05 November 2016

Consensus and politics

Maria Bustillos introduces the concept of dismediation:
Dismediation is looking to make you never really trust or believe a news story, ever again. Not on Fox, and not on NPR. It’s not that we can’t agree on what the facts are. It’s that we cannot agree on what counts as fact. The machinery of discourse is bricked. That’s why we can’t think together, talk together, or vote together. ...
The peculiar mendacity of [George W Bush's] catastrophic presidency left us with worse problems than a bunch of lies to put straight and reflect on. There’s a broken trust to restore — to the extent that it’s possible to replace toxic cynicism with healthy skepticism — in media and in government. When truth falls apart, Maria Bustillos, 3 November
And, as this prolonged US Presidential election campaign reaches its end, she asks "How do we restore consensus in an age so divorced from fact?"

Here's my suggestion: we vote on social and environmental goals, rather than the supposed means of achieving them: namely, politicians or political parties. Personality is not a sound basis for choosing who shall make policy. Neither, we know now, are campaign sound-bites or media commentary. Currently though, we have little else to go on. We choose policymakers rather than policies; and we choose them on the basis of their image at worst, or their stated policy priorities or ideological leanings at best. Rarely are we given the chance to target desirable outcomes.

In theory, our current approach is practical: social, economic and environmental policymaking is complex and time-consuming. Ms Bustillos quotes Edward Bernays writing in 1928:
[E]very citizen makes up his mind on public questions and matters of private conduct. In practice, if all men had to study for themselves the abstruse economic, political and ethical data involved in every question, they would find it impossible to come to a conclusion about anything… Propaganda
But if we don't have the skills or energy to evaluate policy ourselves, and if we can't rely on the media any more, what can we do to bring about some consensus and repair what looks increasingly like a dysfunctional policymaking system?

I suggest outcome-based policy. Instead of voting for people or parties, we'd all participate in choosing and prioritising social goals. Social Policy Bonds lend themselves to a gradual transition to this sort of policymaking: by focusing on outcomes to be targeted they would be more transparent than the current policymaking process. A bond regime would generate more consensus - and, just as important - buy-in, about our chosen goals. A transition to a Social Policy Bond regime would be quite easy to arrange, with funding to existing activity-based bodies (mostly government agencies) being reduced gradually, at the same time as funds for Social Policy Bond redemption rise.

Choosing policymakers is fraught with problems, not the least of which is the raucous and destructive dialogue des sourds flooding out of our news media. It's time to target outcomes, issue Social Policy Bonds, and let motivated public- and private-sector bondholders work towards achieving society's goals.

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