16 June 2009

Ends and means in transport

Though I try to look after myself, eating carefully and going to the gym frequently etc, I now doubt whether Social Policy Bonds will be issued within my lifetime. But, quite apart from the potential of cryonics, I take heart that at least one of the principles underlying the bonds is entering the mainstream; and that is the much deeper thinking about the social and environmental outcomes we want to see. Away from the mainstream media anyway, there is greater clarity about the conflicts between vague, implicit or unstated policy goals and these outcomes. For instance, transport is being seen more and more not as an end in itself, but as a as means to various other ends - with which it might be in conflict. A large part of the problem is that many of the outcomes we want to see are less easily quantified than traffic flow figures and the like, so they fall through the cracks in our highly centralised bureaucracies. John Adams is perfectly aware of these ends, and thinks that as well as asking:
Would you like a car, unlimited air miles and Bill Gate’s level of access to all the electronic modes of travel? Hypermobility: too much of a good thing (pdf)
we should also ask:
Would you like to live in the sort of world that would result if everyone’s wish were granted? Assistance with the answer might be given by rephrasing the question - would you like to live in a dangerous, ugly, bleak, crime-ridden, alienated, anonymous, undemocratic, socially polarized, fume-filled greenhouse threatened by terrorism without precedent?
Quite so. We need absolute clarity about the ends of all social and environmental policy. There might have been strongly causal relationships between means (road links, for example) and ends (more wellbeing) in the past, or at certain stages of societal development, but that doesn't mean they will always apply. Or, as Mr Adams puts it, in relation to transport:
To question the benefits of hypermobility is not to deny freedom and choice. It is to ask people what it is that they really, really want, and to confront them with the fact that their choices have consequences beyond the primary objects of their desires.

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