SCLEROTIC [skli-ROT-ik]: hardened, blocking


Most of us are familiar with the term sclerosis as it is used in the medical sense.  It refers to organs which harden and become less effective or even ineffective.  There are various causes for such conditions, and most of the results are damaging and of a serious nature.

Sclerosis is a word which comes from both Latin and Greek origins (New Latin sclērōticus of hardening, equivalent to Greek sklērṓt (ēs) hardness).    The medical implication is that when the organ in question becomes hardened and loses its flexibility, it is unable to function as it was intended.

However…sclerotic is not only a medical term…it can also be applied to systems, such as economic systems.   The European Union’s economic system, for instance, has been sclerotic in the sense that individual nations who struggle with archaic economic practices, become a burden for the wider European economy, causing it to slow down, become ineffective, and find itself in a position of breaking down and potentially causing bankruptcy.  The flexibility needed for a multinational economy to function is far different from a national system which, over the course of centuries, may have adopted practices and procedures which worked (somewhat) in years past, but are disastrous in the new global economy.   It can put pressure on the entire Euro-based  system, calling for bailouts by more stable nations.

In the repetitive case of the Greek economy, which struggles with such an archaic system, nations like Germany and France have been forced to come to the rescue, thus putting their own national economies in jeopardy.   The idea of being a part of a larger system should call for new methods and systemic reform.   But traditional patterns of economics do not have that flexibility, and the European Union has not established a common protocol for each of the member nations.

Systemic sclerosis need not be limited to global or even national bodies, however.  A small business which lacks proper economic protocols to provide for the ebb and flow of money can just as well become sclerotic.   If a company is seasonal and does not provide for the slowing down of cash flow in the “off-season” it can just as well freeze up and find itself in an economic crisis.   The same is true for family economics and even personal finances.

And there are other systems which become sclerotic, as well.  It might be said that the Roman Catholic Church is experiencing some degrees of systemic sclerosis due to the increasing inability  to provide sufficient clerical leadership for congregations.   The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rhode Island, for instance, recently announced that there will be 40+ retirements of clergy in the Diocese over a coming period when there are only 10 candidates for ordination anticipated.   It is only a matter of time before that situation will call for more closing of congregations, and weakening of the strength of the Church in a significant Diocese.

The Boston Red Sox are experiencing a somewhat sclerotic season with a bullpen which seems less and less able to provide the pitching strength required to be a winning team.   Local municipalities throughout the country are faced with increasing problems of funding needed programs such as infrastructure repair and replacement due to the magnanimous pension systems created when the economy of local communities was stronger.   The sclerotic budgeting  which results is counter-productive to community growth and the ability of the municipalities to attract new sources of funding.

Sclerotic is a word which lends itself to much of the reporting that finds its way to the front pages of the print media and the lead stories of television and radio.   It is a systemic word, capable of tagging issues which slow down, impede, or even destroy methods of support.


Cartoon Credit:  Mike Keefe (Denver Post)

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