04 August 2006

Social Policy Bonds are not utopian

The suggestion that, as under a Social Policy Bond regime, we might contract out the achievement of such goals as basic health and literacy, crime reduction, climate stability or world peace sometimes scares people. They wonder whether I'm serious. I have to remind them that a government that issues Social Policy Bonds would be contracting out only the achievement of these goals. It would still be defining the goals and raising the revenue that would ultimately pay for their achievement. Of course there would be difficulties: defining what we want as a society could be problematic; and expressing such goals in quantifiable terms even more so. But the comparison I'd wish people to make is not with some utopian ideal, but with the current system. And rather than look at the conceptual difficulties, let's look at what's actually wrong.

It seems very likely that we now inhabit a planet on the brink of environmental catastrophe. Nuclear proliferation, even that which has already occurred, is already a baleful threat. At national level the wealthiest countries in the history of humankind are blighted by soaring crime rates, large rises in mental illness, and other more intangible but no less real concerns. Moving away from the rich countries into the developing world...ok, you get the idea. It's not just that there are problems; it's that their scale and severity threaten large human populations and the current policymaking machinery is too slow and cumbersome to do much about them, even when it's well-intentioned.

Social Policy Bonds, I repeat, have their own difficulties but they do provide a means by which human ingenuity and creativity can be channelled into achievement of public goals. A bond regime would inextricably link rewards to achievement of these goals. The possibilities, once we have a system where benefits are correlated with the public interest are immense. Today, in contrast...well:
Zidane's head butt spawns unlikely pop hit

Three weeks after France’s defeat in the World Cup, the infamous moment when national footballing hero Zinedine Zidane lost his temper has been immortalised in the form of an unlikely hit song called Head Butt. The Times, 31 July

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