26 June 2008

Social Policy Bonds - the panoptic view

The stunning indifference of the publishing world (so far) to my draft book on Social Policy Bonds makes me wonder whether the concept has a future. If there were enough diversity in the policymaking world, Darwinian adaptation would see the survival of only the fittest political systems. Social Policy Bonds, or something like them, would have to prove themselves against the alternatives - regardless of whether my ideas ever convince an influential audience or not. There are a couple of flaws in this idea. First, is that I doubt that there is sufficient diversity of political systems - not given the limited time (I think) we have to avoid catastrophe, whether environmental, social or whatever. Evolution of systems has little chance to play a major role.

This contrasts with the role that evolution can play within the Social Policy Bond paradigm: when bonds are issued, people have incentives to explore, refine and try out new ways of doing things, and to exploit only the most successful approaches. There is greater diversity of, for example, different potential solutions to climate change, than there is of different political systems. The combination of diversity and adaptability works within the bond paradigm, but is unlikely to select the paradigm itself against the entrenched existing policymaking systems.

The second reason why I am a little pessimistic about evolution leading to the selection of Social Policy Bonds or any greatly improved policymaking system concerns the definition of 'fittest'. As I understand it, in biological evolution, the fitness that Darwinism favours is reproductive fitness. Someone who leads a miserable, diseased life, has plenty of children, and dies at age 20 is more fit, in this sense, than a healthy, happy but childless person who lives to be 100. Fitness in the policymaking world may have a similarly narrow meaning: a system that is fit in evolutionary terms need not be the one that maximises the well-being of its people, especially in a world where any group of moderately well-off misanthropes can increasingly access technology that can threaten anybody else. (Present-day North Korea for instance.) It so happens that in recent decades, by and large the societies (or coalitions of societies) that were militarily most successful were also the ones that delivered the largest economic surpluses to their population, and that such surpluses were correlated with well-being as well as military success. But there is no inevitability about such correlations. The relationship between economic and military might breaks down if you have a regime as nasty as, say, North Korea. And the link between economic wealth and the power to threaten also breaks down, if you have regimes sufficiently misanthropic, deranged or suicidal.

So, overall, a pessimistic picture. But a very speculative one, and I shall persist for a while in trying to get my ideas at least considered by those with influence.

No comments: