26 September 2017

We're all human

As Kaiser, King, and Supreme War Lord, Wilhelm II was simply bound to be central to the decision-making processin July 2014, and a heavy responsibility rests on his shoulders for the terrible catastrophe that befell the world that summer. ... "The Serbs need sorting out - and soon." It was "now or never", [the Kaiser] declared, for a thoroughgoing settling of accounts with the Serbs. Wilhem II: Into the Abyss of War and Exile 1900-1941, John C G Rohl (English translation), 2014
What is particularly striking is how, at the highest level of national government, big decisions appear to be made on the basis of reactive, primal emotion. Rationality and the long-term interests of the people politicians are supposed to represent hardly figure at all. Reading some of the Kaiser's comments made in the run-up to World War I, one is struck by how their puerile, reactionary nature. Yes, monarch and policymakers are human - but so too are the millions of citizens for whom they make policy.

Reactive thinking is particularly dangerous when military conflict looms, and not much has changed in the 103 years since 1914. Except, of course, the destructive power in the hands of our leaders. An article about Henry Kissinger's role in US foreign policy quotes him saying to US President George W Bush’s speechwriter, about radical Islamic opponents: ‘We need to humiliate them’. Comments like this abound in high politics. George W Bush himself cried ‘bring ‘em on’ at an early point in the invasion of Iraq. These are not examples of high-level thinking.Current comments by political leaders are no more considered or sophisticated.

One of the benefits of a Social Policy Bond regime would be the clarification of social goals, and the transparency of the process that targets them. Goals would have to be articulated before targeting. They'd have to be thought through. There would have to be consultation and buy-in. It's unlikely that random, reactive emotional outbursts would crystallise into policy in such a inescapably level-headed policymaking environment, however eminent the people making them. Had the well-being of all their citizens been targeted for improvement, a Kaiser and his ministers would have had seriously and coolly to think of the  interests of the people they were supposed to represent. They would never have been allowed to lead (or 'sleepwalk', as Christopher Clark puts it) Germany and much of the rest of the world over the brink into catastrophe.

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