02 July 2010

How policy is made

When [Tony] Blair announced that 50 per cent of young people would be able to go to university, the first the civil servant in charge of higher education knew about it was when he heard it on the radio.... Things like that and the scheme to take drunken yobbos to cash points to pay on-the-spot fines were mainly dreamt up in the back of a car when Blair was on his way to a meeting or a TV studio. As quoted by Sue Cameron, 'Notebook', Financial Times, 1 July
What is particularly striking is how, at the highest level of national government, big decisions appear to be made on the basis of reactive, primal emotion. Rationality and the long-term interests of the people politicians are supposed to represent hardly figure at all.
…policies are often adopted on the basis of less careful analysis than their importance warrants, leaving wide room for mistakes and misperceptions. Forces of knowledge destruction are often stronger than those favoring knowledge creation. Hence states have an inherent tendency toward primitive thought, and the conduct of public affairs is often polluted by myth, misinformation, and flimsy analysis. Source (pdf)
This type of thinking is particularly dangerous when military conflict looms. An article about Henry Kissinger's role in US foreign policy quotes him saying to US President George W Bush’s speechwriter, about radical Islamic opponents: ‘We need to humiliate them’. Comments like this abound in high politics. George W Bush himself cried ‘bring ‘em on’ at an early point in the invasion of Iraq. These are not examples of high-level thinking.

One of the benefits of a Social Policy Bond regime would be the clarification of social goals, and the transparency of the process that targets them. Goals would have to be articulated before targeting. It's unlikely that random emotional outbursts would crystallise into policy in such a policymaking environment, however eminent the people who make them.

No comments: