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Bigger Than a Conspiracy Theory

Everybody knows that the U.S. government keeps a massive stockpile of gold at the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox, just outside of Louisville, Kentucky.

It was first moved there in the 1930s, and the building is one of the most secure in the world. You’ve heard the expression before: “as secure as Fort Knox.”

(And yes, the gold is really there. In addition to all of the media coverage when the vault was being loaded back in the day, it’s been audited by many professionals and visited by senators and at least one Treasury Secretary.)

But here’s a funny question about Fort Knox. If an enormous and powerful government wants to keep their gold depository in a safe location, why announce where it is?

This question should irk you. Remember, governments do need to keep secrets sometimes. It’s probably the case that you have some secrets of your own, or secrets for your family. Maybe the business where you work has a secret recipe or a bit of software or something that it’s best to keep under wraps.

So why did the U.S. government announce where they were going to keep all the gold? Because it’s impossible to keep a secret that big.

This is what I ask when I hear theories about “something” enormously dangerous that “they” don’t want you know about. What would it take to keep that a secret? How would you convince thousands of professionals to keep quiet about a secret that would change the world if discovered?

The answer is that while it makes for great television, in real life it’s usually impossible. We couldn’t even stop leaks from the atomic bomb project [1]. So it seems pretty unlikely that there is some mind-blowing, worldwide secret conspiracy of a handful of wealthy elite who are controlling virtually every aspect of our lives.

What is happening instead is far more frightening. The reason we have global conflicts, supply chain issues, labor strikes, public health disasters, each and every humanitarian crisis, and lines out the door is not because of some conspiracy to make things difficult. It’s because of incompetence.

You know this, because you’ve experienced it. You’ve had a boss that clearly had no idea what they were doing. You’ve spent hours on the phone trying to resolve a billing problem that should not have been that hard. You’ve personally seen mistakes that cost people thousands of dollars, or more. And there may be a time that you yourself did something wrong but never faced any consequences.

The crisis we face is not one of a handful of conspiracies, but an epidemic of incompetence. And most of the time, the problem is buried machinery of life. It’s whoever hired that idiot who was your supervisor. It’s the committee that failed to notice the recurring problem in the accounting system. It’s the well-intentioned rule that backfired under real-world conditions.

Government is about as the same as anywhere else. Mostly good people trying to do their best in a broken system. But government is huge, which means the problems are bigger.

And if we’re going to solve the problem, we’ve to to start with the truth. The problem is not a conspiracy. That would be easy to solve: round up the bad guys and put the good guys there instead.

The problem is incompetence. If we can admit that, we can begin to make everything better.


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