25 September 2013


Steven M Teles writes eloquently of the complexity and incoherence of US policy:

A "kludge" is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose...a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem." The term comes out of the world of computer programming, where a kludge is an inelegant patch put in place to solve an unexpected problem and designed to be backward-compatible with the rest of an existing system. When you add up enough kludges, you get a very complicated program that has no clear organizing principle, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and is subject to crashes. Any user of Microsoft Windows will immediately grasp the concept. "Clumsy but temporarily effective" also describes much of American public policy today. Kludgeocracy in America, 'National Affairs', Fall 2013
And, indeed, much of the public policy of most countries, and of supernational agencies too. I won't summarise Professor Teles' excellent article, which is required reading, except to mention some of his suggested cures for kludgeocracy. These include procedural changes aimed at increasing the power of the congressional majority leadership at the expense of committees, shifting the 'micro-design' of policies away from Congress and towards the government agencies actually implementing the policies; and handing entire policy areas, such as health or eductaion to the states or to the federal government - but not to both. As Professor Teles writes:
Few of the reforms sketched out above have much of a chance of being enacted at the moment, since the institutions and practices they propose to alter are too deeply entrenched to remove quickly.
 ...and I share his pessimism about that. Of course, a Social Policy Bond regime would be even more radical and, if we are to depend on government to initiate it, even less probable. But we don't need to wait for government. Social Policy Bonds can be issued by anyone with enough funds to finance their redemption, or with sufficient ability to raise these funds from bodies such as non-governmental organizations, philanthropists or ordinary citizens.

If that were to happen, and the Social Policy Bond approach were to prove successful in achieving social goals, it's not that difficult to imagine government itself changing, along the lines that Professor Teles and most of the rest of us would like to follow: towards open, explicit, costed, efficient and effective solution of our social problems.

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