10 February 2009

Peak everything

If this nation [ie the US] wants to survive without an intense political convulsion, there's a lot we can do, but none of it is being voiced in any corner of Washington at this time. We have to get off of petro-agriculture and grow our food locally, at a smaller scale, with more people working on it and fewer machines. This is an enormous project, which implies change in everything from property allocation to farming methods to new social relations. But if we don't focus on it right away, a lot of Americans will end up starving, and rather soon. Jim Kunstler
You don't have to accept the entire Kunstler thesis to believe that huge adjustments in the way we organize ourselves are going to be necessary in a world of climate change, peak oil and peak many other things that we take for granted. I'm not at all sure that western governments can anticipate any necessary changes and guide us toward them. There are flaws in our political systems, to which I have alluded many times: notably their favouring of large, global corporates at the expense of ordinary people and the environment; and the incentives they face to concentrate on visual, fast-moving crises at the expense of deeper, more urgent problems. But there are also the daunting complexities in our social organization that make the effects of any large policy action impossible to identify.

This is where Social Policy Bonds could play a useful role. If we want to avoid widespread starvation - or nuclear catastrophe or calamitous climate change - then we can admit that we don't know how best to do so, but issue bonds that will motivate people to explore and implement policies that will avoid disastrous outcomes. The complexity of our society and the many huge challenges we face, in my view, point toward an outcome-based approach: one, such as Social Policy Bonds, that subordinates all our current vested interests and dysfunctional institutions to targeted social and environmental outcomes. Successful policy at this juncture is about encouraging diverse, adaptive initiatives, rather than continuing with the tried, tested and failed policies that have led us into this impasse.

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