Revocability and reversibility in societal decision-makingRevocability and reversibility in societal decision-making
Faculty of Applied Economics
Ecological economics. - Amsterdam
85(2013), p. 20-27
University of Antwerp
Reversibility and irreversibility are poorly defined in the decision-making literature. Defining reversibility as the ability to maintain and to restore the functional performance of a system is consistent with thermodynamics; specification of its crucial terms is case dependent. Reversibility is coming in degrees from flexibility, over rigidity to preclusion, with irreversibility as an absolute end. Further substantiating reversibility considers three variables: duration of impacts, revoking costs, and substitutability. Substitutability depends on weights assigned to the strict identity or to the functional performance of something valued. For given degrees of substitutability, revocability of an action is measurable in time-dependent revoking costs. Together with future time and doubt, reversibility sets a three-dimensional context for societal decision-making, revealing domes of expanding complexity. Costbenefit analysis is a useful decision tool at lower complexity but falters at high complexity because there prevail non-monetary trade-offs. A revival and proper use of the concept reversibility are recommended for improved dialog on major societal issues, with climate change outstanding as the case where reversibility could turn into absolute irreversibility. Also shown is the correspondence between reversibility and ecological concepts like resilience, lock-in, tipping points, and others.