10 January 2011

The unimportance of being right...

...if your organisation is a monopoly. Discussing a book by Richard Aldrich about about the UK's intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, Bernard Porter write:
The list Aldrich gives of GCHQ's...failures of prediction doesn't make for comfortable reading: the Korean War; the Russian atomic bomb; the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia; the Yom Kippur war; the rise of Middle Eastern terrorism...; the overthrow of the shah of Iran; the Falklands invasion; the end of the Cold War; the attack on the Twin Towers; and the non-existence of WMDS [in Iraq]. Thank God for Traitors (gated), Bernard Porter, 'London Review of Books', 18 November 2010
Another example of policy as if outcomes didn't matter: these agencies secure funding merely because they secured it in the past. Like agribusiness and wealthy landowners, or large corporations in general, the subsidies these organizations receive go to support their own self-perpetuation. It's the Special Interest State, and ordinary people aren't special interests. We urgently need to re-align policy priorities so that the undoubtedly hard-working and well-intentioned people employed by GCHQ and the others, have incentives to do more useful work instead.

Social Policy Bonds are one possible way of bring about that realignment. Under a bond regime organizations wouldn't receive funding just because they received it the previous year. Funding decisions would be made by investors who would be rewarded for choosing only the most efficient agencies. The current system allows large corporations to subvert the market and government agencies to monopolise the supply of many public goods and services. Efficiency, effectiveness and the public interest come very low on the list of priorities. A bond regime would be entirely different. It would inextricably tie rewards to outcomes. And those outcomes - in contrast to the current system - would be meaningful to ordinary people, rather than special interests.

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