18 April 2005

Another day, another set of Mickey Mouse targets

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More Mickey Mouse targets, this time from a typical day in the UK election campaign. The Tories are saying they want to open more children's hospitals, Labour promises shorter waiting lists for women seeing breast cancer specialists, and the Liberal Democrats say they'll spend more on police and community support officers.

This is more run-of-the-mill policymaking as if outcomes don't matter. The parties' Public Relations consultants identify an 'issue' of the day and the politicians think of some policy response. What is missing is the link between the policies they come up with and achievement of a meaningful outcome. What do political parties know about improving children's health outcomes, women's health outcomes, or reducing crime rates? Not much, but our policymakers are not known for their humility. Rather than relinquish their role in dictating how social goals shall be achieved, our politicos impose their own Mickey Mouse targets for peripheral pseudo-goals that may or may not be tenuously linked with what society actually wants to achieve.

But the world is too complex and fast-changing for that. We cannot assume that any single group of people knows the answers. Under a Social Policy Bond regime, the achievement of broad social and environmental goals would be contracted out to the most efficient operators. Bondholders would have powerful incentives to be efficient themselves, or to sell their bonds to more efficient investors. So if, for instance, a government were serious about reducing crime it wouldn't assume that more police or community support officers are the best solution. It would hand over responsibility to bondholders, who might decide that more could be achieved by subsidising employment in some areas, or installing effective alarms and cameras in others, or building youth clubs in still others. We need diverse, responsive, solutions run by people with incentives to perform. We do not need politicians' micro-management, Mickey Mouse pseudo-targets, chosen because of their high profile, or because they can staffed by government agencies, or subject to central control.


Jimmy Jangles said...

Are these policies just simply electioneering? You know, more hospitals sounds like a good thing so it is said regardless of the effect... but then you already knew that.

Ronnie Horesh said...

Jimmy Jangles! Yes, I guess we are complicit in that we think they sound good, so we carry on voting for them. Or we don't, but the non-voters have no representation. Now if policy were expressed as outcomes, then we'd have something meaningful to vote about....