John Plodinec in Community Resilience: Gödel’s Theorem and Economic Resilience
by John Plodinec
Kurt Gödel was one of the last century’s preeminent mathematicians and philosophers. He is most famous for proving that for any system of logic, there are meaningful questions that can be asked, but that cannot be answered within that logical system.
It is easy to dismiss this as academic navel-gazing, but there are real-world examples of this. One of the over-riding issues of our times is the quest for social “justice.” But what is justice? Some say that government should take from those who have more and give to those who have less, and that is justice. But others (J D Vance and Wendell Berry) point out that this creates dependence and eventually is destructive. I can ask questions about justice, but can’t definitively answer them.
If I killed a man a thousand years ago in England, justice then would demand that I pay a wergild to the person’s family or lord to recompense them for their loss. Today, I would most likely either languish in prison (essentially a ward of the state) or be executed – the family of my victim would be uncompensated. Which “justice” is more just?
If we pass on to a higher plane, perhaps we’ll know. And, generally, that is one way to answer the unanswerable questions – move to a higher level framework. In the physical sciences, one of the great unresolved questions of the 19th century was – is light a particle or a wave? Newtonian physics said light was particulate, but couldn’t explain why light sometimes acted as a wave. It was only when quantum mechanics was developed (with Newtonian physics as a special case) that the question was finally answered with a resounding “Yes. Light is both particle and wave.” Quantum mechanics became that “higher plane” to explain light’s behavior; a new “logic” that subsumed Newtonian physics as a special case.
In the social sciences we have a similar situation – we can ask if a community or a community system (e.g., its economy) is resilient, but we can’t really answer that a priori within the logic of what we know. We have to develop the logic for that “higher plane” if we are to be able to predict resilience.
Shade Shutters, in a recent article,* has given us a glimpse of what that higher plane might be. He and his co-workers developed a quantitative measure for the economic structures of 938 urban areas. Rather than looking at this as a static property, they looked at the change of the economic structure over the period 2001-2017. Their primary interest was in finding a relationship between the evolution of an area’s economy and the economy’s performance during and after the Great Recession (GR). They chose the area’s per capita GDP as their performance measure.
Dr. John Plodinec is an independent scholar. As part of the Community and Regional Resilience Institute (CARRI), he was responsible for identifying and evaluating technologies that can enhance a community’s resilience. His most important contributions have been development of action-oriented tools that operationalize the “Whole Community” concept, including CARRI’s Community Resilience System and its Campus Resilience Enhancement System. He has also helped several communities and universities develop plans to recover from economic and natural disasters. Dr. Plodinec also coordinated development of an action plan for management of woody biomass and debris generated by disasters in support of the federal government’s Woody Biomass Working Group. This effort involved a team from seven federal agencies as well as coordination with other major stakeholders in the American forest enterprise. Dr. Plodinec also developed CARRI’s Resilient Home Program, aimed at improving the survivability of American homes to natural disasters. This built on earlier work he did while at Mississippi State University, where he led the University’s efforts to develop programs related to severe weather events. As part of a joint program with the International Code Council and other partners, he has led initial development of a Community Resilience Benchmark System.