01 March 2006

We care... about selling dog food

In an uncertain, changing world, most decisions are wrong, and success comes not from the inspired visions of exceptional leaders, or prescience achieved through sophisticated analysis, but through small-scale experimentation that rapidly imitates success and acknowledges failure. This disciplined pluralism is the true genius of the market economy. The Centralised Road to Mediocrity, John Kay, 'Financial Times', 28 February

It's unfortunate that this true genius is mainly channelled into improving the sales and profits of private corporations. There's probably more ingenuity lavished on TV commercials for dog food than on solving global problems, such as how to end nuclear proliferation, bring peace to the Middle East or eradicate world poverty. There's certainly a stronger correlation in the private sector between the achievement of a goal and the financial rewards to those who achieve it.

Where centralisation can help is in articulating society's wishes. It's also a good way of raising revenue from countless individuals who cannot themselves do much to bring about social and environmental goals. But it fails when it comes actually to achieving those goals. That's why I propose a Social Policy Bond regime, which would combine the best features of centralised decision making with the pluralism of markets. Under a bond regime, diverse, adaptive approaches would be encouraged - a contrast to the stultifying and failing centralised ways in which we are currently trying to solve global problems. Self-interest would be channelled into the public good and our limited problem-solving resources would be allocated rationally. In absolute terms, dog food commercials would still be entertaining and effective under a Social Policy Bond regime - maybe even more than nowadays - but their relative effectiveness, when compared with campaigns to achieve society's social and environmental goals, would surely diminish.

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