What drives policy? And what should drive policy? Two entirely separate questions. What actually drives policy today is largely emotion, which seems to be supplanting other policy drivers, and is easily manipulated by large private- and public-sector bodies. Society is growing ever more complex as are the relationships between cause and effect in social and environmental policy. Emotion is easier to communicate and exploit than a rigorous accounting of which policies work and which don't. But as a policy driver emotion has obvious faults. It's far too easy to subvert for mercenary and more sinister ends.
I'd much prefer to see meaningful
outcomes drive policy. These could bypass the complexities of our
economy and society, so they would berelatively easy for non-specialists to understand. It's far
simpler, say, to aim to reduce violent crime, or climate change, than it is to
make a case for (say) subsidising leisure centres for youths or urging
poor countries to stop building coal-fired power stations. These actions, at some point in time,
might be necessary and efficient, but that should be an open question: one to be answered by informed and motivated investors, rather than remote, cumbersome, corruptible and
monolithic central government.
Which is where Social Policy Bonds would enter the picture. One of the benefits of a bond regime is to bring transparency and stability into the policymaking process. Framing policy decisions
in terms of costed outcomes would be an inescapable first step. Currently
policymakers can - indeed must - express their decisions as vague, noble-sounding declarations of intent, backed up by funding programmes for favoured
bodies, be they government agencies or other interest groups. As Milton Friedman said: “one of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by
their intentions rather than their results”. (I would insert 'stated', before 'intentions' here.) Issuers of
Social Policy Bonds, would in contrast, have to be explicit about their
objectives: transparency and accountability are built into a bond
regime, as surely as they are excluded from the current policymaking
apparatus. as well as more efficient goal-achievement, formulating policy in terms of meaningful outcomes would generate more buy-in - something that we urgently need as the gap between citizens and the politicians they are supposed to represent is in danger of becoming unbridgeable.
Now, if those Italians whose towns have been turned into migrant holding stations had been allowed to debate the migration issue; if those living in Lampedusa and the other migrant destinations in Italy had been part of a process of democratic deliberation; and if they had been allowed to voice their concerns, and influence the decisions which have led to the influx of migrants, then perhaps the seething resentment, the sense of being imposed upon, of having their lives turned upside down with the stroke of pen in Brussels, might have been absent. Perhaps a more workable solution could even have been found. And perhaps the migrants themselves wouldn’t be treated as a problem, but as people just like us, sometimes fleeing wretched lives, always seeking better ones. The EU: pitting migrants against citizens, Tim Black, 'Spiked', 12 JulySadly for everybody involved, our so-called representatives at the national and EU levels have got into the habit of not consulting us about almost everything. The results are as dismal as they are predictable: the gap between citizens and politicians grows ever wider. Ordinary people feel - and are - powerless. Politics are hyper-polarised. Anger and violence are now a normal feature of political discourse.
Our politicians just know they're right. So do those NGOs and philanthropists who support 'open borders', for example, though, unlike the rest of us, they don't have to live with the consequences of their momentous decisions.
It's time to change the way policymaking works. Social Policy Bonds have two main elements: identifying society's social goals, and injecting market incentives into their achievement. If we could strive for the first of these elements alone, that would be preferable to our current system. As it is, few ordinary people are consulted on issues, such as immigration, and our political class is now so removed from everyday life that they no longer have any feeling for what's important to us.
Social Policy Bonds could narrow the gap between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent. Political debate under a bond regime would focus on outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people; things like physical and mental health, crime and housing. Because such concerns are meaningful to all of us, we could all contribute to discussion about which goals we should target, and their relative priority. Of course, none of us will be fully satisfied by our collective decision. But, crucially, we shall know that we have been consulted and that, if we wanted to, we could have contributed to the debate.
One happy result of that is that there would be widespread buy-in. We might not fully agree with every decision, but we were able to participate in the process, and we now have a fuller understanding of the trade-offs inherent in any political decision.
I've written more about Social Policy Bonds and buy-in on my main website here, and in various blog posts including, recently, here, here and here.