08 June 2007

G8 and the protestors

The current Economist, discussing the G8 Summit:

The main message of the protesters was rejection of policy-making that kow-tows to “global capitalism”. As helicopters roared overhead, and water cannon readied for action, they pleaded for more debt forgiveness for the world’s poorest countries.... Non-governmental organisations said the G8 pledges fell short. Oxfam, an aid group, argued that the $60 billion proffered to combat disease added only $3 billion a year to what had already been promised up to 2010. Greenpeace, an environmental group, said that despite the inclusion of America in work to reduce emissions, the Bush administration was “as far away as ever” from agreeing such reductions itself.

I have some sympathy for the protestors. I am skeptical about debt forgiveness: presumably the protestors would like the majority of people in the poorest countries to have a much improved standard of living. So would I, but I don’t think debt forgiveness is a particularly useful way of achieving that; nor do I think that the sums disbursed to combat disease, whatever the total, will be allocated with any great efficiency. I’d prefer to see direct targeting of important goals by something like Women’s Literacy Bonds, rather than a prejudgement that the best way of getting there is to let (mostly) corrupt or incompetent governments off the hook. I am just as skeptical about top-down government-mandated efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Again, I think targeting climate change itself has advantages over Kyoto. Nevertheless, I sympathise with the protestors, because I think they feel disenfranchised by a political system that has too many distortions and is too remote to take on board what most people actually want. Perverse subsidies (for agriculture or oil, to give two examples), against which I have railed in previous posts, are the most obvious sign of this. Nuclear proliferation is another.

From the preface to Failed States, by Noam Chomsky:

[S]ome of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. [One] is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.

One of the virtues of a Social Policy Bond regime, as I see it, is that by targeting outcomes it would bring concerned people and organizations back into the fold. It could reconnect ordinary people with their political system, which at the moment feels remote and unresponsive to their needs. There’s nothing inevitable about this growing gap between natural persons and their policymakers. It’s largely a result of a bias in favour of big business; a self-reinforcing favoritism that a reformulation of political goals in terms of outcomes could do much to correct. Whatever one thinks of the protestors against ’global capitalism’, it’s difficult to argue that their voices would be heard under the current regime if they took up conventional politics.

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