23 February 2015

Two sorts of self-interest

If men were actuated by self-interest, which they are not — except in the case of a few saints — the whole human race would cooperate. There would be no more wars, no more armies, no more navies, no more atom bomb. Bertrand Russell, What Desires Are Politically Important?, 1950
Our current policymaking system gives undue priority to emotion, whim, and concerns that make for effective television footage. So our politicians give arguably too little attention to huge, important challenges that move too slowly for television, such as the piling up of armaments, climate change, the diversion of resources from the poor to the rich, and threats to the family and social cohesion. Our short-term, reactive self-interest is largely ideological, concerned more with shoring up our world view and creating bonding opportunities with people who think the same way than with solving the world's social and environmental problems. It's determined largely by a dangerous combination of emotion coupled with abstract intellectual thought. It concerns itself with the immediate, which means a focus on what can be done now rather than outcomes. And what can be done now to solve most social problems is inevitably the source of endless heated and destructive debate because our problems are so complex.

We should build into our policymaking system the fact that there is far more consensus over the sort of outcomes that we as a society want to see than there is over the supposed means of achieving them. The societal self-interest that Russell implicitly identifies - the sort that is beneficial to all of humanity - could then take over from the narrow, fear-based self-interest that animates so many of the world's political (and military) decisions.

Social Policy Bonds would encourage us to make the distinction. A bond regime would make decisions about society's long-term goals on the basis not of what government can do now or where it should allocate its funds, but on what needs to be done. This would take the ideology and emotion of how things shall be done and who shall achieve them. Social Policy Bonds could then target effectively those universal social goals that are currently either not being targeted, or not being achieved, or from which we actually moving away. A world of peace, for instance, or a world that seeks to prevent or mitigate catastrophes of any sort. For more on the Social Policy Bond principle and its applications see SocialGoals.com

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