26 April 2013

Policymaking and journalism: it doesn't matter if you're wrong.

John R MacArthur writes:
What’s the use of being right, in journalism or politics? I gave a lot of thought to this question during the tenth anniversary of the American–British invasion of Iraq, and I’ve come to the conclusion that being right is not much use at all, at least as far as career advancement goes. No reward for being right on Iraq, John R MacArthur, 'Harper's Magazine, 18 April

Incentives are important, and they needn't be monetary. Unfortunately, our current political system, beset as it is by its own complexities as well as those of society, does not reward success or punish failure consistently enough to filter out stupid policies. Mr MacArthur quotes Scott Ritter: "Everybody who lied about the [Iraq] war got rewarded because they played the game." Exactly so. When it comes to looking back at evaluating policies - something that's rarely done - few people are rewarded in their lifetime for being right. Amongst politicians loyalty counts for far more.

Social Policy Bonds would change that. They reward people not for who they are, what they say or for whom they support, but for achieving society's explicit goals. Society's limited resources would be channelled into the achievement of these goals, transparently and impartially. Politicians couldn't get away with insane, disastrous policies; instead they would, under a bond regime, be limited to what they do best: articulating society's goals and raising the revenue for their achievement. Efficient approaches would be rewarded by the way the market for the bonds works. Inefficient approaches would receive little funding and be terminated - something that rarely happens under current policymaking systems. Under a bond regime, successful achievement of society's goals is the top priority. Under the current system it hardly features at all, as Mr MacArthur's poignant article makes very clear.

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