19 April 2006

The law of social diversity

It appears that as in the natural world, our social world requires symbiotic and complex relationships to produce a healthy system. ... "Now why should that be? [Steve] Rayner [of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory] asks. "If you have only hierarchy, like in most governments and in business, and something goes wrong or you encounter a new situation that's not working, the only solution available to you is more hierarchy."
This quote (and the title of this post) is from Naked Ape to Superspecies, by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel. More and more, it seems to me, our way of doing things at the national or global level is a projection of the way our individual intellects work. We find it difficult to relinquish control, whether to markets, the 'vibrant civic society' that Adam Smith saw as a precondition for successful markets or, at the individual level, to our instincts or insight. The complexity of our social and environmental problems is simply too great for a single organisation, however large, to grasp. We need diverse, adaptive solutions, not top-down, one-size-fits-all, fossilised approaches. Humankind has tremendous ingenuity, but much of it is devoted to frivolous pursuits - tv commercials for dogfood - at a time when our planet and social systems face alarming crises.

Social Policy Bonds would channel our ingenuity into the public good. People would have powerful incentives to solve social problems, and their rewards would correlate with their success in doing so. Social Policy Bonds, by targeting and rewarding the achievement of targeted outcomes would stimulate the necessarily diverse and adapative solutions to our complex problems. Governments that issue the bonds would relinquish control over how to solve these problems, but would be responsible for deciding which problems to solve and for raising the revenue with which to reward successful problem-solvers.

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