14 January 2009


Citing work by US psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson, Elizabeth Farrelly writes about 'miswanting', which is:
our tendency to want all the wrong things, things that are wrong not just morally or environmentally but even in their capacity to deliver the satisfaction they promise. ... [M]iswanting occurs because we are hardwired to mispredict both the intensity and the duration of our emotional response to getting what we desire. Blubberland: the dangers of happiness
We make better decisions when we are not distracted by the salience factor:
Salience is the intensity or vividness of perception that makes us much more susceptible to the immediate objects of our senses - to what we see and feel - than things we abstractly know.
The implications for the way we live are profound, not least in policymaking, which is often diverted from a rational course by the immediacy of televisual events. So our oceans are overfished, because the plight of small fishing communities is much more salient than the environmental catastrophe of depleted seas - and, indeed, the long-term prospects for the fishing communities themselves. It's par for the course when policy is expressed in terms other than meaningful outcomes. Government funding and legislation can all too easily be diverted into compelling causes at the expense of our long-term goals. We, for instance, still subsidising not only fisheries, but large agri-business corporates and fossil fuel extraction and consumption.

A Social Policy Bond regime would be far less susceptible to the manipulation of the salience factor. We might still choose to subsidise the destruction of the seas or large cash transfers from the poor to the enormously wealthy, for example, but it would have to be done with our eyes open, and with some degree of consensus. Somehow, I think that our collective consciousness, would find more deserving causes.

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