The End of Short-Term Thinking

burning match
Lees in het Nederlands

All institutions and companies have short-term thinkers and long-term thinkers. Short-term thinking is the prioritization of obvious, easy gains over lasting value; it is a form of self-sabotage and short-sightedness. The only good thing about short-term thinking is that it always ends quicker than long-term thinking. The main question is how much damage is done before it ends.

For Dutch public television, it seems to be ending soon. A few well-known TV hosts spilled the beans last week, on air, on the hidden political agenda’s of their corrupted bosses. For years these hosts were cruising comfortably on a short-term-thinking sinking ship, now they’re expressing their built-up anger and bewilderment over the fact that it’s really sinking. Once these icons jump ship, many may follow, until one day the public funds cheque gets voided.

The short-term thinking reign in Big Tech is also progressing towards its end, albeit more gradually. Blogger and author Cory Doctorow describes how specific circumstances enabled the short-term argument to dominate the decision-making inside these companies over and over again. It’s why tech giants have gradually extracted so much value from the internet instead of enhancing it:

The enshittification of the services we once loved and still rely on represents a series of victories for the forces of evil over the forces of good – a victory for the people who want to use the internet to trap us, over the people who want to use the internet to set us free. As it got harder for users to leave online services, it got easier to abuse users.

Cory Doctorow

The increasingly absurd exploitation of the internet may eventually take the tech giants down all together, since they aren’t showing any signs of moving from evil to lesser evil. Long-term values such as transparency and neutrality are absolute, therefore a full 180-degree turn is a minimum requirement to avoid demise. Perhaps, Doctorow writes, ‘they have become so corrupted, piled up so much sin and callous disregard for human thriving, that all that is left is to burn them to the ground.’

One of the most damaging displays of short-term thinking is also the most unpredictable: the dilution of currency by central banks. Whether you place ‘the beginning of the end’ in 1913 with the Federal Bank Reserve Act, in 1971 with the Nixon Shock or in 2008 with Quantitative Easing, the short-term-thinking ponzi scheme is turning currency into toilet paper with a success rate of zero percent. These are the darkest of short-term thinkers: forcing everybody to abandon ship while preparing a luxurious lifeboat only for themselves.

Doctorow gives us the only advice we need. The long-term thinkers inside the institutions and companies can only influence decisions if we ensure that short-term thinking comes at a risky high cost. A cost that each individual can raise by directing time, energy, loyalty and money wisely.

To help those people win their arguments – to win the arguments with them – we need to make sure that their point is never merely “this is wrong,” but also “this will cost us more than we can possibly gain from it.”

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