23 May 2017

Economics and politics: closing the gaps

Elisabeth Jacobs, in an essay, about Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, says that politics is 'everywhere and nowhere' in his book. The reviewer points out that:
A focus on efficiency is unobjectionable in a world in which political and institutional stability can be taken for granted, much less so in a world in which it cannot. ... [E]conomists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if they can describe how capitalism works only when politics is unchanging. A new anthology of essays reconsiders Thomas Piketty’s “Capital”, the 'Economist', 20 May
Quite so. I've questioned the limited purview of the economics profession before. Economists find it safer to describe the world as it is, and to try (and usually fail) to predict what's going to happen to certain macro-economic variables. (There are exceptions of course.) The gap between economics and useful endeavours mirrors that between politicians and the concerns of the citizens they are supposed to represent.

In both cases, I think Social Policy Bonds could help close the gap. A bond regime would take as its starting point broad goals that are meaningful to a population: goals that are inextricably linked to our well-being and that we can understand. And because we can understand outcomes such as improved health, or nuclear peace, we can participate in assigning their priorities. (Economists could, perhaps, make a useful contribution here.) Such participation will give us more understanding of the trade-offs that inevitably need to be made. We might not see our own priorities replicated exactly in those  that society chooses to target, but we shall have been consulted, and so have far more buy-in, than under any of the current policymaking systems.

I think that lack of buy-in goes a long way in explaining why our political systems are failing, perhaps catastrophically. The gaps between policymakers and citizens; between the rich, the bureaucrats, media, academics, and ordinary people, are growing ever larger. Consultation about the outcomes we wish to see would start to close these gaps. Injecting the market's efficiencies and incentives to bring about those outcomes with optimal efficiency, would take that process a step further. The ultimate goal would be a politics that improves all our well-being, making for a more healthy, more prosperous and peaceful, more contented and cohesive society. A Social Policy Bond regime, I believe, could achieve all that.

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