30 March 2006

Gesture politics or meaningful outcomes?

The Kyoto treaty is ... the quintessential expression of the higher multilateralism: the point of Kyoto is not to do anything about "climate change" but to give the impression of doing something about it, at great expense. If climate change is a pressing issue and if the global economy is responsible - two pretty big "ifs" - then Kyoto expends enormous (diplomatic) energy and (fiscal) resources doing nothing about it: even if those who signed on to it actually complied with it instead of just pretending to, all that would happen is that by 2050 the treaty would have reduced global warming by 0.07 degrees - an amount that's statistically undetectable within annual climate variation. Source
Thank you Mark Steyn, for stating the obvious. Sometimes I think I'm the only one inveighing against the gesture politics that manages to waste resources, polarise issues and achieve nothing. I think climate change is more pressing than does Mr Steyn, but Climate Stability Bonds would be the least-cost way of dealing with it regardless: the market would decide how much should be spent on stabilising the climate, and where to direct resources. Under Kyoto, it's a handful of bureaucrats who would make those decisions based entirely on today's fossilised scientific knowledge.

As Mr Steyn says, it's not just climate change. When it comes to many other policy decisions, outcomes that are meaningful to real people seem to be the last thing that's considered. Decisions are made by politicians or bureaucrats, and they embody political or bureaucratic goals: retention of power and institutional survival, first and foremost. There's a disconnect, in our complex, highly specialised societies between the government and the governed. In New Zealand and possibly other countries, the proliferation of ministerial policy advisors and tacticians, and the effective downgrading of the civil service, mean that strategic policy formation insofar as it happens at all, is more and more done by the politically committed; that is, by people whose incentive is to serve narrow party political interests, rather than the national interest. Politicians are becoming a caste, a priesthood, from which ordinary mortals feel excluded. Symptomatic are electoral apathy and cynicism.

A Social Policy Bond regime is one way in which ordinary people might reclaim interest in policy formation. Such a regime would take as its starting point broad meaningful social and outcomes.

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