08 January 2012

Selective memory

From The Great Derangement, by Matt Taibbi:
[US] national politics was doomed because voters were no longer debating one another using a commonly accepted set of facts.
Life and society are so rich and complex that we can easily extract evidence that supports (or appears to support) virtually any outlandish claim we want to make - or its complete opposite. There are plenty of funds and incentives to make the effort worthwhile. Sometimes these exercises are cynical. But often not. We can see this very clearly when looking at the current financial crisis: respectable commentators put forward coherent arguments for much more, or much less, stimulus spending.

Social Policy Bonds would bypass such arguments and all their attendant cynicism by targeting desired outcomes, rather than what people think, or are paid to say they think, are the means of achieving them. It would be up to holders of the bonds to identify and exploit the relationships between cause and effect, which is so difficult to do in our complex society. By focusing on outcomes, policymakers could concentrate on working out exactly what we want to achieve, rather than get bogged down by the interest groups, vested or not, who have their own agenda.

If this sounds far-fetched, we need look only at climate change to see how the debate has been effectively side-tracked into an expensive and ineffectual irrelevance by doing things the conventional way: trying to prove something to the satisfaction of people who oppose doing anything before taking action. A bond regime would instead be rewarding people for achieving certain specified goals, or a combination of them, which could be expressed as a wide array of physical, financial and social variables. It would be up to the investors in the bonds to work out the relationships, and they would be rewarded for doing so and for continuing to do so, until our goals have been achieved. In this case, as in others, there need be no general (and often impossible to achieve) agreement on the facts before taking meaningful action.

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