23 November 2009

The ideologues are winning

Writing about the collapse of professional journalism, Mark Bowden says:
Work formerly done by reporters and [TV] producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win. This is not a trend likely to change. The story behind the story, Mark Bowden, 'the Atlantic', October
Society is complex and so is policymaking. Ideology simplifies the otherwise impossible process of relating a social problem to its causes. But it's necessarily a distortion of reality; we are in an era now where the ideologues don't communicate with each other. Take any issue - abortion, smoking, healthcare, capital punishment, climate change... - there is plenty of debate, but less and less communication going on. Vested interests fill the gap between complex problems and ordinary people's understanding of them. As Mr Bowden puts it 'the quest for information has been superseded by the quest for ammunition'.

I think this will continue so long as society remains complex and we continue with a policymaking system that seems almost designed to translate the obscurity of the relationships between cause and effect into advantage for vested interests - generally corporations, government agencies - at the expense of the broader public. We need, I believe, to think in terms of desirable social and environmental outcomes. All activities, institutional structures and spending plans should be subordinated to outcomes. A Social Policy Bond regime is, I think, the most efficient way of targeting such outcomes. It would, in essence, contract out the achievement of social goals to those players - public or private sector- who are most efficient at achieving them. The losers? The vested interests who benefit now by gaming the current system; and that includes the ideologues on all sides.

1 comment:

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