22 February 2006

Current policymaking is limited

There is no doubt that mankind is taking over the reins of global geochemical balance. Industrial production of fixed nitrogen for fertilizer now matches the natural rate of nitrogen fixation on the planet. Rates of fossil-fuel CO2 emission dwarf the natural rate of CO2 release in volcanic gases. Source

It is a real worry that mankind is now so dominant that the mistakes our governments make threaten our environment as well as our societies. Our intellects cannot cope with the enormous number of variables that make up a single human economy, let alone a global ecosystem. And policymaking, which will decide our ecological fate, has become an almost entirely intellectual process. It excludes insight and imagination and tends to rely overmuch on information that (1) is available and (2) is quantifiable. This is not always where where attention is most urgently needed, but it’s an understandable tendency and, you may ask, what’s the alternative?

My suggestion would be first to thrash out the outcomes that policy is being designed to achieve. Rather than try to anticipate what might, for instance, cause a global environmental catastrophe, I would first try to define the effects such a catastrophe might have, and then issue Social Policy Bonds that target and reward the sustained absence of these effects. Just how a global catastrophe might come about cannot be anticipated by a limited number even of well-meaning government employees with a long time horizon – they are too few and their training is inappropriate. A bond regime would require that they have the humility to recognise this, and contract out the actual achievement of their targeted objective – the maintenance of positive aspects of the status quo – to the private sector.

It might sound outlandish, and indeed the Social Policy Bond idea probably does need discussion and refinement, then small-scale application, before it’s applied on a global level. But the real question is: given that mankind does now control the global environment, how else is it to be managed?

No comments: