04 August 2012

Who needs political parties?

Given that keeping your seat means spending a fortune on television advertising and other forms of campaigning, changing your views on a matter of great interest to your sponsors is likely to be political suicide. Stop this culture of paying politicians to deny climate change, George Monbiot, 2 August
Mr Monbiot is referring to seats in the US Senate, but the principle applies to all the democratic countries and to issues other than climate change:
 [A] political system which imposes no effective cap on campaign finance leads inexorably to plutocracy: governance on behalf of the richest people and corporations. 
Perhaps our system of representative democracy can be fixed, and perhaps reforming the way political parties are financed is one way of doing it. But, just as likely, the problem is intrinsic to politics in which parties dominate. Every institution, whether it is a political party, government agency, religious body, university or whatever, has as its over-arching goal that of self-perpetuation. It can easily be persuaded to evade or subvert its stated objectives for the cash necessary to stay in existence. We could try tinkering with the way political parties are financed, or we could try something different:

Under a Social Policy Bond regime organizational structures, and the people within them, would be entirely subordinated to outcomes. And people would decide directly on the outcomes they wanted to achieve. Consider our current system: people vote for individual politicians who say they will do certain things that may or may not achieve certain outcomes - usually safely in the long term. (But who monitors progress?) These people's careers usually depend, individually or as members of a political party, on some source of external funding. The scope for manipulation of these would-be politicians is obvious. So why not have people vote directly for outcomes, rather than people who, if they are made to justify their actions at all, can get away with vague promises that their decisions will at some indefinite point achieve some unquantified and uncosted goal?

Social Policy Bonds wouldn't distract ordinary people by issues such as personalities or short-term activities: they would focus our attention exclusively on outcomes and their costs. We could target such goals as the avoidance of disasters caused by climate change (or anything else) without having to try to keep up to date with our rapidly expanding scientific knowledge. We should not even have to decide on which institutions would best be able to achieve our goal: the way the bonds work would reward only the most efficient projects, or combination of projects, whatever they are and whoever initiates them. And perhaps just as importantly, wealthy individuals or corporations would find that the way to become even wealthier would be to direct their resources into achieving society's broad, long-term goals, rather than their own narrow, short-term interests.

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