Cracks in the system

Cracks in the system are weaknesses or flaws in a system

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Explore more: Lesson #560
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Cracks in the system

We’ve got a good expression today: it’s “cracks in the system.”

A crack in the system is a weakness or a flaw in a system. If there are “cracks in the system,” then a system or organization does not work as well as it should. And if you identify cracks in the system, you should try to fill them. You should try to make the system better. Because if you leave cracks in the system, then there could be big problems down the line .

Silicon Valley Bank just failed—it was the second-biggest bank failure in American history. And it happened just now, just last month. We’re not in a recession. There wasn’t a big financial crisis. The bank met all the regulatory requirements. On a Thursday, its stock was worth $200 per share; on a Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. its stock was worth zero and it had been taken over by the government. Shut down overnight.

A lot of people woke up on Friday and said, “Huh? What?” The sixteenth-biggest bank in the country failed overnight. And—get this—it met all the regulatory requirements it was supposed to meet. It had enough capital, it had enough liquidity. As far as the government was concerned, it was in fine health. Until it wasn’t.

In hindsight, we can see there were cracks in the system. Silicon Valley Bank had some weaknesses that it never had to disclose, and that the government never monitored. The details are complex, too complex to discuss now. But they weren’t unheard-of risks.

Listen. A bank should not fail overnight in a strong economy. This is just not something that should happen. We have systems to prevent this. But there were cracks in the system. There were weaknesses in the system, and that led to negative consequences.

The pandemic exposed some cracks in the mental health care system , probably around the world but especially in the U.S. More than half of American counties don’t have a single psychiatrist. A lot of counties are sparsely-populated; you might have to drive hours to see a therapist who has an opening.

And that’s if you have insurance. A lot of people can’t get the time off work, live too far away, can’t afford to pay, or live in areas without enough practitioners. And the problems are worse if they need specialty care for, say , addictions.

These problems always existed. But the pandemic exposed cracks in the system. The pandemic made people see and recognize the cracks in the system, the weaknesses in the system. Why? For one thing, more people needed mental health care, so more people were thinking about it.

For another, people in cities couldn’t go into the office in pandemic times—so it made them think more about how difficult it is for people in rural areas to go into an office in normal times.

Here’s another example. The U.S. government funds a cash assistance program for the neediest residents. It’s called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF. And a family is eligible for TANF if it has a low income. So if your family has a very low income, if you’re really struggling, you’re eligible for TANF.

I said eligible. The depressing fact—a shameful fact really—is that only 28 percent of families eligible for this benefit actually get it. That means that out of every ten families who have the right to get this cash assistance, only three actually get the money in their bank account. Talk about cracks in the system: the government passed a benefit, we all agree this benefit should be offered, and I bet ten out of ten needy families want the money, but fewer than three out of ten get it.

Why? One, people don’t know about it. Two, it’s hard to get. You need to fill out forms with a pen, go to a government office in person during business hours, whatever. The government agency that gives out the money might not have enough caseworkers, so you might not be able to get an appointment even if you wanted one. If you don’t have a bank account, it’s harder to get the money. And so on .

These are cracks in the system, weaknesses in the system. The system was designed to get money into the pockets of the neediest people to reduce poverty. The money is there. It’s approved, ready to go. And yet it doesn’t wind up getting delivered due to cracks in the system.

Quote of the Week

Here’s a quote of the week to go along with today’s topic. “Self-acceptance is truly a heroic act.” That’s by Nathaniel Branden, he was a psychotherapist and an expert on self-esteem. “Self-acceptance is truly a heroic act,” says Nathaniel Branden. That’s the quote of the week…

See you next time!

…and that brings us to the end of today’s Plain English. You know, you might try WoeBot just for some English practice, too. It’s not a bad thing to get a little extra training or a supplement to what you know about mental health. But it’s a good opportunity to practice reading and responding to questions in English.

I think we’re learning these days that chat apps and artificial intelligence are very powerful and have some impressive capabilities. But they’re a complement to, not a replacement for, real human interactions. And that’s why we like to make things personal here at Plain English. You can ask ChatGPT what a word means—that’s fine. But here you get the context, you get stories, and the way you learn here makes you think. And when you think about topics in English, you are much more likely to remember them.

Coming up on Thursday: activated charcoal is everywhere. It’s a real medicine; it’s also a supplement. It’s added to toothpaste, soap, even cocktails. But what is this dark gray stuff? And is it any good for you? That’s what we’ll explore on Thursday. See you then.

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Story: Woebot