25 February 2009

Losing diversity

George Steiner writes:
I have conjectured, without being able to offer proof, that the generative justification for the 'crazy' number and fragmentation of tongues - more than four hundred in India alone - is analogous to the Darwinian model of adaptive niches. ... It is the seemingly wasteful plethora of languages which allows us to articulate alternatives to reality, to speak freedom within servitude to programme plenty within destitution. ... Hence the truly irreparable loss, the diminution in the chances of man, when a language dies. ... The extinction of languages which we are now witnessing - dozens pass annually into irretrievable silence - is precisely parallel to the ravaging of fauna and flora, but with greater finality. George Steiner, My Unwritten Books (pages 59-60)
I am actually in favour of a monoculture of outcomes: food, clothing, shelter and security for all. What doesn't work, and indeed can be disastrous, is the sort of policy monoculture which insists that, for example, human wellbeing can be achieved only in the form and by the methods conceived by any single organization, well meaning or not. It is this thinking that gave us murderous ideologies, the piling up of nuclear weapons or our dangerously absolute dependence on fossil fuels.

A Social Policy Bond regime would actively stimulate diversity; in the Darwinian sense and with a Darwinian result. It would target broad social and environmental goals and let the private sector, in all its diversity, work out how best to achieve them. Diverse, yes, and also adaptive: unlike government bodies, investors in Social Policy Bonds would have every incentive to abandon failing programmes. Only efficient projects would survive. And, in stark contrast to today's world, under a bond regime private sector goals would be exactly the same as those of society.

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