21 August 2013

Violence: incentives work

'People say that problems cannot be solved by the use of force, that violence, as the saying goes, is not the answer.' So writes Benjamin Ginsburg: 
That adage appeals to our moral sensibilities. But whether or not violence is the answer depends on the question being asked. For better or worse, violence usually provides the most definitive answers to three major questions of political life: statehood, territoriality, and power. Violent struggle—war, revolution, terrorism—more than any other immediate factor, determines what nations will exist and their relative power, what territories they occupy, and which groups will exercise power within them. Why violence works, Benjamin Ginsburg, 'Chronicle of Higher Education', 12 August
 As a result:
[M]ost regimes are the survivors or descendants of a thousand-year-long culling process in which those states capable of creating and sustaining powerful militaries prevailed, while those that could not or would not fight were conquered or absorbed by others. Similarly, when it comes to control of territory, virtually every square inch of inhabited space on the planet is occupied by groups that forcibly dispossessed—sometimes exterminated—the land's previous claimants. 
So violence isn't something that just happens: we are violent because it gains us territory and other resources. As such, it's amenable to change. That's where Social Policy Bonds can play a part. Like many other social and environmental problems violent political conflict has many causes and, quite possibly, looking for those causes and trying to deal with them is not going to be the most efficient or quickest way of shrinking the role of war or civil war in world affairs. The best, most cost-effective ways might well mean innovations of a sort that hasn't been attempted yet, or that offend our sense of justice but are much less bloody than current methods: bribing tyrants to fly away to their own private luxury island, with full security for them and their families, for instance.

Nobody knows what will be most efficient, though we can be pretty sure that the current system, which pays people for undertaking edifying-sounding but ineffectual activities, is doomed to fail. (Think: climate change.) Perhaps it's now time for world governments or, more likely, opposition parties, NGOs and other interested groups to form a coalition and issue Conflict Reduction Bonds, which will reward what we actually want to achieve: world peace. A coalition of interested parties, perhaps with the help of philanthropists, could invest a large sum, and call for contributions from the public. It could then issue bonds redeemable for something like $1million each once current levels of violent political conflict have fallen by, say 50 percent. Yes, we'd need to discuss how exactly to define exactly what we mean, and how to monitor progress toward our goal. But once that's done, we'd have, in effect, contracted out the achievement of peace to a motivated group of investors, whose structure, composition and initiatives are entirely subordinated to that goal. They might buy the bonds for a very low price, reflecting the market's view that reduction in political violence are hard to achieve and necessarily will take a long time to appear.

As with our biggest environmental problems, so our biggest social problem, political violence, is going to need an array of diverse, adaptive approaches if we are going to solve it. The current system is too cumbersome, monolithic and slow moving to work at anything like the speed, scale and efficiency that we need. The incentives to create mayhem are plentiful. Unless a Conflict Reduction Bond regime (or something like it) comes into being, world peace will remain as utopian and distant a goal as it is today.

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