30 May 2017

Focus on outcomes, not party

Matt Taibbi discusses the US Democratic Party's reaction to the Bernie Sanders campaign, in a piece originally penned on 9 June 2016:
Politicians are so used to viewing the electorate as a giant thing to be manipulated that no matter what happens at the ballot, they usually can only focus on the Washington-based characters they perceive to be pulling the strings. Through this lens, the uprising among Democratic voters this year wasn’t an organic expression of mass disgust, but wholly the fault of Bernie Sanders, who within the Beltway is viewed as an oddball amateur and radical who jumped the line. Nobody saw his campaign as an honest effort to restore power to voters, because nobody in the capital even knows what that is. In the rules of palace intrigue, Sanders only made sense as a kind of self-centered huckster who made a failed play for power. Matt Taibbi, Insane Clown President, January 2017
Exactly. We need to reconnect politicians and their parties with voters. Policymaking systems have been subject to two principles which I deem axiomatic:
  • Every organisation, be it a church, trade union, university, political party, large corporation or whatever, will always seek to overplay its hand. 
  • Every organisation will, sooner or later, forget its founding ideals and its stated objectives, and devote its energies to self-perpetuation.
So political parties are no better, and not much worse, than any other large organisation, except in their oligopolistic power over the rest of us. I think our policymaking models are outdated. In the western democracies we choose a person or a party who promises to do something to help achieve some vague, usually unverifiable outcome at some indefinite time in the future, usually long after they can be called to account. It's a very indirect form of influence, and one that, as we see, has been corrupted, so that the link between the voter and the politician is distorted and broken by wealthy interest groups, whether they be corporations or government agencies who don't want their boat to be rocked.

I propose that instead of choosing people or parties, we choose outcomes: explicit, verifiable outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people. Which means outcomes that are not phrased in terms of expenditure, institutional size, structure or remit, or regulatory or legislative powers. Outcomes such as improved health, or world peace, that people can understand, and that we can help choose and prioritise. I am not necessarily advocating Social Policy Bonds here: a shift toward discussing outcomes and their costs would be an improvement over our current systems. But Social Policy Bonds could focus debate more, and have the crucial advantage that they inject the market's incentives and efficiencies into all processes necessary to achieve society's goals.

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