28 October 2015

Loyalty ... to what?

My previous post mentioned the climate change bureaucracy. Underpinning that bureaucracy are two assumptions: that it's better to deal with climate change than with its effects; and that cutting back greenhouse gas emissions is the best way of dealing with climate change. But what if those assumptions wrong?  Would the climate change bureaucracy reform itself?

Freeman Dyson reviews a biography of Max Planck:
My Princeton colleague Albert Hirschman published in 1970 a little book with the title Exit, Voice, and Loyalty ...., exploring these issues in a different perspective. Hirschman was writing as an economist about large-scale enterprises that he had seen in many countries, beginning with the railroads in Nigeria and ending with the American war in Vietnam. In each of these enterprises, gross failures were manifest, and the individuals occupying positions of responsibility had to choose between three alternative responses. Exit meant to quit the enterprise. Voice meant to stay on the job but speak out publicly for change of direction. Loyalty meant to stay on the job and give support to the continuation of failing policies. Hirschman observed that in the majority of enterprises, voice is sadly lacking. Most people choose loyalty and very few choose voice. Those who choose exit have only a small effect on the enterprise. If gross errors and injustices are to be corrected, voice must be fearless and fierce, loud enough to be heard. Max Planck: the tragic choices (subscription), Freeman Dyson, 'New York Review of Books', 22 October
"Most people choose loyalty": with existing organizations this means loyalty to the people in control and their way of doing things. It's perfectly understandable: most organizations have worthy-sounding goals and are staffed by ethical, hard-working people. I have met such people who work to ensure compliance with the Kyoto agreement's climate commitments. Their loyalty - naturally, understandably, but regrettably - is to the climate change bureaucracy. Though they may express private doubts about the value of their work, they feel they are in no position to question the bureaucracy that employs them or its underlying assumptions. The bureaucracy has an inertia of its own; it continues living and breathing and trying to grow, even when its goals conflict with those of society.

That is what conventional organizations do. Under a Social Policy Bond regime though, things would be different. A bond regime would lead to new kinds of organizations: ones whose composition, structure and range of activities would be subject to continuous change. Their entire purpose would be to achieve society's goals, as expressed in the redemption terms for Social Policy Bonds. Their composition and activities would depend entirely on how efficient its members and projects are in helping to achieve that goal. Assumptions as to who is best placed to achieve society's goals or how they will go about achieving those goals would be subject to continuous questioning by would-be investors in the market for the bonds. These investors would have interests exactly congruent with those of society as a whole: to achieve our social and environmental goals as efficiently as possible. They would, in short, be loyal to society's goals rather than, as at present, to a hierarchy, ideology or dubious assumptions.

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