05 October 2013

Nobody asked us

John Lanchester, having seen the UK's GCHQ files, writes about the UK:

...we're moving towards a new kind of society. Britain is already the most spied on, monitored and surveilled democratic society there has ever been. This doesn't seem to have been discussed or debated, and I don't remember ever being asked to vote for it. The Snowden files: why the British public should be worried about GCHQ, John Lanchester, 'The Guardian', 3 October
This is just one critical decision about how we live that is made without reference to voters. Politicians can get away with almost anything they want under the guise of  'national security', just as they can by citing 'economic growth'. Nobody questions these claims, because the relationships between them, the policies they generate, and the outcomes of these policies are too complex, and too bedevilled by time lags, to identify clearly. Once started, the policies create institutions that have sufficient lobbying power to resist reform and grow endlessly.

How would a Social Policy Bond regime deal with 'terrorism'? Most probably, we'd get some perspective on the matter. As Mr Lanchester points out:

Since 9/11, 53 people have been killed by terrorists in the UK. Every one of those deaths is tragic. So is every one of the 26,805 deaths to have occurred on Britain's roads between 2002 and 2012 inclusive, an average of 6.67 deaths a day. ... This means that 12 years of terrorism has killed as many people in the UK as eight days on our roads.
It's not for me to try to divine society's preferences about how we die. But suppose that, away from the aftermath of a terrorist incident, when cool heads prevail, we value a life lost in a road accident - or any other cause - as highly as a life lost to a terrorist incident. We might then decide that instead of creating a vast, expensive, intrusive bureaucracy to reduce premature deaths by a trivial amount, we'd want to channel society's limited resources more efficiently. In that case, we'd issue Social Policy Bonds that target something like 'the avoidance of premature deaths', or an aggregated measure of longevity, perhaps expressed in terms of Quality Adjust Life Years.

Regardless of how much we weight a death due to road accidents against a death due to terrorism, a Social Policy Bond regime would ensure that our preferences are made explicit and transparent, and that our resources would be allocated according to our preferences. Something that obviously, and ominously, is not happening today.

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