18 October 2009

Everyone's doing it...

...I mean, misdirecting or abusing taxpayer funds (sigh):
The [UK] Department for International Development (DfID) claims to be “leading the UK government’s fight against world poverty”. However, by 2011 it will have spent over £1bn of taxpayers’ money on propaganda, according to Fake Aid, a new report from International Policy Network. Recipients of this money include trade unions and other partisan political organisations in the UK. Examples include:

--£1.2 million given to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) since 2003 for activities including: lobbying, hiring new staff and a Caribbean-themed party to celebrate “International Women’s Day” in the UK. DfID also paid the TUC to hold lessons in how to apply for DfID funds.

--£300,000 to the National Union of Teachers to “enable them [teachers] to become global agents of change”. ...

The report highlights the waste of DfID funds on political campaigning while a child dies every 30 seconds from malaria in poor countries. “The money DfID is wasting in this year alone could in principle treat 230 million people suffering from malaria,” concluded [one of the report’s authors, IPN's Julian Harris. Over £1bn of UK foreign “aid” used to spread propaganda, International Policy Network
Our government agencies are too removed from the world of ordinary people to attend to their stated remits. They are far more concerned with self-perpetuation. In this, they are like any other large organization. Big private sector corporations are not inherently different; there is an element of competition which helps to keep them honest, but once they have become big they often find it more profitable to manipulate government regulations, and subvert competition and free markets, than to engage with them. It's a flaw intrinsic to any large institution: government agencies, corporations, universities, trade unions etc. Perhaps it's built into our psychology: words, thinking, concepts and ideals so often screen us from reality, creating a self-perpetuating secondary reality that separates us from the truth. At the individual level, meditation, music, humour of breathing techniques can all be used to steer us back to the real world. But what to do with organizations?

Perhaps Social Policy Bonds, with their insistent emphasis on meaningful outcomes as the measure of success, are the answer. Under a bond regime, all activities would be subordinated to social and environmental goals. The bonds would build the need for efficiency in achieving stated outcomes into an organization's everyday thinking, as well as longer-term projects. Organizational thinking then would become exactly congruent with societal thinking. The DfID grants described above, and far more wasteful expenditures, would be unthinkable under a bond regime. Bondholders who engaged in inefficient or corrupt spending would quickly find themselves outbid for their bonds by more efficient operators. And 'efficiency' in a Social Policy Bond regime means efficiency in achieving social goals - not simply in managing to keep an organization going.

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