Global problems are not tackled[,] because governments fail to co-operate; voters get angrier and push their leaders into more nationalistic positions. And it is hard to see things changing this year, with no country likely to take the lead. America will be consumed by its presidential election, Europe by refugees and fear of terrorism, China by its adjustment to slower growth. No one is in charge. Loathe thy neigbour, 'The Economist', 9 JanuaryThe column excerpted above is concerned mainly with the refugee crisis and economic problems. But other global concerns come to mind: the impacts of climate change, nuclear proliferation, or military tensions in south-east Asia and elsewhere. These are potentially serious problems that could lead to the death, injury or homelessness of millions of people and have devastating effects on the environnment. Our current political system ensures that those whose lives would be shattered by, say, nuclear war have little sway over how policy is made. There is a huge and widening gap between the concerns of ordinary people and those who make policy. It's not the policymakers who are at fault: it's the system.
Nobody is in charge, as the column says. That's bad enough. But worse is that nobody has an incentive to stop what they're doing at the moment and look for solutions to these global problems. Under the current regime the costs of giving up an income are upfront and certain. The benefits of helping solve global problems are remote and nebulous. International bodies like the United Nations agencies or non-governmental bodies do tackle some large-scale problems, but their efforts are haphazard and the people who work for them are not paid in ways that reward success. Some are corrupt.
Many of us, sensing the inadequacy of humanity's attempts to think globally, fall prey to some ideology that imposes meaning on our predicament. Such ideology can take the form of wishful thinking, at best, or a sort of revenge psychology, at worst. All ideologies, though, are insufficient to solve our global problems, in that they see one or other top-down, uniform and unresponsive mechanism as the solution. These ideologies are mutually incompatible and their leaders mostly corrupt, incompetent or insane. But helpless people facing huge uncertainties will seek reassurance from anybody who promises salvation in this world or the next.
A better policymaking system would help. Social Policy Bonds, issued with the backing of all governments, supplemented by contributions from philanthropists and ordinary people, would articulate people's wishes for a world of peace, reduced poverty, and environmental health, to take three of our most urgent and serious challenges. It would separate the articulation of our wishes from their achievement. People - all people - would be in charge of specifying our broad, global goals. But the achievement of our goals would be in the hands of new types of organization: coalitions of people, government or not, who at any one time would have incentives to find the most efficient solutions to our global problems. These new organizations would take a long-term view, targeting goals that might seem remote and unachievable, but that are necessary for humanity. Goals such as a thirty-year period of nuclear peace, or the reduction of adverse climatic events. The organizations would probably have changing compositions and structures, and would have incentives to co-operate with each other. Their goals would be exactly the same as humanity's. The bond regime would reward them in ways that correlate directly with their efficiency.
The Social Policy Bond mechanism would see to it that market forces would serve humanity as a whole, by allocating our resources - all our resources - where they can do most good. The world needs diverse, adaptive approaches to our global problems. The current system does not and cannot supply them. Social Policy Bonds can.