05 February 2013

Gun deaths: closing the gap

"Twenty tiny coffins have again put the NRA [National Rifle Association] on the defensive", Tim Dickinson writes: 
In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre ... public support of new gun-control laws is overwhelming. Today, 92 percent of the country support background checks for gun buyers, and 63 percent support limiting the capacity of gun magazines. The NRA vs America, 'Rolling Stone' dated 14 February
How does it happen in a democracy that policy is so different from the interests of ordinary people? Mr Dickinson supplies the answer:

Like every other element of today's modern conservative machinery, the NRA works in the background to expand corporate power – while pretending in public to advance the interests of the little guy. The NRA continues to put forward its members as the face of the organization. But dues from members bring in less than half of the association's yearly expenses....
I'd quibble only with the word 'conservative': it seems to me that policymakers of all kinds are essentially beholden to broadly defined corporate interests, which are often wildly different from those of the people they claim to represent. Our policymaking process is so opaque, so arcane and long-winded, that only those with plenty of cash can afford to pay someone to follow and influence it. The rest of us - normal people, that is, the 92 percent to whom Mr Dickinson refers - have to  be satisfied with vague noble-sounding declarations of intent. It's an almost inevitably corrupt process, and it's not working.

One way of closing the gap between policymakers and ordinary people would be to focus exclusively on outcomes, rather than the supposed means of achieving them. That would happen under a Social Policy Bond regime. Instead of drawing esoteric and futile legislative distinctions between types of gun or gun magazines, we would issue Gun Death Control Bonds that would reward what we actually want to achieve: a massive reduction in the number of gun deaths. Investors in the bonds would find their own ways of reducing gun deaths. They would have incentives to explore, investigate and implement a diverse array of approaches, which could include lobbying for regulatory change, but could also include such ideas as subsidising biometric controls on guns or gun cabinets; showing of broadcasts showing the benefits of gun-free societies; setting up youth clubs in the poorest parts of inner cities; or any of a vast array of other approaches that could and should be tried rather than resign ourselves to an annual death toll in the US of 32000 (pdf) or more.

The current policymaking process, in gun control as in everything else, works in favour of large organizations, be they corporations, trade unions, religious bodies or government agencies. These organizations have interests that at best differ from, and at worst conflict with, those of ordinary people. Expressing policy goals in terms of meaningful  outcomes, as with Social Policy Bonds, is one powerful way of getting people to take an interest in the policies that are being made in our name.


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