08 May 2013


James Meek reporting, from Cyprus, quotes Panikos Demetriou, holder of an account at a Cypriot Bank:

'We have 56 MPs,’ he said. ‘Forty of them are solicitors. Everything that goes on in Cyprus is with their consent. If they didn’t want the tax dodgers and the laundered money, they would have done something about it years ago. I’ve been here seven years and I’ve yet to see a tax dodger or anyone from the stock exchange come up before a judge so we can say: “This is the man, he’s behind bars.” Not one person. Nobody gets punished in Cyprus. Nobody gets punished and the same thing is going to happen this time round. At the end of the day they punish the ordinary person.’James Meek, the Depositor Haircut, 'London Review of Books', 9 May
It's for the best that lawyers engaged in legal proceedings should be pre-occupied with process, rather than outcomes. But making policy is - or should be - different from conducting legal cases or making laws. Perhaps because outcomes play only a rhetorical role in our policymaking, lawyers typically make up a large proportion of policymakers, and debate about policy revolves around things that matter to lawyers: process, structures, funding arrangements.

...Or precedent; a process that was satirised by Francis Cornford in Cambridge a century ago in Microcosmographia Academica: 
The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent is that you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one.  Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time. (Quoted here, in relation to Oxford University, by John Kay.)
Tried, tested and failed will win every time under these circumstances. Ticking boxes becomes a substitute for innovation, adaptation and diverse approaches.

Social Policy Bonds could re-orientate policymaking so that outcomes would play the central role: outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people, so that we could, if we wished, participate in the policymaking process. Or, at least, we could understand it, so that it could not be hijacked, Cyprus-style, to serve the interests of a corruptible elite.

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