25 October 2017

Whose goals?

There are two main elements to the Social Policy Bond idea. One is the injection of market incentives into all the processes necessary to bring about our social goals. The other is the focus on these goals themselves, and my contention that they be goals that are meaningful to ordinary people. Goals such as reduced crime, better health, and a cleaner environment. Under a Social Policy Bond regime we could target such apparently remote goals as world peace, or universal literacy.

Our current policymaking systems don't really consider either element. There's plenty of rhetoric about market forces but the people spouting it are, most likely, using them to justify decisions made in the favour of large corporations, typically multinationals. The hypocrisy is breathtaking: market forces imply competition, but large corporations typically try to maintain their status by undermining competition, usually by pressuring governments to manipulate the legislative, regulatory and trade environment in their favour.

Nathan Robinson's article about how Amazon is going about choosing its second headquarters in the US makes sombre reading:
There’s something sad about watching suffering post-industrial cities like Gary plead for an investment from Amazon. (Gary’s mayor issued a heartfelt appeal, on the mistaken assumption that Jeff Bezos possesses a conscience.) It feels like the peasants are coming before the king, bearing whatever meager offerings they can scrape together, and begging him for his favor. Having humbled themselves at Bezos’ feet, praised his products and promoted his brand, nearly all of them will walk away with… nothing. Even though Bezos could single-handedly transform the economic fortunes of a place like Gary, the spoils will almost certainly go to a place that is already prospering. The sad spectacle of cities groveling to Amazon, Nathan J Robinson, 'Current Affairs', 16 October
 A long article by James Meek looks at the human costs of such subservience to the interests of multinationals from a European perspective. I think it's time for us to ask the question: whose goals should have a higher priority: those of the multinationals or those of ordinary people? It's an important question, not only because these goals differ, but because they often conflict. Most of us as individuals have longer-term and more broad interests than large corporations, which are duty bound to put the interests of the company (though not specifically shareholders) above all. Because our political systems give little voice to our interests as individuals or as a society, we now have policymaking that is largely influenced only by those who have the means to follow it closely. That is, large corporations, including government agencies.
Which do you want? Do you want to live in a town patronized by some great combination of capitalists who pick it out as a suitable place to plant their industry and draw you into their employment? Or do you want to see your sons and your brothers and your husbands build up business for themselves under the protection of laws which make it impossible for any giant, however big, to crush them and put them out of business? Attributed to US President Woodrow Wilson, 1912
Social Policy Bonds could be a way of raising the influence of ordinary people at the expense of large corporations. They would take as their starting point our interests: as individuals, families, communities and societies. Being tradeable, the bonds could target goals whose end-point might be years or decades into the future. Large corporations could still play a part, but their goals would be congruent with those of wider society. In much the same way, governments issuing Social Policy Bonds while still, articulating society's goals and raising the revenue for their achievement, would be doing so with the aim of raising the long-term well-being of all society and not, as now, the short-term interests of large corporations.

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