22 March 2015

The role of government? To extract revenue

David Graeber began this piece by writing about Ferguson in the US, and the criminalisation, in the US, of violations of administrative codes:
Almost every institution in America—from our corporations to our schools, hospitals, and civic authorities—now seems to operate largely as an engine for extracting revenue, by imposing ever more complex sets of rules that are designed to be broken. And these rules are almost invariably enforced on a sliding scale: ever-so-gently on the rich and powerful (think of what happens to those banks when they themselves break the law), but with absolute Draconian harshness on the poorest and most vulnerable. Ferguson and the Criminalization of American Life, David Graeber, 19 March
I don't think this should greatly surprise us. Government, like any other big organization, has as its one over-arching goal that of self-perpetuation. Like churches, trade unions, universities or any other institution, governments usually start out meaning well, and are staffed by hard-working and, often, individually ethical employees. But at some point the organization's stated objectives are forgotten and we end up with scenarios similar to that which Mr Graeber describes. Government bodies don't face the discipline of markets or competition and if they limit their corrupt behaviour to the less powerful, they can get away with it indefinitely.

Social Policy Bonds are a means by which any organization trying to achieve social goals will always be focused entirely on those goals. The very structure and composition of the organizations would be determined, dynamically, by their need to achieve society's goals as efficiently as possible. And it is society's goals that they would be achieving: their own goals, including that of self-perpetuation, would be subordinated to those goals set by society and targeted by Social Policy Bonds. It's a stark contrast between a bond regime that articulated society's wishes and rewards those who achieve them, and today's world, in which even those bodies charged explicitly with looking after the public interest end up in conflict with it. Or, as Mr Graeber concludes:
Most Americans no longer feel that the institutions of government are, or even could be, on their side. Because increasingly, in a very basic sense, they're not.

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