February 10, 2015

So how is the governing agenda going so far, Governor Baker? I guess you’ve been a bit distracted.

I went back to the governor’s inaugural address and took a look at some of his priorities. Homeless families was one, and “lapses in performance that are frustrating for many” (a bit clairvoyant there?). Among the issues he mentioned were the performance of the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Health Connector, the budget deficit, a job creating economy, closing the achievement gap, dealing with the opiate crisis and tackling the problems of urban centers. He vowed no new taxes and to protect cities and towns from local aid cuts. Also he promised regulatory reform, to work on slowing health care cost increases, to address energy costs, and to push for charter schools.

Ah, randomness. Somehow the MBTA has snuck on to the agenda, hasn’t it? And for the moment, it is right at the very top.

I find randomness very interesting because it is so . . . random. Whether you are the governor or a blogging professor, you can’t plan for it. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb warns, it is the Black Swan events that are the most meaningful.

Or to offer Donald Rumsfeld’s most famous quote:  “Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

As Governor Baker has stated, the recent onslaught of snow is unprecedented; there would be no reason to foresee it. It’s an unknown unknown. You might even posit that the T’s performance in the past two weeks was a known unknown – folks who understand the T knew about aging equipment and infrastructure, but who could really know how badly the T would perform? Or it might just be that the T’s failures were a known known – that many in government knew the redline was being held together with duct tape and prayers and were just hoping it wouldn’t unravel on their watch.

So maybe it was a known that the crisis would come, but unknown when it would manifest. Lucky you, Governor Baker. That’s randomness for you.

During his inaugural address Governor Baker also said this: “Some of our toughest challenges have been ignored and lost amid the successes.  Or have become the equivalent of kicking a can down the road because they're not politically convenient or easy to fix.”

Remember the old joke about hirings at the MBTA, making it “Mr. Bulger’s Transportation Authority”? Well, MBTA may now stand for “Mr. Baker’s Transportation Authority.”

And that’s no joke.

snow, Charlie Baker, MBTA

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