07 June 2011

We need to target long-term goals

Democratic governments these days devote much of their energy to kicking problems down the road, for solving at some time in the future that's uncertain, but beyond the lifetime of their administration. It's a pattern. Nuclear weapons pile up; budget deficits rise; environmental challenges are evaded.

On reflection, it's not so surprising. The very idea of a stable society, one that can identify with its future members, has been undermined by the pace of technological change and porous borders. We vote for short-term fixes. Young people can't vote, and nor can threatened non-human species.

But we do have moments of clarity and rationality. We know that certain broad outcomes are desirable. Number one, most likely, is the survival of the human race in the face of natural or man-made catastrophe. Others would include the maintenance of a decent financial and physical environment for future generations. Sadly, our political campaigns are focused almost exclusively on who shall govern us for the next few years. We can choose one person over another (or one party over another), on the basis of what they claim to believe and the activities they promise to carry out over their few years in power. The link between politicians' promises and their activities is tenuous. That between their promises and short- or medium-term outcomes even more so. And long-term outcomes - the sort that will profoundly affect the lives of future generations - are rarely anything other than a by-product of the accumulated decisions. Distracted by the short term, we fatalistically surrender discussion of the long term to the religious, the chiliasts and the cultists; few of whom care dispassionately about the well-being of the entire planet, or the whole of humanity.

That's where Social Policy Bonds could enter the picture. Existing political activities could be subsumed within a set commitments to achieve society's broad, long-term goals. Under a bond regime, we could explicitly target such objectives as the survival of human beings and the avoidance of catastrophe. The bonds, because they allow the explicit targeting of such very long-term goals, would shift the focus of politics towards the well-being of future generations. We all know that such a shift is essential, but it's also clear that current politics is rigidly, almost obsessively, concerned with the short term.

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