29 July 2005

The need for over-arching objectives

If we aggregate individuals' and corporations' actions, we don't necessarily move closer to achieving society's goals. Government, at least in democracies, is supposed to do that, by creating a legislative and regulatory environment that restrains anti-social behaviour, by taxation and transfer payments and by the provision of public goods.

Corporations (and individuals) we assume, always act in their own best interests, and these can conflict with social goals. But corporations, like governments, can become so big and cumbersome that they lose sight of their own objectives. Short-term interests predominate:

Randy Hayes ... once told me of of a talk he had with the uber-CEO of the Mitsubishi Company. Hayes said he was able to convince this CEO that Mitsubishi's program of global devastation for short-term profit was not in the long-term interest of either the planet or the company. Hayes achieved this moment of clarity only to have it followed by a far larger and more monstrous clarity for both himself and the Mitsubishi Head: Mr Mitsubishi had no idea how to change the practices of the company, because the logic that drove the company was both systemic and autonomous. Curtis White, The middle mind: why consumer culture is turning us into the living dead, Penguin Books, 2005 (page 98)
Even the short-term interests of parts of a single corporation, then, can be in conflict with the long-term survival of the corporation itself, let alone wider society. When corporations - and governments - are small in relation to the damage they can cause, then perhaps there's no urgent need to change the system. But when, as now, corporations and governments are huge, society needs to agree on explicit social and environmental targets. If we don't we shall find that our basic social and environmental needs go unmet.

A Social Policy Bond regime would begin by defining broad social and environmental goals. At a global level, these could include conflict reduction targets, or the avoidance of global environmental catastrophe. We have no intrinsic, inherent mechanism for avoiding social or environmental disasters. Unless we explicitly target the survival of our species and the health of our planet, and reward people for achieving them, we are very likely to lose them.

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