An example of systemic solution(s)

When talking about systemic solution often the meaning is diluted or misunderstood due to people’s own understandings of system. It is typically because the term is appropriated differently in various fields–such as computer system–and therefore I felt the necessity to share a good example for systemic solutions.

In 1967, the Romanian government decided that Romania needed more people and that the way to get them was to make abortions for women under age forty-five illegal. Abortions were abruptly banned. Shortly thereafter, the birth rate tripled. Then the policy resistance of the Romanian people set in.

Although contraceptives and abortions remained illegal, the birth rate slowly came back down nearly to its previous level. This result was achieved primarily through dangerous, illegal abortions, which tripled the maternity mortality rate. In addition, many of the unwanted children that had been born when abortions were illegal were abandoned to orphanages. Romanian families were too poor to raise the many children their government desired decently, and they knew it. So, they resisted the government’s pull toward larger family size, at great cost to themselves and to the generation of children who grew up in orphanages.
Another example was Sweden’s population policy. During the 1930’s, Sweden’s birth rate dropped precipitously, and, like the governments of Romania and Hungary, the Swedish government assessed its goals and those of the population and decided that there was a basis of agreement, not on the size of the family, but on the quality of child care. Every child should be wanted and nurtured. No child should be in material need. Every child should have access to excellent education and health care. There were goals around which the government and the people could align themselves.

The resulting policy looked strange during a time of low birth rate, because it included free contraceptive and abortion–because of the principle that every child should be wanted. The policy also included wide-spread sex education, easier divorce laws, free obstetrical care, support for families in need, and greatly increased investment in education and health care(Myrdal, 1968). Since then, the Swedish birth rate has gone up and down several times without causing panic in either direction, because the nation is focused on a far more important goal than the number of Swedes (Meadows and Wright: 114-115).

We know the rest of the story: today, Sweden has the highest birth rate in Europe. The direct quote above is from Thinking in Systems by Meadows, and Meadows takes those two anecdotes to explain policy resistance. It’s not that I will try to devise only solution of policy, but the multiple solutions that compliment each other seem to have synergetic effect and create a change of a good quality, and also long-lasting.

By systemic solution I mean more than a single discreet solution or a single solution that is scalable to a larger context or bigger system. Fluctuation is a natural phenomena, and I think reduction on beef consumption also will experience it. The question is the eventual decline in beef and meat consumption in the long run and also the quality of reduction.

1. Meadows, D. H. Wright, D. (ed.) (2008) Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing.

2. Myrdal, A. (1968) Nation and Family, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original edition published New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941)