15 November 2013

The great divergence

Only 40% of citizens in the mostly-rich countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development expressed confidence in their national governments in 2012, down five percentage points from 2007. Eroding trust in government, 'The Economist', 15 November
 Brazilian Roberto Unger is a leading political philosopher and an advocate of progressive politics.He has taught at Harvard Law School for about 40 years and US President Barack Obama was one of his students in the 1980s. "There is no project in the United States responsive to the needs and aspirations of the broad working class majority of the country," said Mr Unger. Obama's law professor on his failures as president, Quote from BBC 'Hardtalk' programme, 15 November
It's not really surprising. Our governments have every incentive to respond more to corporate donors than to ordinary people. Big business and government have interests that grow ever further apart from those of the public and small businesses. They can get away with this because policymaking focuses on funding, institutional structures, legalistic debate and arguments about inputs, outputs or activities. Everything except meaningful outcomes in fact.

There is another way. A Social Policy Bond regime would subordinate all debate and decison-making to outcomes: what social and environmental goals should we be aiming for, and how much are they worth? These answers to these fundamental questions, ignored by the current system, would inform every project, every initiative and activity, launched under a bond regime. Apart from the incentives and efficiencies that the market for Social Policy Bonds would stimulate, the aims of the bonds would be explicit and clear to everybody. People might disagree about their relative priority, but they would know exactly what their government was trying to accomplish. Ordinary people could participate in policymaking and would engage with the inevitable trade-offs that have to be made when it comes to allocating society's scarce resources.

As a result, and crucially, we'd buy in to policy goals; perhaps not wholeheartedly but certainly more than we do today. Without such buy in, it's difficult to see how our governments, with their priorities so different from ours, are ever going to engage with the crucial social and environmental problems of our time, let alone solve them.

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