12 January 2009

Getting away with it

Politicians and government bureaucrats can always escape or deflect censure for their failed policies because of the complexity of our social system. In the same way economists - public or private sector - can excuse their failure to foresee catastrophic events:
But if a doctor repeatedly deemed patients to be healthy that were soon found to have Stage Four cancer that was at least six years in the making, the doctor would be a likely candidate for a malpractice suit. Yet we have heard nary a peep about the almost willful blindness of economists to the crisis-in-its-making, with the result that their central role in policy development remains beyond question. Why so little self-recrimination among economists?
To that end, all in positions of power and influence have a vested interest, no doubt manifested sub-consciously, in increasing the complexity our social organization. In that way we can be sure that their mistakes, or favouring of chosen sectors or corporations, can always be shrouded in obscurity. Economists often talk of the 'tragedy of the commons', but the tragedies occur not when ownership of a resource is undefined, but rather when it's hidden, constantly changing or otherwise too complicated to ascribe to any accountable person. If we are going to have accountability for social and environmental failure, we need to bring some clarity into the policymaking process. I think this can best be done by rewarding meaningful outcomes, perhaps by issuing Social Policy Bonds. (This is one reason, incidentally, why I dislike proportional representation, at least in the form that it takes in New Zealand: the electoral process itself is unnecessarily complicated for most ordinary people, while the horse-trading that goes on between parties after the election is also inaccessible to most. I'm open to persuasion about this, however.)

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