12 May 2012

What happens when targets aren't transparent?

Social Policy Bonds rely on the targeting of the use of robust, quantifiable, broad indicators of social and environmental well-being. But there is another criterion: transparency. Our targets must be made explicit and broadly acceptable. If not agreed on by everybody, they must at least be meaningful enough for the public to understand what they mean, and participate in their formulation. The alternative, as with any other policy instrument, is that they will be corrupted, which means they will benefit one interest group at the expense of society as a whole. A particularly pernicious example of what happens when targets aren't made explicit is given in the the China section of the current Economist:
[U]nder the Communist Party’s system of cadre evaluations, local officials are graded on the basis of a series of internal targets that have little to do with the rule of law. The targets are meant for internal use, but local governments have sometimes published them on websites, and foreign scholars have also seen copies. The most important measures are maintaining social stability, achieving economic growth and, in many areas, enforcing population controls. Cadres sign contracts that spell out their responsibilities. Failure to meet targets can end a cadre’s career. Fulfilling them, even if it means trampling laws to do so, can mean career advancement and financial bonuses. Suppressing dissent, 'the Economist', 11 May
There's probably little alternative to the growing use of numerical targets in today's society's with all their complexities and time lags. While I'd prefer to channel market forces into the achievement of our social goals we can, failing that, at least strive to make sure that these targets are consistent with the rule of law and visible to all of us.

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