HIPAA Survival Guide Newsletter, April 2021

Introduction

History does not crawl it leaps. Incrementalism is just historians re-writing history after the fact. Compliance (and the world) is about to experience a Black Swan event that meets all the criteria—an unpredictable or unforeseen event, typically one with extreme consequences. Covid-19 is not a Black Swan because we have had worldwide epidemics in the past. The January 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol appears to be a Black Swan event, but it wasn’t. There was plenty of intelligence the predicted the possibility of this event and was simply ignored.

An alien invasion of sentient beings’ orders of magnitude more militarily powerful than humans would qualify. We use hyperbole here to make the point. Any 10-sigma event (10 standard deviations from the mean of our beloved bell curve would probably qualify). Finding a human being that was a hundred feet tall would also qualify, except that though rare, the impact of such an event might be limited (unless of course their progeny were equally as tall).

You get it. A Black Swan is an extremely rare event that has a huge impact in the world, or our worlds (there are certainly personal Black Swan events that happen; for example, winning the lotto twice in a lifetime).

This Black Swan

Before “identifying” what we posit as the next Black Swan (likely an aggregate of events) let’s take a walk down economic history’s memory lane. Every first-year economics student is taught that there have been a finite set of epochal economic changes during humans’ short history on Earth.

  1. We moved from hunter-gathers to civilizations that mastered agriculture and therefore could sustain elites that did not have to work for their own food.
  2. The Agriculture Age gave way to the Industrial Age upon the invention of the steam engine, the automobile, electricity, etc. Power was still concentrated in the hands of the few, but it was more widespread.
  3. The industrial age gave way to the Computer Age, with mainframe computers owned by governments and large organizations used for things as trivial as keeping the books, to breaking enemy cryptology during world war II.
  4. With the advent of personal computers, the Computer Age gave way to the Information Age, a significantly small “d” democratizing event that allowed “average” human beings to create, as Steve Jobs would have it, “insanely great things.”
  5. One of those insanely great things was the advent of the global communications network that we call the Internet—sure personal computers did not create the Internet, but they enabled it.

We can quibble about the last three economic “ages,” but there is one thing that we cannot quibble about, and that is the acceleration of the rate of economic change. The current gene pool is likely not well wired to handle this much change this fast. Our future gene pool will, by definition. Darwin is alive and well.

So, what do we posit as the next Black Swan? An aggregate set of events, a long time in the making, triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic going past the tipping point, where our entire economic underpinnings will be challenged and likely turned on their heads. It won’t be socialism; it won’t be Darwinian capitalism; it can’t possibly be a society where all the wealth aggregates to the top 1%. It is going to have to be an economic system that we painfully must invent over the remainder of our lifetimes and beyond.

Further, if past is prologue, there will be blood. We are talking about a new economic world order that we can’t even imagine yet, let alone name. Power is never abdicated without a fight. There will be civil uprisings but no civil wars. All the decisive power lies on one side of the equation. We will be forced to change because our collective survival depends on it. Different tribal lines will be drawn.

Whence Compliance?

It is not going away anytime soon. In fact, as we have discussed in other writings its prestige is likely to grow. There will be more regulations not less. We have proven that left to our own devices we are quite capable of destroying free markets, the planet, and democracy itself. Compliance is simply a form of self-governance. There are criminal laws to protect and/or exact punishment for the most heinous of crimes. There are other criminal laws that have no rationale or justification for existence, except as an anachronism of a time gone by never to return. There will be more regulatory compliance because that is one of the most important tools, we have to encourage normative conduct (with whatever moral bearings we imbue it with).

We must normalize, through compliance, the kinds of behavior that we want and that we expect. We must define, then elevate, the compliance profession from a necessary evil to a well-respected profession. Given our starting point, this will take a generation of leaders to achieve, and unfortunately, many more lost lives. We are all culpable. However, we can also all contribute to a world where our children will appreciate our struggle, and hopefully, once again live better lives than we have.