27 October 2008

Personal grooming costs versus outcomes

It's not surprising that the US election debates and commentary centre on questions of character, judgement, image and spin. The correlation between what candidates say and what they do is almost nil. Does anybody now remember the current President's talk of 'compassionate conservatism'? So people decide for whom to vote on the basis of factors that should be extraneous: past associations, church membership, personal grooming expenses, and the rest. Politics itself has diverged: on the one hand the rhetoric is simple-minded, bite-sized and calculated in every respect. On the other, actual policymaking is arcane, obscure and incomprehensible to outsiders.

In the middle of all this are ordinary people, voters, our children, the environment, and other aspects of the commons. Our politics doesn't address really speak to such interests, and it's becoming systemically less capable of doing so.

One solution, and the one I advocate, is to express policy goals in terms of outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people. Not simply the sound-bites intended for public consumption, as under the current system; but policies themselves. Rather than, for instance, allow our leaders to invade countries on grounds that turn out to be spurious, we should target such goals as absence of use of weapons of mass destruction, or the elimination of terrorism directly. Under a Social Policy Bond regime, these goals could then be contracted out to the market, which would have incentives to achieve and sustain them at minimum cost. Similarly, we should see assistance to particular sectors, whether they be agriculture or banking as what they are - subsidies to rich corporations. Under a bond regime, it would still be possible to divert scarce resources from the poor to the rich, but we'd do it with our eyes open. Expressing policy in terms of goals means that we should have explicitly to vote for such policies before they can be implemented.
--Sales of my book have been minimal. If you have any suggestions as to how the Social Policy Bond idea, or the broader Policy as if Outcomes Mattered concept can be promulgated I'd be grateful to have them.

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