02 February 2016

The importance of buy-in

The American Interest writes about the European immigration crisis:
However much the idea appeals to cosmopolitan utopians, it is not possible for such human communities to accommodate levels of migration beyond some ceiling. That ceiling is variable, and when there are large cultural and religious differences between the native population and newcomers, the ceiling drops. Europe's waning welcome, 'The American Interest', 1 February

'Such human communities' refers to 'polities that were relatively ethnically homogenous'. I agree that the 'ceiling is variable', but think the authors should have mentioned the importance of buy-in. It's unfortunate that hugely important issues, like immigration, are influenced less by ordinary people than by the usual benefactors and manipulators of an inaccessible policymaking environment. Especially when it is ordinary people who will experience most of the disadvantages of mass immigration, and it is ordinary people whose attitude to immigrants will do much to determine immigrants' loyalty to their new home. The usual benefactors and manipulators? Politicians, lobbyists, billionaires and ideologues.

It wouldn't be hard to involve the public in policymaking if we were to focus on outcomes rather than institutional funding and structures, legal processes, slogans and the celebrity status of policy proponents. Immigration is a relatively accessible issue, and the public should be consulted about it. I am certain the reception accorded to immigrants described in the article excerpted above would be less hostile if our leaders had thought to consult us on the issue.

So too with other policies: consultation generates buy-in, and our democracies face many urgent, big challenges for which buy-in from ordinary citizens will be crucial but is almost entirely absent. Climate change, for instance, health care, nuclear weaponry, or disaster prevention or, not least, the nature of the policymaking process itself. Expressing our policy goals in terms of outcomes, rather than impossible-to-follow procedures, would allow public consultation and with that, buy-in. Without buy-in, we're going to see continuing public disengagement from the policy process, which could express itself in ways that are dangerous to us all.

Social Policy Bonds are a means by which policymaking would be focused on outcomes rather than process. Under a bond regime, government would articulate society's goals and could back bonds that would reward their efficient achievement. By emphasising outcomes, rather than the supposed means of achieving them, policymaking would  become comprehensible to ordinary people. Buy-in would be one happy result: efficiency, brought about by market forces, would be another.

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