16 February 2013

Galactic rhetoric

Mark Steyn, quoting President Obama, writes: 
"Let's cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next 20 years." What does that even mean? How would you even know when you've accomplished that "goal"? What percentage of energy used by my home and business is "wasted"? In what sense? Who says? Who determines that? Is it 37 percent? 23 percent? So we're going to cut it down to 18.5 percent or 11.5 percent by 2033, is that the "goal"? Magical Fairyland budgeting, 16 February
Our political discourse is infested with these grandiose-sounding, but meaningless 'goals'. Their purpose is simple: to deceive. As Mr Steyn points out they are meaningless to ordinary people and unverifiable by design. Politicians can get away with such pronouncements only because we, the voters, are not encouraged to think in terms of outcomes. Policymaking has become a public relations exercise coupled to arcane legalistic debates about funding arrangements and institutional structures. Only vested interests and their paid lobbyists can stomach engagement with the real purpose of policymaking. The rest of us have to be content with the high-flown vapid rhetoric of the front men.

There is another way. Social Policy Bonds would recast policymaking in terms of outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people. Instead of Mickey Mouse micro-targets that lose all meaning when we focus on them, a bond regime would agree on broad social and environmental outcomes, and reward people who achieve them. Because these outcomes would be meaningful and quantifiable, a wider public could engage with the policymaking process - an end in itself as well as a means toward securing more buy-in. Take the energy 'goal' that President Obama is talking about in the quote above: under a bond regime we'd ask ourselves, and have to ask ourselves: what do we really want? Is it a reduction in wasted energy? A reduction in wasted fossil fuel energy? A reduction in fossil energy use per unit GDP? Perhaps it would be better to target for reduction the negative impacts of energy use? These are questions which should be the subject of legitimate debate by all of us and under a bond regime they would be. Under the current system they aren't. Instead we are served up with a baleful combination of galactic-sounding rhetoric dreamed up by Public Relations experts, and real-world policies designed by and for entrenched interest groups. Any correlation with policies that benefit ordinary people is entirely coincidental.

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