20 September 2010

Incentives for peace

...I hear two of the wisest Israelis I know say quietly that, against all odds, these peace talks will succeed, because "we are all so tired, so weary for peace", then the Ararat test is the one to set. Can Jews and Arabs opt to forget en masse? When misery is a legacy, Peter Preston, 19 September
In truth, we don't really know whether tiredness - or forgetting, for that matter - lead to peace. Society is so complex, there are bound to be occasions when either condition could contribute to war. You might just as easily find an Israeli or Arab say "we are all so tired, so weary of being persecuted by the other side...". Which is not a gloomy hypothesis: it suggests that peace can break out at any time, regardless of expectations or the views of commentators or the opinions of political leaders.

But incentives matter, and the dice are still loaded in favour of protracted Middle East conflict. Entire bureaucracies and career pathways for ambitious politicians, arms companies and men (generally) of so-called religion depend depend on this and other conflicts continuing into the indefinite future. These people aren't not necessarily evil. They, for the most part, didn't deliberately or even consciously perpetuate the conflict or the conditions that keep it going. But they do depend on its continuing.

And that's why the Social Policy Bond principle can break the circle. The politicians, the generals, the men with beards and countless others are reacting rationally to the incentives on offer. Those incentives are geared toward perpetuating conflict, and not only in the Middle East. Changing these incentives so that peace is rewarded instead of penalised could change everything. And a bond regime could do that. The backers of Middle East Peace Bonds don't need to work out who or what is responsible for the conflict; they don't need to devise road maps or put their livelihoods (or lives) on the line. All they need to do is to define the sort of peace they want to see, and pump as much of their own and other people's money into redeeming the bonds once their peace target has been achieved and sustained. It would be up to investors in the bonds to work out the most effective and efficient ways of reaching that target. They would probably deploy a diverse range of approaches; they would have incentives to explore, implement and adapt the more promising of these, and to terminate the failures. The bonds' backers would be recasting the incentives to encourage peace making, and if there were sufficient funds behind them, there's no reason why they would not succeed.

People casually talk about conflicts that are 'intractable'. I say, read up about the 300-year conflict between England and Scotland, then take a look at the Anglo-Scottish border. It's pretty quiet these days.

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