15 January 2013

'It's me or the puppy': the importance of buy-in

Dear Virginia, My six-year-old son nagged me so much for the past year I gave him a puppy for Christmas. He loves it and so do I but my partner (not his dad) hates it. ... Yours sincerely, Esther

Virginia says, Obviously, if you just inflicted this puppy on the household at Christmas without giving your partner a say in the matter, I can understand why he might be pissed off. If nothing else, it would make him feel small and out of control, in the same way as if you’d moved your mother, say, into the spare room to live there for 10 years, without prior discussion. To bring in an animal – which is like a member of the family, or should be – without consulting all family members first is an incredibly thoughtless thing to do. ... Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: it's me or the puppy, 'The Independent' [London], 15 January
Buy-in is important, whether it's the politics of the household or the country. Democracies, when the function well, secure buy-in by allowing people to vote for different parties. The supporters of the losers know they have been consulted and, ideally, accept with good grace that they were given the chance to influence the outcome but were outvoted. Unfortunately, nowadays there isn't much linkage between what a ruling party says and what it does, and there are extremely obscure relationships between what it does and what actually happens. The result? We don't have buy-in; the gap between politicians and people widens, giving rise to cynicism and despair.

Social Policy Bonds could close that gap. Instead of politics and electioneering being about personalities, sound-bites, stated intentions, or vague notions of a messianic future, they would focus exclusively on outcomes. Outcomes, that is, that are meaningful to ordinary people, the voters. 'Growing the economy' is not an end in itself, nor is per capita Gross Domestic Product a reliable indicator of well-being. Another example: spending more on prisons or police is not the same as rewarding people for cutting the crime rate. Signing up to the Kyoto process is not the same as helping people cope with adverse climatic conditions.

In these cases, and many others, we see the interests of the political class - politicians and bureaucrats alike - diverging from those of ordinary citizens, or even conflicting with them. Under a Social Policy Bond regime, however, people would vote for comprehensible, meaningful outcomes, rather than who will control insufferably arcane processes of interest only to powerful vested interests and their lobbyists. As such, we'd be more inclined to participate in the policy-making process. We'd have a role, if we wanted it, in setting costs and priorities. In short, even if policies hardly changed at all and were opposed by the same numbers of people, we'd have more buy-in than at present. When we face such urgent and complex challenges the additional buy-in that we can get by consulting people about meaningful social and environmental targets, might prove crucial. It makes for happier people in both households and nations. Puppies would be better off too.

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