What is The Interlock Project?

This project grew out of something I have been thinking about for more than a decade, and have been actively working on for the last five years:  an inventory of major public policy problems affecting the future of the US.  As I worked on documenting and understanding these issues, I took note of something that was fairly obvious:  in every part of the Interlock, the experts believe that their problem is the most important one, and that society should make a maximal effort to solve that problem first.  Solving their preferred problem would then make other, related problems easier to solve, and so on down the line. “Start here!” one says. “No, start over here!” another would say.

If every advocate believes that his or her particular issue is primary, they can’t all be right. So I looked for the real ur-problem, the one log that would unstick the logjam, the “right” first step. If we could just identify one high-leverage point and start there, all would be well.

I began constructing dependency diagrams with various major initiatives at the head of each tree. “If we make a massive national commitment and make real progress on this particular issue, then we can more easily solve these next two issues,” and so on. Yet, when I looked at the various proposed solutions, it became apparent that none would work in isolation.

What I discovered instead is that there really is no obvious “Step One,” no single problem or small set of problems that can be truly solved independently of the rest. Not only that, but many of the attempted solutions to the individual problems have the perverse effect of making other problems worse.

This does not mean that there is nowhere to begin – even a preliminary survey of the interconnections indicates that there are solutions out there.  But any effective solution to a “meta-problem” like this one is going to have to come in the form of an integrated set of solutions that deals with the system as a whole, rather than as a jumble of piecemeal reforms.  And building such a set of solutions first requires that we map out and understand the dimensions of the problem and the interconnections that make up the Interlock as a whole, so that we can identify the high-leverage points and the genuinely constructive solutions.

The Interlock Project is an attempt to do that, to map those connections in detail in such a way that we can look at proposed sets of solutions and have some sense of whether they will work or whether they will backfire and prove self-defeating.   This is a daunting task.  The number of problems is large, the number of potential interconnections is much larger, and many of these problems are so complex that armies of professors, policy makers, and other experts have devoted lifetimes of study to them, and yet they still disagree on many important fundamentals.  No one person can hope to get it all right.

And that’s the reason for this website.  My goal here is to sketch out the skeleton of the Interlock and define many of the key problems, at least in a preliminary way, and then to invite you, and hopefully many others, to contribute your expertise.

If you know one problem area well, you can contribute by improving the description of the problem and by examining the ways it interacts with the other problems.  If you know several well, I urge you to contribute to all of them, and especially to the sections on how those areas interact with each other.

But please don’t limit your contributions to just the areas you know best.  If this project is going to do any good, the descriptions of the problems and the analyses of their interactions have to be accessible to non-experts, so I need your comments and suggestions as a thoughtful, informed reader to help us avoid jargon and maintain that accessibility.  If you come across something outside your area of expertise that seems badly written, incomplete, unclear, or simply unconvincing, please point that out!

–  MK

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