29 April 2015

Immigration to Europe

The large numbers of people trying to migrate on flimsy boats from Africa to Europe are not all poor and desperate. The cost of arranging these trips is beyond the means of most. Many of the people on these boats would be entrepreneurs in their own countries if there were even a slight prospect of a better life there. So why isn't there? Why do they leave their culture, their families, their support network and pay large sums to criminals to arrange a very chancy, unpleasant trip to countries that certainly don't want them (to put it mildly).

Not the whole explanation, but a large part of it, are the corrupt, insane European Union trade policies including especially the Common Agricultural Policy which, by subsidising farm production in Europe and imposing formidable barriers to imports has made it very difficult for the food-rich African countries to step onto the first rung of the economic development ladder. Europe adopted the same policies with respect to tropical products and textiles, all at the behest of their own powerful farm lobbies and corporations.

So what did they expect? By creating 'fortress Europe' the Eurocrats exported poverty and instability to poor countries. At the same time they give a few million dollars of funds collected from taxpayers in 'aid' and expect these countries to be grateful. And they act concerned when, after decades of kicking these countries off the development ladder, they are besieged by Africans looking for a better life. It would be unhelpful, childish and arrogant to say 'I told you so', so I won't say it even if it's true – which it is.

22 April 2015

What really matters?

What really matters to voters? You might think, as I, naively, used to, that it's outcomes. But our politics and our policymaking process are almost entirely concerned with spending, institutional structures, legalisms, outputs or activities, all of which have very little bearing on outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary citizens. Come election time candidates and their handlers routinely emphasise almost everything except outcomes when canvassing for votes: the personality, gender, ethnic origin or social class of the would-be politician, or how they perform on television. I have proposed Social Policy Bonds as a way of subordinating all our politics and all our politicking to broad, meaningful outcomes, which would be more amenable to public participation and therefore help bridge the widening gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. A mistake?

 Recent US research shows that:
[M]any average voters with strong party commitments -- both Democrats and Republicans -- care more about their parties simply winning the election than they do either ideology or issues. Unlike previous research, the study found that loyalty to the party itself was the source of partisan rivalry and incivility, instead of a fundamental disagreement over issues. Study: Most partisans treat politics like sports rivalries, instead of focusing on issues, University of Kansas, 15 April
Maybe then the Social Policy Bond concept, which focuses primarily on outcomes, is too idealistic? I think not. I believe that we, the voters, think of politics as a game only because our governing elites have made the policymaking process so arcane, long-winded and boring that only large institutions — public- and private-sector — can afford to pay people to understand and manipulate it. Naturally then, for our entertainment, we focus on whether our team, Democrat or Republican, Labour or Conservative, left or right will win their game, but the real game is government and big business versus the electorate. That match is too one-sided to generate much excitement.

14 April 2015

Anything but outcomes

Social and environmental problems are complex. Faced with these problems we delegate much of the responsibility for solving them to government. And how do those lucky enough to be given the chance of choosing who shall govern us go about it? One thing we don't do is look dispassionately at each political party's past record and choose on that basis. Even the experts don't do that. So how do we make our selection at the ballot box? We listen to promises by politicians about their stated spending priorities - inputs, in other words. Or we focus on the appearance of each candidate, or how well they come across on television. Now there's identity politics, as Brandan O'Neill writes:

If you want to see how small politics has become in the 21st century, just look at Hillary Clinton’s chucking of her hat into the 2016 US presidential race. Or better still, look at the response to her unveiling of her presidential ambitions, the chorus of cheers and whoops that greeted her decision to make hers a gender-focused, grandmotherly, womanish campaign, in which, as one excited observer puts it, sex - as in biology, not raunch - will form a ‘core plank’ of Hillary’s stab for the White House. What this speaks to is the suffocating extent to which the politics of identity, the accident of who we are, the lottery of our natural characteristics, is now paramount in the political sphere, having violently elbowed aside the old politics of ideas, and substance, and conviction. Hillary’s presidential launch confirms that, in the space of just seven years, identity has become pretty much the only game in the town of politics. The rise of Hillary and the death of politics, Brendan O'Neill, 'Spiked', 13 April
I'm not as cynical as Mr O'Neill. I'm not a great supporter of ideas or conviction in politics - not if they donit relate to 'substance' or, as I'd put it, meaningful outcomes. The fact is that not only do we not look at a politician's or a party's past record; often we cannot. There are too many variables, too many linkages and too many time lags for us to be able fully to evaluate past performance. Identity politics is a symptom of that problem, rather than a cause.

My solution? Social Policy Bonds. Agree on a set of broad outcomes, such as universal literacy, improved general health, reduced crime rates or, on a global scale, the elimination of violent political conflict (war and civil war), or catastrophe, whether natural or man-made. Then issue bonds that will reward people for solving these problems, however they do so. In short, target outcomes and don't focus too much on the identity or media performance of people who promise to spend taxpayer revenue on our behalf. Rely, instead, on a motivated coaltion of bondholders, who will have every incentive to subordinate all their activities to the achievement of society's targeted goals.