common experience, and Sutherland builds on this to make broader points about the transition to electric cars.  He asks:

"Do we want all vehicles to be electric? Why waste a battery on someone who drives 60 miles a week?"

"The natural and healthy pace of change in the adoption of any new technology is rarely linear and it is never simultaneous. This more gradual pace of change is healthy if you want to benefit from the recursive and experimental process of learning that makes evolutionary change more intelligent and enduring than the mandated alternative."

"Besides, I am not even sure that compulsion is necessary here. Most evidence seems to suggest that most people who buy an electric car never go back to internal combustion. I suspect this has almost nothing to do with environmentalism: electric cars are just markedly pleasanter to drive, offering the comportment of a luxury car with the performance of a sports car – a combination unachievable before in anything less than a Bentley or Aston Martin."

His article concludes with a comment on how really good innovations tend to ‘stick’:

"All these products have stickiness in common: duvets, mobile phones, multichannel TV, air-fryers, home internet access, credit cards, heroin.  People may resist them for years, but few who have experienced them revert.  Once such products reach a certain critical mass, there is no stopping them.  There may hence be no more need to mandate electric cars than to mandate indoor toilets."

Maybe so, but I can't see a competitive politician thinking subtly like this, so I imagine we are stuck with costly deadlines – and not just about EVs but heat pumps, and the whole net-zero dream as well.
How do you teach children about all this?

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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