05 May 2011

Why are we not surprised?

Tom Philpott writes:
During the Bush II administration, I used to groan that the closest thing we had to a concerted policy response to climate change was the federal government's slew of goodies for corn-based ethanol. It was a monumentally depressing situation, because propping up corn-derived fuel is expensive and (despite industry hype) doesn't actually do much, if anything at all, to mitigate climate change -- but contributes actively to ecological disasters like the Gulf of Mexico "dead zone." Now, two years into the Obama administration, we still have no concerted policy response to climate change, and the corn ethanol program abides, sucking up resources that could be going to actual green technologies.
What actually determines policy in democracies these days? It's not the long-term good of a nation, a society, or the environment. It's not the needs or wishes of ordinary people. No, nowadays it's essentially the medium-term accoutancy goals of large corporations, as interpreted by the politicians they pay for. Society's growing complexity and, in this instance, genuine scientific uncertainties, are smokescreens behind which powerful interest groups operate, manipulating markets, funding decisions, and the regulatory environment for their selfish purposes. Sometimes these coincide with broader long-term social and environmental goals. Very often they don't. And, increasingly, as the scale on which government and corporations operate grows bigger, the stakes are higher, and the goals of large organizations - corporations or government agencies - actually conflict with those of society. The distance between policies and their effect is too large, the relationships too complex, the time lags too intricate, for anyone except specialists employed by the largest corporations to understand and exploit. The result is often as Mr Philpott indicates: a trashed environment; and a trashed society.

Social Policy Bonds might be the answer. The democratic process needs to be re-orientated to respond to the needs and wishes of ordinary people, not large organizations. Expressing policy goals in terms of meaningful outcomes, as the bonds would do, would encourage more public participation in policymaking. The bonds would also subordinate all activity to society's goals, rather than to those of the organizations supposedly achieving them. Under a Social Policy Bond regime, organizations might grow and prosper, but only if they are efficient at achieving society's goals - a stark contrast with the current setup.

No comments: