15 November 2012

Peace in the Middle East

Don't laugh!

Here is a short and, despite my best efforts, as yet unpublished, article on applying the Social Policy Bond principle to conflict in the Middle East.

Peace in the Middle East: giving self-interest a chance

 Cards on the table: I have no solution to the anxieties and potential catastrophes facing Israel, nor to the wider problems facing the citizens of all the Middle Eastern countries. What I offer instead is a way of encouraging people to find effective and efficient solutions.

Decades of negotiations and initiatives have failed. Rockets are daily fired into Israel, we might well be on the brink of a nuclear calamity, and the entire region is a seething cauldron of every sort of hatred: ethnic, confessional, sectarian and gender.

Most ordinary people in the region, given time to reflect and the freedom to express their opinions would like nothing more than to see an end to the violence in the region. But there are enough powerful people with a vested interest in keeping conflict going. They include men of religion, ideologues, politicians and bureaucrats. There are also, of course, the weapons merchants and their corrupt beneficiaries in government. Well-meaning idealists on all sides do what they can, but their efforts are overwhelmed and relentlessly undermined by the powerful people and institutions that want them to fail. 

Peace above all

We need to give people and organizations of all kinds the incentives to create and sustain peace, rather than conflict.  We also need a verifiable definition of peace, which will consist of a combination of conditions that have to be satisfied and sustained. These could include:

·         a much-reduced number of people killed in conflict;
·         a much-reduced level of terrorist events, or military incursions;
·         no use of nuclear weapons;
  •    mass media incitements to violence.
We also need to focus exclusively on our goal of peace, which might mean putting aside feelings of fairness and justice, except insofar as they help our cause.

And we need ways of promoting peace that can modify or circumvent people's uncooperative or obstructive behaviour; ways that can co-opt or subsidise those people in positions of authority and power who want to help, and at the same time bypass, distract, or otherwise undermine those opposed to our goal.

Ideally too, we would deploy market forces. Markets are the most efficient means yet discovered of allocating society's scarce resources, but many believe that market forces inevitably conflict with social goals: accentuating extremes of wealth and poverty, for example, or accelerating the degradation of the environment. So it is important to remind ourselves that market forces can serve public, as well as private, goals.

Middle East Peace Bonds

My suggestion is that philanthropists perhaps with governments and other interested organisations and individuals, collectively raise a large amount of money, put it into an escrow account, and use these funds to redeem at some future time a new financial instrument: Middle East Peace Bonds. These would be sold by auction for whatever they would fetch. They would be redeemed for, say, £100 000 each only when all the conditions for peace, as defined by the issuers, had been satisfied and sustained.

Importantly, the issuers of the bonds would make no assumptions as to how to bring about greater peace. The circumstances that fan the flames of conflict vary radically from place to place and over time. No one solution, nor even an array of solutions will work all the time. The bonds instead will stimulate diverse, adaptive solutions.

Nor do we need to know who would hold the bonds or carry out peace-creating projects. Those decisions would be made by would-be investors in the market for the bonds. Unlike normal bonds, Middle East Peace Bonds would not bear interest and their redemption date would be uncertain. Bondholders would gain most by ensuring that peace is achieved quickly. As the prospects for peace brighten, the value of the bonds will rise.

Trading the bonds

Middle East Peace Bonds, once floated, must be readily tradable at any time until redemption. Many bond purchasers would want or need to sell their bonds before redemption, which might be a long time in the future. With tradability,  these holders would be able to realise any capital appreciation experienced by their holdings of Middle East Peace Bonds whenever they choose to do so.

The bonds will be worth more to those who believe they can do most to help reduce the violence, who will then own most of the bonds. Large bondholders might decide to subcontract out peace-building projects to many different agents, while they themselves held the bonds from issue to redemption. The important point is that the bond mechanism will ensure that the people who allocate funds have incentives to do so efficiently and to reward successful outcomes, rather than merely pay people for undertaking activities.

Too large a number of small bondholders could probably do little to help achieve peace by themselves. If there were many small holders, it is likely that the value of their bonds would fall until there were aggregation of holdings by people or institutions large enough to initiate effective peace-building projects. As with shares in newly privatised companies the world over, Middle East Peace Bonds would mainly end up in the hands of large holders, be they individuals or institutions. Between them, these large holders would probably account for the majority of the bonds. Even these bodies might not be big enough, on their own, to achieve much without the co-operation of other bondholders. They might also resist initiating projects until they were assured that other holders would not be free riders. So there would be a powerful incentive for all bondholders to co-operate with each other to help bring about peace in the Middle East. They would share information, trade bonds with each other and collaborate on conflict-quelling projects. They would also set up payment systems to ensure that people, bondholders or not, were mobilised to help build peace. Large bondholders, in co-operation with each other, would be able to set up such systems cost-effectively.

Regardless of who actually owns the bonds, aggregation of holdings, and the co-operation of large bondholders, would ensure that those who invest in the bonds are rewarded in ways that maximise their effectiveness in bringing about peace.

So, in contrast to today’s short-term, tried, tested and failed approaches, a Middle East Peace Bond regime would stimulate research into finding the  most cost-effective ways of achieving peace. Indeed, bondholders would be in a better position than governments to undertake a range of peace-building initiatives, having more freedom to try innovative approaches. They might, for example, finance sports matches between opposing sides, promote anti-war programmes on TV, set up exchange schemes for students of the opposing sides. They might try to influence the financial supporters of conflict outside the region to redirect their funding into more positive ways. They could offer the Palestinians and the citizens of neighbouring Arab countries different forms of aid, including education and scientific aid, and measures aimed at providing a secular education for all Arab citizens.

By appealing to people's self-interest, Middle East Peace Bonds would be more
effective than conventional efforts aimed at reducing violence. In channelling market forces into the achievement of this objective the bonds could bypass or even co-opt the corrupt or malicious people in government and elsewhere who currently benefit from conflict.

Middle East Peace Bonds would focus on an identifiable peace outcome and channel market efficiencies into diverse, adaptive ways of achieving it. They might sound implausible and radical but - let’s be frank - the alternatives are leading us into the abyss.

© Ronnie Horesh, November 2012.

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