11 May 2010

Voting for politicians is an outmoded concept

The three major parties in the recent UK General Election could persuade only 57 percent of the electorate to vote for them. Proponents of Proportional Representation claim that:
...political debate and engagement will be improved if we overhaul the system. This makes their campaigning a displacement activity of epic proportions. They have mistaken a serious political crisis – involving collapsing ideologies, a dearth of big and inspiring ideas, and a gaping chasm between the public and the political parties – as simply a technical problem of how we vote. Their campaign is the equivalent of fiddling while politics burns. The delusions of the electoral reform lobby, Brendan O’Neill, 10 May
I agree with Mr O'Neill. Politics is something of a fiction these days. It's driven by personalities, sound bites, and trivia. At the same time we are failing to address huge, urgent social and environmental challenges. Just as with the world's economic system, politicians and bureaucrats have little incentive to tackle these challenges until they become emergencies. Structural weaknesses are papered over until it's too late. It makes little difference who's in power, and ordinary people know that.

Here's another idea: instead of voting for political party, or for the politician who looks best on tv, or for the ones that avoid real issues in the most convincing manner, how about letting us vote for outcomes? Not for the politicians who say they'll deliver outcomes, or for the political party that, way back in history, did once deliver outcomes, but directly for outcomes. Take, for instance, the goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change. That option was not offered by any of the British political parties. It's not on offer, in fact, anywhere, as a policy for which people can vote. What is on offer are promises made by members of a political caste to do something that might do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn might, but probably will not, do anything significantly to stabilise the climate. Then these promises, however nugatory, are broken anyway.

That's where Social Policy Bonds can play a part. Under a bond regime, the currency of debate would be outcomes rather than political parties or well-meaning but hollow promises. Outcomes are inherently more amenable to the sort of consensus and buy-in that are essential if we are to avoid serious economic, social or environmental problems. And Social Policy Bonds, as well as increasing transparency and stability of targeted goals, would minimise the cost of achieving them. More could be done with society's scarce resources than under the current system. Efficiency, transparency and buy-in: exactly what are lacking in today's system. No wonder, then, that participation in a general election is so low.

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