15 September 2016

New world disorder

Walter Russel Mead writes about the world we actually live in:
The problem isn’t that the goals of the liberal internationalists are bad goals. They are excellent goals: no war, the spread of democracy and human rights, limits on weapons of mass destruction, strong institutions. The world they dream of is a much better world than the one we have now. And the liberal internationalists are also right that the world can’t afford to go on in the old way. Given 21st century technology and the vulnerability of our large urban populations to anything that disrupts the intricate networks on which we all depend, old-fashioned great-power politics with its precarious balance of power shored up by recurring wars is a recipe for utter disaster and, maybe, the annihilation of the human race. But the difficulty that over and over sinks hopeful efforts by liberal internationalists is this: Liberal internationalist methods won’t achieve liberal internationalist goals. It’s Kim Jong-un’s World; We’re Just Living In It, Walter Russell Mead, 'The American interest', 9 September (my emphasis)
It's not an optimistic view, but it's one that I mostly share. A world in which North Korea and other small, poor countries acquire nuclear weapons is not going to be safe for the liberal values under which most of us, mainly in the west, are lucky enough to live. We can see the pessimistic scenarios as a clash of civilizations, or a clash of values, or shifts in geopolitical power, but I choose to see it as a problem of perverse incentives.

To be simplistic, but not wholly inaccurate: for most of the people in politics, more power is an end in itself. Solution of social problems can be a means to that end but, for example, whipping up nationalistic fervour at the expense of improving your citizens' well being can work just as well, with Kim Jong-un being today's exemplar par excellence. Our political systems reward the acquisition of power and on the international stage as currently set up is strongly correlated with the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Social Policy Bonds can drastically re-orientate the operating incentives and reward the proliferation not of nuclear weapons but of what Mr Russell Mead calls liberal internationalist values. I would assign a high priority to ensuring sustained nuclear peace, but we could also strive for 'the spread of democracy and human rights'. Social Policy Bonds with sufficient backing and a long-term focus could give incentives for people to focus on achieving these goals. The current system will always be vulnerable to people like Kim Jong-un (or worse) because it does not encourage people to find ways of stopping those who are psychopathically hungry for power from ascending into influential positions. There's very little upside to seeking to depose Mr Kim. We need to change that. Nuclear Peace Bonds could help to do this. Mr Russell Mead continues his article saying that '[p]ower, not communiqu├ęs, is what makes the world go round.' But money correlates strongly with power. And while it's nice that our cats and dogs have a huge range of foods to choose from, I'd like to think that, given the choice, they'd rather see some of that human ingenuity channelled into making the world safe from nuclear apocalypse. 
The first cross-border Social Impact Bond has been issued. I have no involvement in this project, and I have written about my reservations about SIBs here and here. However, I have always hoped that the bonds would be used on a level higher than the national level, as in my post above. It might be that these first cross-border SIBs are a necessary first step toward internationally-backed tradeable Social Policy Bonds. 

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