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How To Avoid The Surrogation Trap
Back in the Soviet Union, ball bearings were a big deal.
You see, as a general rule, the more industrial machines you were building, the more ball bearings you needed to use in the machines. So the number of ball bearings being made was considered a good indicator of how well the overall manufacturing sector was doing.
The more ball bearings being produced, the more machines being built; the more machines being built, the better the economy overall; the better the economy overall, the better the Glorious Worker’s Republic, and so on.
So anytime your friendly, local Commissar would ask you how things were going, you just had to quote him the amazingly high number of ball bearings being produced, and he’d smile and give you his thumbs-up. Next month when your Communist Party gift hamper arrived, instead of the usual black bread and hard cheese, there’d be Scotch whiskey and Austrian chocolate and American cigarettes and French foie gras.
Go, Comrade, Go!
It’s easy to see where this is going… a few years of ball bearing fixation and well, the had tons, TONS of ball bearings piling up to the ceiling, but little in the way of what people actually needed or wanted, like white bread, coffee, toothpaste, furniture, household appliances, shoes, cars, or blue jeans.
Just all ball bearings one could possibly need, Comrade.
This phenomenon is commonly known as the Lucas Critique: as soon as something is seen as a successful metric, people will try to game it.
The Soviets had ball bearings.
In 1990s Silicon Valley, they had Internet hits.
In present-day advertising, they have social media followers and all that “Influencer” palaver.