10 July 2010

Government by television

One of the main policy drivers, clear to all, but rarely acknowledged, is the urge not to look bad on television. Failure is acceptable, provided it doesn't take the form of tv footage.

A Social Policy Bond regime would be different. Objectives would be chosen in a calm, rational manner. Unlike under the current regime, they would be stable over time. Stable objectives would mean that rational allocation of resources would not be undermined by high-profile events. For instance, in the aftermath of a tragic rail disaster in London that resulted in the deaths of 40 people the UK Government came under considerable pressure to order the installation of an automatic braking system for trains that go through red signals. Cold calculations showed that this would cost around $21 million for each life that the system could be expected to save. This is around five times the figure that the UK Treasury used as its benchmark valuation of a human life, which means that if the government had succumbed to pressure to install the automatic braking system it would have diverted funds from more cost-effective life-saving projects, and so caused the loss of more lives than it would have saved.

A Social Policy Bond regime that had as its objective the maximising of the number of lives saved per government dollar would not waver in the face of spectacular one-off events.

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