19 September 2011

All over the place

With economics as with society and the environment, policymakers are confused. Their only consistent objective seems to be to hang on to power. On issue after issue, whether it's climate change, unemployment, crime or any social or environmental problem, policymakers will choose appearance over reality; the continuation of current policies beyond the point when they become destructive; the placating of powerful interest groups, especially donors to their political party; and the substitution of Mickey Mouse micro-objectives (agreements signed, funding allocated, pamphlets produced) for meaningful outcomes for ordinary people. There need be no conspiracy. Policymakers are simply too busy or too pre-occupied with the short term to consider long-term goals. Kicking the can down the road has become the default mode of operation. Not rocking the boat has become the default, over-arching political objective.

We need to reconnect policymakers with the people they are supposed to represent. The current policymaking mechanism, focused as it is on legislation, arcane discussions about institutional structures and funding, sound-bites and personality, serves only to widen the gap between the government and the people.

One way of bridging that gap might be for all of us to think in terms of the outcomes we want to see from policy, rather than supposed means of achieving them. At the very highest level objectives such as "economic growth" have now become irrelevant to, or even in conflict with, the aspirations of ordinary people. On a crowded planet, with ever more complex social arrangements, something as vague as GDP per capita correlates very little with human well-being. Why not, then target more directly things that really matter: physical and mental health, low crime rates, universal literacy, a cleaner environment? That is what a Social Policy Regime would look like. A few broad - negotiated - social and environmental goals, to which all government-financed activities would be subordinated. People can understand objectives, even if we (those of us who aren't paid lobbyists) are turned off by legal and political processes. Under a bond regime we could engage with policymaking and, crucially, feel that our voices have been heard. Such a policymaking system would, I think, be not only more efficient than the current, failing, mechanism, but also would generate buy-in from the public; something that is essential if we are goiing to solve the urgent, critical social and environmental problems that we face.

No comments: