16 December 2009

Subsidising planetary destruction - the story continues

Subsidyscope researchers found that non-users of the highway system contributed $70 billion for nationwide road construction and maintenance in 2007. Source
That refers to the federal US highway system, and works out at about 35 percent of the total. This amount excludes the costs of accidents, air and noise pollution, and the impacts on wildlife. It appears that state and municipal roads in the US are even more heavily subsidised.

Social Policy Bonds would mean contracting out the achievement of social goals to the private sector. Two crucial points relevant to roading are: (1) clarifying whether cheap, easy transport is an end in itself or a means to ends that would be better targeted more direction, and (2) transparency, which in this context is about making it clear to people where there taxes are going. In short, it's quite possible that people are willing to pay for cheap roading, even if many of us are nonusers. We might even be willing to shore up reckless banking behaviour, or massive agribusiness corporations, car and truck manufacturers and all the rest. But we should be given the option. The current system doesn't allow that: by emphasising process, institutional structures and spending, regulations and legalisms, it tends to exclude ordinary people from policymaking. In contrast, Social Policy Bonds would have transparency built in. A more ethical, as well as more efficient, way of achieving social goals, I think.

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