"Not TV or illegal drugs, but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities ... One can drive today for miles through American suburbs and never glimpse a human being on foot in a public space, a human being outside a car or a truck ... While people possess a community, they usually understand that they can't afford to lose it; but after it is lost, gradually even the memory of what was lost is lost. In miniature, this is the malady of Dark Ages." Jane Jacobs, Dark Age Ahead, Random House, New York, 2004.
Whenever I argue against car driving, motorists are quick to say that it represents market forces and freedom of choice. It doesn’t. The enthronement of the car in our societies is a result of government making decisions for us. The very high social and environmental costs of motoring are not paid by drivers. Oil extraction, refining and transport also exact a heavy environmental toll. Roads are built with taxpayer funds. Some argue that the funds extracted from road users exceed the costs of building and maintaining highways. Even if this were true, it ignores indirect costs. But the bigger point is that government, influenced by powerful corporate interests, has chosen to build roads; in doing so it has determined the type of society we live in. If we then find it impossible to live without roads, and too expensive or dangerous to travel in any other way, that is a result of government’s favouring a particular form of development. It is the essence of the anti-market approach. If people really want roads they should build them on their own initiative and negotiate compensation with those who suffer as a result of their preference.
What has all this to do with Social Policy Bonds? A bond regime would be entirely outcome-focused. It would aim to achieve outcomes that are meaningful to real people, as against corporate bodies. For natural persons, more transport is not an end in itself but a means to an end. As Jane Jacobs points out, many of the things that do matter to people are destroyed by road transport. Genuine markets, arising from the wishes and concerns of real people, would assign them more significance than the current consortium of big business and government.